A KINDER, GENTLER TAX SYSTEM WOULD BE FLAT-OUT PERFECT

Date: April 22, 2014
Publication: ST. Louis Post-Dispatch
Section: Editorial
Edition: Five Star Lift
Page: C15

April 15 is a necessary date for keeping this wonderful country we call America running smoothly.  It’s the day we have to pay for the car and upkeep of this beautiful automobile.  But just imagine if at 9 p.m. on April 14 you sit down to do your 2013 taxes and by 9:15 p.m. the form is done and ready to be dropped off at the post office. Although this is wishful thinking on my part, a flat tax could make it a reality. And this time of the year the flat tax proposal is looking much better to many taxpayers.

The United States tax  bureaucracy is the most sophisticated and complex tax system in the world.  The IRS employs approximately 125,000 people to manage a 10,000-page tax code.  It is a structure that has provided consistent results for many years.  In fact, we don’t give the IRS the credit it deserves.  

Today in excess of $100 billion is spent filling out all the necessary tax forms and an additional $100 billion is spent on investments made for tax-break purposes. Jobs have become the No. 1 export for America and some would claim that we are subsidizing imports and penalizing exports through our tax policy.

There is a growing consensus supporting the replacement of our tax system with another option that is:  (1) fair to the entire population, (2) supportive of economic growth and (3) able to collect enough revenue to sustain the government in the long run. A flat tax can replace the current system, which lacks equity, discourages economic growth and lacks revenue potential to meet future needs. Under the current code, only individuals with additional disposable income can take advantage of the exemptions and loopholes. For example, only those who can afford a home can deduct home mortgage interest. The bigger the home, the bigger the deduction.

And the middle class should be the most outraged. Fixed in higher tax levels without the assets to take advantage of many tax breaks, the American middle class has borne the brunt of higher rates and of secondary taxes on savings, dividends and capital gains.

A pure flat tax system will impose a single rate on businesses and individuals with no deductions or credits. To generate the equivalent current government revenue, the rate would be roughly 22 percent. The tax form would be the size of a post card. On the first line, taxpayers would be asked to state their wages, salaries or pension/retirement. The second line would comprise the standard deduction, to be subtracted from the stated income on the first line. The third line would reflect the taxable income (subtracting the second line from the first line), taxed at a flat rate. The flat tax would not tax interest and dividend income.

The flat tax system renders thousands of pages of tax code obsolete. It also provides an equitable basis for the taxation of all citizens, regardless of income. Under that system, savings and investments should increase, and the resulting economic growth would create new jobs. An increase in the demand for labor would bring higher wages. Expanding the tax base and rising incomes would increase government revenues. Tax receipts grow faster in a low-taxed economy.

It’s worth the consideration.

 

A GREAT -- AND TROUBLED -- LAND

Date: July 4, 2000 Publication: ST. Louis Post-Dispatch
Section: Editorial
Edition: Five Star Lift
Page: B7

IN my 20 years in America, I have traveled all over this great nation in search of the American experience, looking to understand what makes this country great. My American journey, which has taken me to 43 states, has made me a better person, more understanding, more appreciative of people and their beliefs. But my 20-year odyssey has also exposed me to many things that I didn't expect to find in America.

America is a nation of immigrants, where many people are trying to preserve their origins, to prevent becoming an anonymous ingredient in a great "melting pot." I see America as a tossed salad with different components and distinctions. The people and ideas make for a culturally, ethnically diverse salad rich in possibilities and full of promises. Wh at's missing is the best kind of homemade salad dressing: It's called love.

In America, I found that people of different races and ethnic backgrounds are often perceived through a clouded prism of traditional and stereotypical designations, which are based solely on perceptions. In America, minorities are often perceived as lazy, uneducated, dysfunctional drug addicts, criminals and welfare beneficiaries. I am troubled that Americans still hold on to these perceptions. My prayer is that sooner rather than later, we will come to realize the vanity of false distinctionsbased solely on skin color. The truth is that we are all God's children.

In my American journey, I met strangers who took me in and treated me like family. I found love compassion and acceptance in so many faces, in so many places. I discovered the true meaning of family in a small place with a big heart. In Plainview, Texas, I found the power of a small community and the warmth and concern for one another that radiates in this flat, windblown, treeless terrain of West Texas.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Fla., visitors witness the conception of a dream, its lofty delivery, from the simple, but delicate, physics of a bird in flight to the extra-terrestrial marvel of Neil Arm strong, who took one small step for himself and a giant step for mankind. This is the best of America.

I wonder why a nation blessed with so many scientific achievements is unable to find a way to live in peace and harmony. And so I looked at the American Constitution and read some of the memorable thoughts on the ideals of freedom and equality, and I compared all these great writings with current political rhetoric. I must ask how really free and equal are those Americans who spend their days in food lines and their nights alone in chilly parks? I wonder how the richest, most powerful nationinthe world could afford to have so much misery around without feeling that something is wrong.

I am worried that America has found itself in the middle of a crossfire where hate is growing faster than love and the victims are people like you and me, innocent bystanders caught in a societal drive-by shooting. I am afraid that if America does not find a way to bring its people together, nothing will stop us from growing apart. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., captured the challenges that lay ahead for this nation when he said, "America needs to be a place where all of us feel a part of theAmerican dream. But it will not happen by dividing us into racial groups. It will no t happen by trying to turn the rich against the poor. It will not happen by asking Americans to accept what is immoral and wrong in the name of tolerance. America must find a way to put our differences aside. I am resolute that the future of America will be good if we all come to a realization that we can do more together than we can ever do apart."

THE visitor in me saw the awesome and overwhelming beauty and power of this great nation; but the student in me saw a nation of contradictions. They say this is God's own country, yet, prayers in public schools and in most public events are banned. This nation is searching for its true meaning, struggling with the disease of historical amnesia. America cannot afford to forget its Christian roots and its biblical foundation.

The challenge for all Americans is to come to grips with the fact that it's not so much where we are that matters, but in what direction we are going. This nation needs an army of believers, dedicated to ensuring that our future remains in good hands.

America, please don't allow the rain of discontent to wash your hopes and dreams away. America don't allow the unexpected showers of life to rain on your spirit of enthusiasm. There is nothing better. There is no place greater than America.

10 STEPS for climbing to greater heights

Date: January 9, 2005
Publication: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Section: Business
Edition: Five Star Lift
Page: F07

Jim Collins, in the best-selling book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't," tells a story about Darwin Smith, a little-known leader of a well-known company, Kimberly-Clark. For a century, Kimberly-Clark languished in mediocrity with most of its business in traditional paper mills. Then, a mild-mannered gentleman took the reins and realized that the company's best shot at greatness was in paper-based consumer goods, a sector in which it had a side business called Kleenex. Like the general who burned the boats upon landing, leaving no retreat for his soldiers, Smith sold the traditional mills and threw proceeds into the consumer business. Today, it's No. 1 worldwide in paper-based consumer products. Of course, there was no guarantee that Kimberly-Clark would succeed in the consumer business, but the demonstration of action amid uncertainty is the lesson. There are no guarantees in anything we do. But the lack of a guarantee is the urge we need to go from where we are to where we want to be. As we begin 2005, these are 10 ways to reach the next level:

1. SET NEW GOALS Focus your efforts on quantum-leap innovations and ideas, which go beyond incremental improvements. What you've done in the past is good, but what are you going to do in the future? The goals you set should require that you stretch your professional acumen and contribution to your organization.

2. FIND THE URGENCY FOR ACTION This demands a recommitment to excellence that would enhance the organization's market position and profitability.

3. SEEK NEW CHALLENGES Dedicate yourself to seek challenges even if the odds of success are less than 20 percent. This year should be your opportunity to set and achieve goals that aren't within easy reach.

4. BELIEVE IN YOUR GOALS Instead of second-guessing yourself, embrace the notion that the right decision is the one you believe in. Recognize that success is up to you.

5. DON'T ALLOW MEMORIES T* BE GREATER THAN DREAMS You've failed in the past. So what? This year, focus on purpose and not on avoiding failure. A road without potholes is a road not worthy of the journey.

6. LEAD FROM WHERE YOU ARE Dedicate yourself to become a contributor to your organization by taking responsibility for its success. You might not have the title or position of a leader, but leadership can be exercised at any level if you're invested in the work.

7. STRIVE T* OVERCOME INTERNAL THREATS The greatest threat to your success isn't necessarily the competition. The biggest challenge can be internal. It's the willingness to tolerate a commitment level to remain at room temperature.

8. RECOMMIT YOURSELF T* BECOME RESULT-BASED You can't continue to do the same thing and hope for better results. The new year should be the point of departure when you set aside the practice of playing it safe and doing just enough to get by.

9. REDISCOVER YOUR PASSION Find a way to apply the same passion and sense of conviction to your job that you have for your favorite hobby.

10. BE JOLLY Keep a sense of humor. Laugh, smile and develop a wrinkle on your face as a result of habitual laughter. And for those of you who had your share of failures last year, I leave you with this advice: We learn more from our failures than from our successes. Failure is the call for action, resurgence and tenacity. Those of us old enough to reconcile the prejudice of experience with the enthusiasm of youth can take a risk-informed approach to breaking the shackles of failure-induced fear and strengthening the conditions for self-esteem. We get up, dust ourselves off and go back into the game.

Anxiety better for business than you think

Date: July 4, 2000
Publication: ST. Louis Post-Dispatch
Section: Editorial
Edition: Five Star Lift
Page: B7

There is no magic pill we can take, book we can read, or seminar we can attend that will instantly transform us into the greatest business leaders of all time. But according to Robert Rosen, chairman and CEO of Healthy Companies International, we all have something inside that, once harnessed, will make the difference between success and significance. It makes our palms sweat, our heads ache and our hearts pound. It's anxiety. And according to Rosen's new book, "Just Enough Anxiety," it's the hidden driver of success. You just have to know how to steer it.

Rosen calls anxiety an energy that propels us forward. And, if it is controlled in ourselves and for those who work with us, it is the most important quality a leader can possess. Having just enough prepares you for change and challenges that it brings.

Change is what business is about. It keeps companies going and businesses viable. Good leaders, says Rosen, understand this. Even though change might make them feel uneasy, they know that anxiety can be directed into productive and creative energy.

Great leadership, Rosen believes, is all about mastering the "human side of business." Those leaders who rise to the top are the ones who know the level of anxiety their organization can handle it and still be able to mobilize human energy to get the job done.

The balance between too much and too little is delicate. Too much gives negative thinking overwhelming power and prompts us to attack instead of to embrace change. Too little apprehension and we reject change altogether. It is here where the status quo lives with its neighbors: boredom and stagnation.

In the middle is "just enough" - where Rosen says we maintain our "balance in the midst of opposing forces." He likens it to a champion speed skater rounding a curve. Leaning in too far will cause even the best Olympian to fall. Not cutting the corner close enough means others will pass the skater by. But an athlete with the right mix of balance, speed and angle to the ice wins the gold every time.

Leaders with "just enough" find their balance in this yin and yang of uneasiness. They are not idealistic or cynical. Instead, they are optimistic and realistic. They find a middle ground between complacency and carelessness with impatient constructiveness. When others with too little anxiety are viewed as arrogant and those with too much are seen as self-doubting, the "just enough" leader conveys a humble, yet confident, persona.

How do you become a leader with just enough anxiety? In his book, Rosen first identifies different types of leaders, how others see them and how their actions can have an impact on their organizations. He also quizzes readers on the anxiety level of their organization. From there, he serves as a guide down a path toward balancing anxiety through knowing oneself, becoming comfortable with uncertainty, acknowledging anxiety, refusing to exaggerate uneasiness and allowing the ability to react to all emotions.

President John Quincy Adams once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." Robert Rosen says our actions can do all these things if supported with the dynamic energy that just the right amount of tension provides.

I recommend "Just Enough Anxiety" for any leader looking for an edge. In its pages, you might just find the perfect balance for you and your business.

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'Just Enough Anxiety: The Hidden Driver of Business Success'

By Robert H. Rosen

Penguin Group, $24.95

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BENJAMIN OLA. AKANDE IS DEAN OF WEBSTER UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY. AN AUDIO INTERVIEW BETWEEN DR. AKANDE AND ROBERT ROSEN IS AVAILABLE ON WEBSTER'S ONLINE BIZTALK BOOK CLUB WEBSITE: WWW.WEBSTER.EDU/SBT/BOOKCLUB.