PolySciFi Blog

Thursday, March 03, 2005


A Possibly Impolitic Idea

Here's an idea I had bouncing around in my head for a few days...

Wouldn't it be nice if you could specify the fraction of your income tax that went to each department? The levels of taxation would still presumably be set by Congress.
Say you're a big antiwar "Not in my name" protestor. Then the war really wouldn't be in your name if you didn't fund the defense department.

Say you're flat out against abortion. Cut your funding to the HHS department.

Say you want more law enforcement - increase your percentage to Justice.

Say you want more money for the national parks - increase your percentage to the Interior.
Giving a more formal description of this idea, when you fill out your taxes, you would specify what percentage of your taxes go to each of the 15 Cabinet level departments and to a general fund. Each department would have complete control over how they spend the money they receive with typical Congressional oversight. The general fund would be allocated by Congress among the departments and any top level agencies that aren't part of a cabinet level department (like NASA). Congress would still be responsible for passing the laws and setting taxation levels.

If your allocation does not add up to 100% (whether from a math error, intention, or simply forgetting to do the breakdown), any unallocated tax dollars will go to the general fund. If you erroneous choose a breakdown that adds up to greater than 100% your percentage allocation would be normalized by the sum of allocations.

Here's the upsides and downsides to this proposal as I see it (I'm advocating a position here, so I've probably not giving a fair treatment to the downsides. That's where you, the reader, can show me the error of my way in the comments).


  1. No one can complain about the government spending their dollars on something they wouldn't approve of.
  2. Hopefully by removing personal responsibility for aspects of government that people findd distasteful, the civility of political debate will improve.
  3. The functions of the government will more closely reflect the will of the people If people across the board don't like something, it's funding will be harder to come by. If people really like something, then it will be rolling in dough.
  4. If you subscribe to theory propounded by The Wisdom of Crowds, then more intelligent allocations of tax money would be made when 200 million people instead of 535 people are making the allocation decisions.
  5. I've never really liked the aspect of democracy where you can vote yourself other people's money. Government enabled theft is what that is. This would limit, though not completely eliminate, this negative aspect of democracy.
  6. It'll encourage many people to pay closer attention to the sausage making of government.
  7. It strokes my inner libertarian. [ed - what's up with you and the penis jokes - sausage followed up by stroking?. - Hey, it works for Wonkette]
  8. I've long felt, like Boortz, that if you pay more taxes, you should have a greater say in how the government spends its money - like being a bigger stockholder in the company.
  9. Also like Boortz, I think it would be a good thing if smarter people got a greater say in government than stupid people. Since I buy that there's a correlation between intelligence and income, this proposal seems to achieve this objective.
  10. Since the public is approving the funding, I think we can limit the "spend-it-or-lose-it" mentality the infects so many agencies of government, particularly as there would be some motivation to save money from year to year as a Department could never be certain how much money it was actually going to receive the next year. Hopefully this will hold down the growth of government.
Of course there's some potential drawbacks.


  1. It is possible that instead of acting like a crowd, the public will act like a mob and choose the allocations poorly and underfund something important. That's where the general fund and Congress comes in which presumably most people will contribute to as we're generally fat, lazy, and contented. I would point out that Congress makes many many stupid allocations so perhaps the people couldn't do that much worse.
  2. Being a conservative libertarian, I recognize that there may be many unforseen problems with this plan so we should be careful. Perhaps this would be best implemented on the state level first, perhaps by the Free State Project.
  3. There could be an outcry about the inequality of the power of allocating tax moneys. To which I respond, a) Voting rights would not be changed. b) We're not French. We founded our nation on the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and not liberty, equality, and fraternity. c) Why should other people be allowed to determine how to spend my money in the name of equality? Is my name Harrison Bergeron or John Galt?
Anyways, consider the idea and let me know what you think...

The commenters at Tacitus have some criticisms.


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