Editorial roundup – October 17

Doctors say no to assisted suicide

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

We should give thanks to members of the Indiana State Medical Association, who have voted to officially oppose any attempt to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Indiana.

The practice, also called assisted death or aid in dying, refers to when a terminally ill patient chooses to end his or her own life with the help of a doctor, usually with prescription drugs. It is legal in six states and under consideration in others, but in Indiana, it’s a Class B felony.

Medical association members argue — correctly — that allowing the practice could potentially create a medical culture in which the elderly and disabled were encouraged to end their lives, as well as make it easier for caretakers to mistreat or even kill their patients.

“Will the government and insurance companies do the right thing — pay for treatment costing thousands of dollars — or the cheap thing — pay for lethal drugs costing hundreds of dollars?” the association stated in a news release.

Under physician-assisted suicide, patients administer drugs to themselves. Euthanasia puts the death explicitly in the hands of a doctor. Either practice takes the physician far away from the Hippocratic oath which insists that doctors “first, do no harm.”

As a society, we must not create a culture in which suicide is seen as an easy answer. We need a culture that celebrates life as the most precious thing we have.

Colombia’s president gets Nobel for (near) peace

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded recently to Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia. He does deserve congratulations for his efforts. Yet the Colombian population, in a referendum five days before, voted by a narrow margin to reject the agreement Santos had negotiated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to end the country’s 52-year-old civil war. The conflict has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives and seriously hurt Colombia’s economic development.

The war had been financed on the FARC side in no small part by drug dealing. American military and other aid had played an equally large part in financing the war on the government side. It is the last such civil war in this hemisphere.

It has to be assumed that the Nobel committee gave the prize to Santos, even though the Colombian population had rejected the accord, to encourage him to stay the course in pursuing an agreement. There is every reason to hope that he will do so.

The comparison of Santos having been awarded the prize and new U.S. President Barack Obama’s having received it in 2009, based on expectations of what he might do in office, is impossible to avoid. In the case of Obama, it didn’t work. At the end of nearly eight years in office, the United States is bogged down with troops in wars with no end in sight in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

It is fair to ask why that is so. The basic argument for U.S. involvement is that it is fighting “the enemy” over there to avoid fighting them here. That argument breaks down when terrorist attacks occur against Americans in revenge for U.S. activities overseas. The rockets fired recently against a U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf following a U.S.-supported Saudi Arabian air attack on a funeral in Yemen, killing 140, is an example.

That doesn’t mean that the Nobel Peace Prize shouldn’t be used to encourage peace-making. Let’s hope it will work better with Santos than it did with Obama.

In search of an infrastructure solution for Indiana

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Indiana has stumbled along too long taking care of its infrastructure piecemeal, and it shows on our roads, streets and bridges. Legislators have appropriately made finding a long-term solution a top priority in the coming session of the General Assembly. They should stay determined and not close the session without approving a plan.

One reality they must deal with in adopting a plan is the diminishing value of a gasoline tax. Cars are becoming more fuel-efficient all the time, so funding from that tax will cover fewer and fewer of the state’s infrastructure needs. And increasing existing taxes always meets with great resistance in this state, so lawmakers will have to start thinking creatively.

There are a couple of avenues they might consider exploring.

One is a mileage tax that charges drivers for the distance they drive rather than the fuel they use to drive it.

The other is public-private partnerships, which Gov. Mitch Daniels used so creatively for fund Major Moves. He was rightly criticized for leasing the toll road so far out at 75 years, but he certainly put the money to good use. Both Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Democratic challenger John Gregg have indicated an interest in using partnerships, but Gregg would be more selective in employing them.

Likely whatever plan legislators arrive at will be complicated. Finding all the pieces and putting them together right will be a good test of legislative flexibility and creativity. We trust that our legislators will be up to the task.

Clinton should consider offering a simpler tax code

Bloomberg View

Hillary Clinton already had an elaborate plan for tax reform. She’s added to it, again. She now wants to double, to $2,000, the tax credit granted to parents of young children, and to make it “refundable,” meaning that cash would be paid even to parents who owe little or no tax.

The rest of Clinton’s tax plan contains some good ideas, too. But what the U.S. tax code needs most is simplification.

A refundable tax credit for low-income families is a fairly expensive proposal: It would cost on the order of $200 billion over 10 years. Yet it’s a cost-effective measure, because it’s well-targeted. (The child-care deduction suggested by Donald Trump isn’t refundable).

Tax reform shouldn’t be judged piece by piece. Years of incremental change have yielded an insanely complex system. A wide-ranging scheme of reform, such as Clinton’s, affords the opportunity to smooth out unforeseen incentives and unintended spikes in effective tax rates — economic signals that send effort and investment in the wrong direction. She’s missed that opportunity.

Clinton’s approach is straightforward: She aims to raise taxes on the rich, leave taxes on middle-income households broadly unchanged, and give new help to low-income families. The simple way to do that would be to raise marginal income-tax rates for those on higher incomes and convert deductions into credits that deliver the same relief, in dollar terms, regardless of income.

But her plan gives the code new layers. She (like Trump) proposes to close the notorious carried-interest loophole, which lets some rich taxpayers classify income as capital gains, taxed at lower rates. That’s good — a simplification, as well as being fairer. Unfortunately, she also wants to add new bands to the capital-gains tax schedule. This introduces new complications.

Complexities are opportunities to game the system. Simplicity is desirable in itself, but it also serves the purposes of fairness and compliance.