Interesting ideas interspersed with nonsense - RSS - by nikhil bhatla, -
Home Archives June 2005

« Ethics of Stem Cell Research - Agreeing to Agree »
Spending Buckets for Democracy
Jun 1, 2005, 10:43p - Democracy

About a month ago, Dave and I had an idea about how to improve democracy, and I finally got off my lazy butt to write it down. Here goes:

The problem: Even after electing a politician to public office, she may take actions that you disagree with, especially if she's influenced by special interests and other lobbying groups.

One solution: When paying taxes, taxpayers can specify how portions of their own taxes would be spent. This way if you're strongly for or against a specific issue, you can choose how your taxes get spent no matter who's in office. I think this makes sense, since it's your money after all.

How it would work: At tax time, the taxpayer would vote for specific categories and the % of his own taxes that would be spent in each "spending bucket". The legislature would create their overall budget based on the sum of all individual contributions to each spending bucket. By aggregating the independent and diverse opinions of all America, this system would leverage the "wisdom of crowds" and allocate tax revenue in the most intelligent way. Taxpayers would also be allowed to allocate less than 100% of their taxes; any left-overs would be categorized as "discretionary" and the legislature could spend as they wish.

The specific spending buckets could be the following:
- National Security/Military
- Environment
- Education
- Health Care
- Basic Needs
- Transportation
- Science & Technology
- Arts
- Foreign Aid
- Business Subsidies
- Immigration
- Abortion
- Gay Rights
- Stem Cell Research
- Death Penalty
- Social Security
- Tax Reform
- Discretionary

A pro-life conservative's allocation may look like this:
- National Security/Military: 35%
- Environment: 0%
- Education: 0%
- Health Care: 0%
- Basic Needs: 0%
- Transportation: 10%
- Science & Technology: 25%
- Arts: 4%
- Foreign Aid: 0%
- Business Subsidies: 0%
- Immigration: 10%
- Abortion: 0%
- Gay Rights: 0%
- Stem Cell Research: 0%
- Death Penalty: 1%
- Social Security: 5%
- Tax Reform: 10%

While a pro-choice, progressive's allocation may look like this:
- National Security/Military: 15%
- Environment: 10%
- Education: 10%
- Health Care: 10%
- Basic Needs: 10%
- Transportation: 10%
- Science & Technology: 10%
- Arts: 5%
- Foreign Aid: 5%
- Business Subsidies: 0%
- Immigration: 1%
- Abortion: 4%
- Gay Rights: 3%
- Stem Cell Research: 3%
- Death Penalty: 0%
- Social Security: 0%
- Tax Reform: 4%

There would be a standard set of categories, and the Executive and Legislature could add "special" categories that would be added only for that tax year. For example, "Gay Rights", "Stem Cell Research", and "Social Security" would have been special categories last year.

Note that this system would also give people a stronger incentive to pay their taxes: Since your spending buckets are the only way to affect how your tax revenue is spent, if you don't pay any taxes, you have no contribution to policy decisions. On the flip side, if you're wealthy and pay a lot of taxes, you have a proportionally higher say in how the government spends tax revenue, which makes sense since a higher proportion of total tax revenue is coming from you.

This system may also have its weaknesses. An open question: Would it be practical to have such a "bottom-up" solution, or would it lack the holistic perspective that a "top-down" approach would have? Seems like you want a bit of both, which is available through the "Discretionary" category. Alternatively, you could limit the total amount that was at the taxpayer's discretion, maybe to just 50% of the total tax revenue, which guarantees that at least 50% would remain at the discretion of the legislature.

I'm not quite sure how one would even start to implement such a system. I bet you'd have to start at the local level, slowly work your way up to state, and finally nationally. It would take awhile, but could be the achievement of a lifetime.

Read comments (4) - Comment

Brian - Jun 2, 2005, 8:29a
I really like this idea. When I was paying my taxes, I was really annoyed to think that the check I was sending wouldn't even cover the tank ammo that military trainees explode as part of an exercise. I would have felt a lot better to view my taxes as a contribution to a cause I believe in. Instead of discretionary, perhaps elected officials could stand behind suggested allocations. This would give people a way to say, I don't know what's best but I trust that Barbara Boxer does so I'll allocate my taxes as she suggests.

Alvaro - Jun 28, 2005, 9:12a
This is just ludicrous. You're talking about a reconciliation effort so massive, just to undertake it would be an enormous cost in and of itself. Nevermind that, but who would want to pay for personally unnecessary, yet socially necessary projects??? I'm stunned that you're starting to sound like a republican! ;P

David - Jun 9, 2006, 10:20a
This is a brilliant idea, and it is feasable.
You would need to phase the effort in over time.
The short term impact of over-looked departments would leave them un-funded and shut down. The BLM for example might not make your list or catch the attention of voters. Folks would not notice until the remaining National Forrests were being mowed down buy entreprenuers, lumber companies and looters.
A first step to making this happen would be to shine a light on what voters (albeit unweighted taxpayers) want vs. what each congress member does. For example, I suspect that most folks in Walnut Creek want peace in the middle east. But more importantly, few of them are aware that Rep. Ellen Tauscher is sponsoring legislation to increase troops in the middle east and reduce the tarriff (taxes) on canned Oysters - unsmoked.

Linking voters desires to Congress Actions... the first step.

nikhil - Feb 13, 2012, 7:46a
And now it's on a T-shirt:

« Ethics of Stem Cell Research - Agreeing to Agree »

Come back soon! Better yet, stay up-to-date with RSS and an RSS Reader. Creative Commons License