Leveraging Taxes for Civil Engagement
Dan Ariely had an interesting idea on NPR’s Marketplace today. Here’s the audio of the segment. The idea is to get tax payers thinking about how their tax dollars should be spent, thus getting them more civilly engaged. His research and that of others suggests that such activity would reduce the propensity to cheat on one’s taxes, and may even get people to pay more than they would otherwise.
This reminds me of the system we had in college at my student union where the election ballots each year would allow you to specify the exact breakdown of how your (mandated) contribution would be spent on a percentage basis. Don’t care about Sunday night flicks, but want more Hispanic cultural events? You can vote with your wallet. There was a separate process for determining which options made it on the ballot, but I know from personal experience that I did feel much better about my involuntary contributions each year knowing I had some control over how the money was spent.
So, could Ariely’s concept actually work on a national level? Interestingly, he wasn’t necessarily proposing that tax revenue be allocated according to taxpayer preferences, but rather that the exercise itself, for the taxpayer, helps induce civic-minded behavior which helps us all.
Perhaps we can go one further and actually use the stated preference data in the Congressional budgeting process.