Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crackpot Idea Number 1040: Taxpayer Allocation Budgeting

My mind is an endlessly churning font of crackpot schemes, and this morning's neural randomness involved taxes.  As I was standing at the bus stop chatting with one of the moms, we were both lamenting the impressively sorry physical condition of our schools.   I live in Fairfax County, one of the richest counties in the United States.  Our school system is arguably one of the best in the nation.

But at nearly every school in Fairfax, kids are relegated to aging "mobile classrooms," which spring up like trailer parks around the periphery of most of our schools.  My little guy has been in a trailer two years running, one whose decor is essentially that of a 1970s basement.  He's cool with it, unless it's pouring rain, in which case the kids get wet when they go to gym, or to lunch any time they need to use the bathrooms.  For that, you need the main building.  There just aren't the funds to build permanent facilities that meet the needs of the kids.  The mom lamented that she'd be happy to have her taxes go to something like that.

Here's what I found myself wondering.  Congress is notoriously, wretchedly, heinously bad at budgeting.  They couldn't balance a budget if you held a gun to their heads.  They fail, year after year.  What if...what if...citizens did the budgeting?  By that, I don't mean we sit down and go through item by item.  Instead, near the end of working through your 1040 in TurboTax 2016, you'd have a section in which every major Federal department listed.  Education.  Energy.  Environment.  Defense.   Homeland Security.  Transportation.  Then, you'd allocate your taxes across those departments based on your priorities.   Want better schools?  Ramp up that percentage.  Want to spend billions on the Joint Strike Fighter?  No?  Ratchet that bad boy down.

The budget would, well, it would directly reflect the preferences of the people.    If it gets funded, well, then it gets funded.  If not, well, so it goes.  That could work at a state level, too, I suppose.   It would link paying taxes to a new empowerment as citizens.  If something doesn't manifestly contribute to the good, well, we're unlikely to pay for it.  At a bare minimum, it would be interesting to see what that budget would look like.

Ah well.  Yet another one of those ideas that will have to bear fruit in an alternate universe, I suppose.


  1. Interesting idea, but if you're going to do that, then why not allow citizens to spend all their income directly?

    It's one thing to say what we value in a hypothetical context, but its only when we spend our money that we prove what it is we actually value.

  2. @ newworldview: I'm not sure I can "directly" afford to repair a highway, or build a school, or send a major relief mission to Haiti.

    Gotta have some structure that allows the collective good to be accomplished, eh?

  3. "Gotta have some structure that allows the collective good to be accomplished, eh?"

    Kind of like a church or a charitable organization?

  4. @ newworld: Kind of, yes, if churches built roads and charitable organizations insured public safety. The highest form of government is nongovernmental.

  5. Tax choice (pragmatarianism) is a great idea! Consumer choice would ensure that the quality/variety of public goods skyrocket while their costs plummet.