Sometimes a policy or concept becomes popular because it acquires a catchy name. The Car Allowance Rebate System, for example, would not have captured the public's imagination had it not become better known as "Cash for Clunkers." Here are four concepts in serious need of new names if they are to be taken seriously.
1. Net Neutrality
My eyes automatically glaze over when I hear this term. For those who are not passionate about the issue, net neutrality means that Internet carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner must allow access to all web sites at an equal speed. Opponents of net neutrality want a two-tiered system that would allow the carriers to charge a fee if you want your site to be accessed faster. Two-tier is a pay-for-play scheme that would increase telecom profits. Two-tier would also allow Internet providers to block access to sites that compete with sites with which they have signed a contract.
On December 21, the FCC passed new rules relating to net neutrality. But only a tiny number of people can explain what those new rules will really do, particularly since the FCC has not yet released the full text of the new guidelines. Proponents of net neutrality would probably gain more attention if they rebranded their cause "Internet First Amendment," "Internet Equality" or something else that evokes interest and sympathy.
I'm a supporter of the concept of single-payer health care, but usually when I mention it to people, they have no idea what I'm talking about. Yet when I explain it, they are almost always interested.
In the single-payer system, the government pays for everyone's health care, but you choose your own doctors and you make most of the decisions. In the United States, we already have single-payer systems. They're called Medicare and Medicaid. If you are at least 65 years old or you are disabled, the government pays for your health care, but, generally speaking, you are free to choose your own doctors and hospitals. A full single-payer system would extend such coverage to Americans who are younger than 65 and not disabled.
Polls show that a majority of Americans find the single-payer system appealing, yet it was not even considered in the Congressional health care reform debate. A full single-payer system would significantly increase government spending, but it would also dramatically decrease the nation's overall health care spending because the insurance industry charges almost 30% in profits and overhead, whereas the figure for Medicare, as an example, is only 4%.
If this system is ever to gain traction in the national debate, it needs to be renamed "Medicare for All" or "Government Pays, You Choose."
Fracking is an unusually disturbing method of extracting natural gas from deep sources in the ground. Its real name is "hydraulic fracturing" and it entails injecting millions of gallons of chemicals, sand or fluids into a well to crack open the rocks and allow easier access to the natural gas. Unfortunately, as presently performed, fracking is associated with environmental degradation, in particular water pollution. Considering that there appears to be no way to stop energy companies from rushing forward with fracking, the American people need to step in and, at the very least, dramatically improve regulation of the process.
Once again, however, it is impossible to attract attention to the issue because the term "fracking" is not an attention-grabber. It is somewhat obscene- or evil-sounding, which is probably a good thing and the reason the natural gas industry doesn't use it. However, for the average citizen, it is too nebulous. A new term is needed that includes the fact that the earth is being blasted apart and dangerous substances are being added to drinking water.
4. Cap and Trade
This is another eye glazer. Cap and trade, otherwise known as "emissions trading," gets a lot of coverage in the media, but only environmental activists and businesses that pollute seem to know what it means. Cap and trade is a pollution control system whereby companies are given a limit (a "cap") to how much pollution they can dump into the environment. If they want to exceed their limit, they can buy a permit to do so from another company that is below its own limit. Currently, the main cap and trade programs in the United States deal with sulfur dioxide (acid rain) and nitrogen oxides. The primary sources of these pollutants are cars and coal power plants.
In theory, cap and trade rewards companies that control their emissions and punishes those that pollute. In practice, large corporations, rather than reducing their emissions, just factor the added expenses for polluting into their annual budgets.
Cap and trade strikes me as a wishy-washy method of dealing with air pollution...better than nothing, but not a real solution. If the general public is to become engaged in this issue, cap and trade will need a new name that is more clear and to the point. How about "Pay to pollute"? Proponents will not like this phrase, but at least it's accurate.