Monday, April 02, 2012

Pragmatarianism

I have been invited to review the idea of Pragmatarianism. What is pragmatarianism? It is a tax idea, that people should be able to direct their taxes to whatever government programs they want. That way, taxes are less forced on us, and we have at least the appearance of voluntarism.

Let us assume for a moment the legitimacy of taxation as currently practiced. Under pragmatarianism, I could donate all my money to, say, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Certainly this would force people to literally put their money where their mouths are. Those who think the NEH and/or NEA should receive greater funding would be able to direct their money to those programs. Other than expose the rank hypocrisy of most NEA supporters (who want to spend YOUR money, not THEIR money), would this in fact increase NEA funding? How many people do in fact want to support the NEA?

I have heard about this idea before. I have heard it argued that military spending would go down, suggesting we would defund future wars, but I find that improbable. A significant portion (about 1/3) of the population is conservative and, thus, pro-military. These people are more likely to support the military with their tax dollars, at the expense of welfare. But don't worry, because another third of the population is liberal, and would direct their money to welfare programs. One has to wonder what difference any of this would make. Perhaps the individual taxpayer feels better about where their money is going, but I also see how this can result in much deeper divisions in the country, where people become resentful that their neighbors are not supporting their pet projects.

Also, consider the potential for corruption. An agriculture company receiving subsidies would of course want to support the Ag Dept so that much of the taxes they donated would return back to them. Of course, only corporations could do this, so they would be able to reduce their tax burden considerably through such methods. Further, one could imagine corporations approaching wealthy people, paying them to donate their tax dollars to the departments that hand out their subsidies. The net effect of something like this would be to effectively reduce the taxes of the wealthiest people. The poor and middle class would not be approaches simply because there are so many with so little.

A better approach would be to have a program like pragmatarianism, except private donations are 100% tax deductible. This would effectively privatize most government activities, and it is well established that the private sector does better with money than does the government. This would have the effect of reducing the size of government not just because it is starved of money, but because its duties have in fact been privatized. This would be a pragmatarianism I could sign up with wholeheartedly.
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