I think I can safely assume that most of my readers are familiar with a satirical political writing named “a modest proposal.” This was a tract written in the eighteenth century and was a criticism of the English people’s exploitation of Ireland. It was written by a gentleman named Johnathan Swift in 1729. It was the bold proposition that the English could alleviate the suffering and poverty of Irish families if they would simply start eating Irish children. I don’t know about you, but I think that is reasonable enough right? The idea of a modest proposal has come to mean anything in a similar vein to this, a satirical policy proposal meant to illustrate the absurdity or injustice of the way something is currently working.
Here I use it slightly differently. I would like to offer a solution that I think could appease libertarians, progressives, and conservatives all at once with no consumption of children necessary. I’m sure you have all at one time or another been exposed to the small government right-libertarian meme “taxation is theft.” I also believe we all have the self-awareness to say that the left wing of American politics loves government guidance and solutions. Finally the Tea Party movement blatantly demonstrated the more traditional right wing’s fetish for spending control and fiscal sanity in government.
I also found myself thinking the other day about the implications of automation. We have already seen a rise of a content creation industry, and I think it will continue to grow with automation as we all have more free time to indulge our artistic sides and immerse ourselves in other people’s art during our exponentially growing leisure time. If you need an example look at youtube, by hits it is the third most visited website on the entire internet. How do these youtube stars and content creators make their living on sites like this and through similar ventures? It is a twofold income. It comes from ad-revenue sharing and from direct donation through sites like Patreon, gofundme, and even paypal.
Then the light bulb came on for me. This is where I took a sharp term towards the radical. If here in the modern era we must have such large amounts of tax money being spent on re-distributive social programs in the United States why not force our legislators who designed them, and the programs themselves to work on this same model? This would first have to start with a truly heavens-moving reform of the tax code. I would call for the repeal of the sixteenth amendment and all the personal income taxes that come with it. I would also call for the repeal of all payroll taxes. This would initially put large amounts of income directly back in the pockets of every working citizen of the United States and small business owners from sea to shining sea.
How then would so much of the federal government be funded? It simply wouldn’t be obviously. It in fact couldn’t be. Large portions of it would have to be shuttered and shut down. Personally I don’t see this as a bad thing. The corporate income tax, which this model of mine would leave in place and the remaining import/excise/estate/sin taxes that the federal government charges would also have to be kept in place I think. All of this money would be immediately and permanently book marked for the defense and state departments, with any income remaining being reimbursed equally among the states as unqualified infrastructure support money. Those two functions after all are the most bare bones basic functions of government, the common defense of the polity and where possible the providing of true public goods.
All social program spending, and the salaries of directly elected officials would then be funded through crowd sourced voluntary taxation. All that lost tax revenue is still right there available for use, if only the people decide the programs are worth spending their hard earned money on. So our elected officials could still propose all the programs and ideas they like, but if they are to be funded then we as the individual citizens have a final veto as to whether these programs can be instituted. If the liberals and progressives among us care so deeply about social welfare programs, then they are free to take their now repatriated income and spend what they would have spent in mandatory taxes either on legislatively proposed programs, or on similar private charities. This would also keep costs of these programs down by forcing these same legislatively proposed programs to compete directly with typically more efficient private charities and not for profit organizations.
See what I mean? Voluntary taxation to appease the libertarians, severe fiscal restraint for the conservatives, and all the social welfare spending you still care directly to have for liberals. Everyone gets to be happy. Everyone gets exactly the outcome they have always wanted. I will now readily concede that this is probably much less feasible than I would like it to be. But you can’t know until we give it a fair chance right? Let’s give America a chance to be great again by making our legislators into the public policy equivalents of the youtube stars we all love so very dearly.