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Alton Drew
Works at Alton Drew Consulting
Attended The Florida State University
Lives in Atlanta, Georgia
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Alton Drew

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Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Let the consumer gods take care of the consequences #Indiana #RFRA

The progressive branch of the political elite have been spinning the narrative that Indiana's brazen version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a license for commercial interests to discriminate against certain social groups, most notably the gay community.  Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal defending the Act, going as far as saying that the law does not give businesses a license to discriminate.  Mr. Pence is right that there is no explicit license to discriminate, but the Act does make it a little easier for a business to consider more explicit acts of discrimination.

Under the Indiana law, a claimant must demonstrate that a state action (an action by a government entity) or the action taken by an individual based on state action is a substantial burden on the claimant's ability to exercise his religion and that the action does not further a compelling state interest, an interest of the highest order:

"When a law threatens certain fundamental rights, the laws defenders assume the burden of proof to justify it. They have to convince the court that (1) the challenged law served not just an important public purpose, but a genuinely compelling one; (2) the law was well-tailored to achieve that purpose, and (3) the purpose could not be achieved by some less burdensome method."--Professor Bette Novit Evans

The law makes it clear that it will fend off government attacks on religion but it does not make it clear that it will force parties into a market relationship where one party, based on religious grounds, opposes initiating a transaction with another party.  Indiana wants to leave that choice open to individuals to enter market relationships and that is a good thing.

Discrimination has always been a part of religious practice.  Try attending a Methodist service and insisting that the clergy follow Islamic rituals or replace Genesis chapter 1 with a reading from Charles Darwin or Christopher Hitchens.  You would be asked to leave and not come back.  

The rules and philosophies of a religious practice automatically erect a wall between the followers and non-followers.  Part of religious exercise is to interpret teachings handed down over hundreds of years and applying highly subjective and emotional beliefs in a 21st century world that strives to equate the races and has grown more tolerant of differing views on sexual preference and other alternative lifestyles.  Unfortunately for the religious, while times may have changed, the interpretations of religious readings and teachings may not have kept up with changing views in society leaving the religious with no choice but to erect barriers in the name of religious self-preservation.

But does a changing society have a right to impose new rules of association on religious communities?  The answer is no.  Individuals and entities that make up the religious community have a right to associate with individuals and groups of their choosing whether those interactions are personal or commercial based.  You can't force the religious to have a "come to Jesus" moment and hold hands with the unannointed.  It won't happen.  

Nor can you protect the commercial component of the religious community from the consequences of their choice to discriminate, which will be loss of business.  For those of us who see the reality of the Act, that it will lead to certain businesses attempting to discriminate against particular consumers, we should relish the thought that in due time these businesses will be called out and find themselves on the receiving end of the discriminatory practices that they wished to engage in.  Consumers, who have a myriad of choices for goods and services, will have the final say.
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Alton Drew

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It's about consumption security not income inequality

The Republican Party has taken the bait from the progressive narrative on income inequality and, according to a post in The New York Times, its potential candidates for the GOP nomination for president have rumblings apparently in line with the position taken by America's upper crust.  For example, the usual buzz terms, such as tax cuts and reduced regulations have been used by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and neither he, Jeb Bush, or his fellow senator Marco Rubio of Florida believe that government intervention is the best approach to resolving the problem.

This position appears out of line with a significant portion of Americans, even their fellow Republicans.  According to the Times, 69% of Americans believe that the U.S. government should take initiatives to close the gap while approximately half of Republicans feel this way as well.  

The wealthy don't share the rest of America's sentiments.  While a significant portion of the wealthy consider the ga to be a problem, only 13% of the wealthy, according to the Times, believe that government should be taking any action.  This sentiment holds even as the wealth gap is at its widest in years. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, median net worth for upper-income families is 6.6 times that of middle-income families and 70 times that of lower-income families.  

Although the Democrat Party has been sounding the charge for the barbarians to storm the walls of the wealthy, the Party's all but crowned nominee, Hillary Clinton, has not exactly been a chalkboard of specifics and statistics on the issue.  Mrs. Clinton has been vague when it comes to policy proposals, probably because she may not want to alienate potential donors with whom she now shares more in common with than we ordinary folks.

One problem I see is how both Republicans and Democrats conflate the issues of "wealth gap" and "income inequality."  They are not the same.  In theory an individual can make $36,000 a year and have a $200,000 in assets while a person making $80,000 a year may have negative wealth.  Should government risk putting together a policy package that provides. say, tax cuts, expanded earned income credits,  Medicaid, and an increased minimum wage that flows in part to a consumer that has moderate or even low-income from wages but has assets that can generate additional passive income?  To me such a policy would only aggravate the problem, assuming a problem even exist.

Yes, wealth has been moving more to those with capital versus those without but in a capitalist, market economy that is the norm, not a shocker.  I also don't think that low and moderate income Americans are losing too much sleep over what Mitt Romney or Warren Buffet rake in from their investment income.  What Americans are concerned about is consumption security; the ability to buy food, clothing, transportation, and electricity so that they have a safe and stable life for their families.  If there is to be any effective public policy in the poverty space, this realistic focus should be the starting point and selling point.  I'll get to why I say selling point in a minute.

First, let me propose this.  To abate consumption security while providing a platform upon which the poor can begin building wealth, the U.S. should abandon its social welfare program and replace it with an annual consumption voucher for the working poor.  Along with a Medicaid/Medicare program financed in part by the working poor via premiums, the working poor will be able to supplement the income they receive from their current jobs, using this supplement to not only consume but to build wealth.  

Such a program should meet the needs of the political elite to reduce budgets while providing the commercial elite with additional revenues and wealth derived from additional consumption of goods and services.   

Just how much would a voucher program cost?  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 5.6 million working poor families in the United States.  At $30,000 per working poor family, the total bill for this voucher program would be approximately $165 billion a year.  This is considerably less than the $370 billion a year spent on safety net programs such as food stamps, refundable portions of the earned income tax credit, in-kind assistance transfers, and other direct cash payment programs.

We may ask aren't we doing this now, but under a voucher program, we directly address a market problem.  Consumers living in poverty who are willing but not able to make purchases to address the most basic of needs would get a direct cash infusion and make their own consumption choices.  They wouldn't need the hand holding of numerous government agencies and why should they.  The working poor are already demonstrating responsibility by getting to a job that contributes toward taking care of their families.  Rather than bringing additional and onerous rules to bear on the working poor, streamlining the requirements for aid by offering a once a year cash payment reduces the stigma on the poor while making the state administratively efficient.

The selling point here is that given the reduction in administrative costs, taxes need not increase.  That should soothe the fears of the wealthy.  In addition, communities within which $30,000 of direct spending is made available should enjoy the multiplier or ripple effect such spending creates.  

This is not a new idea, providing the poor with vouchers, but what would be new would be for the GOP to aggressively push this alternative to the current welfare state and educate the voting public on its benefits.       #economy  
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PG&E leads the U.S. as the largest #solar utility....http://finance.yahoo.com/news/pg-e-leads-u-largest-163300765.html
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America's #constitution isn't found on paper

To resolve fiscal or societal issues in the United States, the last place you want to start is the U.S. Constitution. It tells us very little if anything about how political and economic power are generated, allocated, or used.  A better public policy approach requires that you understand the real constitution of the United States and then be honest as to what government's current role is in this constitution and modifying that role so as to make government more effective. 

As written, the U.S. Constitution does not describe or mandate a particular economic rule for the production and allocation of output.  This is probably a good thing in that it gives American society flexibility in how best to structure its economy given existing constraints and resources. On the other hand, the lack of guidance on how the American economy should be structured provides the prevailing economic narrative to remain unchallenged the longer it remains in place.

As a political document while the U.S. Constitution describes the structure of American government, the duties and powers of its executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and how the populace participates in the selection of the representatives to the government, the document gives no guidance on how the political mechanism is expected to help allocate economic output.

The U.S. Constitution is not a going forward document. It's a cautionary document written mostly to prevent tyrannical treatment of the masses, at least on the surface, the best evidence of this contained in its bill of rights.  Conservatives celebrate its caution and relish in arguing its precedence and dominance in all of society's decisions, from funding social security to providing health care to balancing the United States' federal budget.  It's why conservatives are usually calling for amendments to this piece of paper hoping that such an act takes care of today's fiscal and societal problems.  

The real constitution of the United States, however, is found in the makeup of its population.  What I'm arguing is nothing new per se so here is my take on America's "constitution.  The United States can be broken down into three classes.  

First, there is a political elite made up of your usual suspects: elected officials, administrative agency heads, and advocates.  The political elite control public rights-of-way; bridges; roads; harbors; airports; and the coining of currency.  They use political mechanisms, i.e., the election process, litigation, administrative agency rules; legislation to allocate access to capital.

Second, there is a commercial elite.  This group is made up of the private owners of factors of production (capitalists) and the entities that underwrite them (equity and bond holders).  They control access to financial capital; regulate commerce via contractual agreements; and conduct the day-to-day operations of America's markets otherwise known as the economy.

Finally, there is the general citizen class or the "me and everybody else" class.  This group serves the constitution in two ways.  First, it pays the taxes that are used to underwrite the economic infrastructure upon which the commercial class sells its goods and services.  Second, the "me and everybody else" class consumes the goods and services produced by the commercial elite.  

In an economy where 70% of it is driven by consumption, the "me and everybody else" class plays a very important role.   It subsidizes the two prongs of America's effective constitution, paying for political packages with its taxes and paying for goods and services with its disposable income.  Yet when it comes to ownership of the capital and other resources that make the American economy exceptional, it has very little in residual income or equity.

Class divisions are found in most societies and the United States is no exception. Class divisions may not appear inherently fair since greater benefits flow upward to a smaller number of people on the food chain, but can a government run by a political elite that uses particular tools to balance society via an inequitable flow of capital and resources, be the appropriate entity for bringing about equity?   
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While Mr. Wheeler was making his rounds, the chairman of the company that once led the charge for net neutrality was also in Washington, this time sounding the alarm about Obamanet. Speaking to the American Enterprise Institute, Google chairman Eric Schmidt sounded like a born-again deregulator when asked about Title II regulation of the Internet.

“We have benefited from government essentially staying out of the Internet,” he said. “I am worried that we are now on a path where we are starting to regulate an awful lot of things on the Internet. . . . I am generally in favor of less regulation no matter what on the Internet.” He concluded: “I have a strong opinion that the best way to have net neutrality is competition.”---The Wall Street Journal

http://www.wsj.com/articles/gordon-crovitz-the-obamanet-crack-up-1427065066?KEYWORDS=%22federal+communications+commission%22
The FCC has rolled out 400 pages of slapdash regulations, ensuring years of litigation.
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With new rules on fracking, is President Obama biting the hand that fed him in 2012? http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/how-fracking-has-saved-obama
Without fracking of oil and gas deposits, there would have been no economic growth in the U.S. over the past five years. Yet the oil and gas industry has been a favorite whipping boy of the environmental zealots both inside and outside of the administration. Without those brilliant entrepreneurs and engineers in the private sector who developed the new techniques to unlock massive amounts of oil and gas at reasonable...
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Don't chalk Rand Paul up as a libertarian just yet.
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Changes in climate best addressed by a wealthier, healthier public. What's needed is more energy, less regulation. http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/dont-constrain-energy-growth
Whatever changes in the climate that are to come, humanity will be better prepared and more resilient if we are healthier, wealthier and wiser.
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Have him in circles
80 people
Nick Harriss's profile photo
Leroy Prentice's profile photo
TheJanita PoeShow's profile photo
Jill Lundy's profile photo
Aimee Allison's profile photo
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Angie Petty's profile photo
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Education
  • The Florida State University
    Law
  • The Florida State University
    Public Administration
  • The Florida State University
    Economics and Political Science
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Birthday
October 14
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Introduction
Alton Drew is managing director of Alton Drew Consulting, a public policy analysis firm headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his B.S.Ec; MPA; and JD from The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.   
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I'm good at what I do because I love it ...
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Political Economist and Attorney
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writing, legal analysis, policy analysis
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  • Alton Drew Consulting
    Managing Director, 2013 - present
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St. Thomas, USVI - St. Kitts-Nevis - Tallahassee, Florida - Orlando, Florida
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