Lupis42 offered the following really great critique on my entry...A Taxpayer Division of Labor
I've been reading a bunch of your stuff over the last couple of days, because while I wanted to like it, I keep coming back to a series of fundamental problems:
1st - Complexity. Imagine for a moment that, in a moment of sanity, Congress passes this measure for the 2012 tax year on. Because of the way congressional accounting currently works, allocating your tax dollars would be immeasurably difficult. For example, if a farmer allocates his money to farm subsidies, effectively lowering the taxes he should have paid in, does he get a refund check? What about all those people who, through deductions and credits, would pay effectively no income tax - do they need to allocate the income tax they pay to those credits then receive it back at the end of the year? Also, how granular can they get? Can they pick and chose (for example) which military projects get backed?At anytime throughout the year people would pay their taxes directly to the various government organizations (GOs) of their choice. They would receive a receipt and the GO would automatically send a receipt to the IRS. The IRS would just make sure that everybody had paid the proper amount of taxes for the previous year.
It's pretty straightforward that if the government is just wasting your taxes...then everybody would want a refund. Kind of along the same vein...if you're a pacifist and the government is spending your money on war then...chances are good that you'd want a refund. Now...I'm not quite sure what happens to the refund concept when people are directly responsible for funding GOs that they value. Do we see people asking for refunds from non-profit organizations? Would an environmentalist ask for a refund from the EPA? Why directly allocate your taxes in the first place if you're just going to want a refund? If somebody wanted a refund then wouldn't they just give their taxes to the IRS as normal?
The granularity issue would be between the GOs and their supporters. Well...perhaps it is primarily an issue with the military. My mother was very much against the war...but as I was her only child...she definitely would have wanted to allocate her taxes...and then some...to try and ensure that my unit had adequate funding to purchase kevlar plates and the such. In this case, the military would have received funding that it wouldn't have otherwise received. So I guess we can imagine that the families of soldiers would actively try to ensure that the units that their loved ones were in had adequate funding.
For the people who don't have family members in the military, yet still value national defense, would they be inclined to allocate taxes to the Marines rather than the Army? Or would they just allocate their taxes to the DoD? This is an issue that the DoD would have to try and figure out...how it could maximize revenue without compromising its effectiveness.
The military projects issue is an interesting one. I remember liberals criticizing the government for doing absolutely nothing to stop the genocide in Darfur. But what if we had a non-profit peace keeping force that was capable of stopping genocide and/or ethnic cleansing? Kind of like the A-Team but more substantial. In other words...it would have a heart, brains...and muscle. An army of liberals. Personally, I could see myself donating to such an organization. What would happen if more and more people donated their money to this non-profit while less and less people allocated their taxes to the DoD?
2nd - Inequality. Right now, around 50% of the populace pays income tax, and the top 10% pays more than 40% of the incoming revenue. Economics will encourage them to divert all of it to programs that, in one way or another, directly benefit their firms (i.e. Raytheons CEO will direct money to military programs that involve Raytheon projects, Solyndra's CEO will send his money to the line item "loan to Solyndra", etc.)If self-interest promotes the general interest in the private sector...then why wouldn't self-interest promote the general interest in the public sector? Why do corporations engage in philanthropy? Is it philanthropy if a company that sells products to the Red Cross makes a donation to the Red Cross? Does doing so guarantee that the Red Cross will continue to purchase products from that same company in the future?
Here's a passage from my very first poli-sci textbook...A Delicate Balance by Paul Light...
Roughly one out of every six Americans currently works for a private firm that receives federal contracts. Roughly two-thirds of those contracts came from the Department of Defense, which accounted for over $120 billion in 1997, and roughly two-thirds of those defense dollars went to just five firms: Lockheed Martin (airplanes), McDonnel Douglas (airplanes), Northrup Grumann (airplanes), General Motors (tanks and trucks), and Ratheon (weapons systems).The textbook was published in 1999...so...feel free to come up with updated stats if you feel they are pertinent. The point is...who would complain if Lockheed Martin or McDonnel Douglas or Northrup Grumann or General Motors or Ratheon allocated their taxes to the DoD? Surely none of their employees would complain. Surely none of the people who valued national defense would complain...well...unless they believed that those corporations were somehow overcharging the DoD.
How would it help the environmentalists to complain that the DoD was "overfunded"? How would criticizing the DoD help people understand the value and importance of the EPA? The same concept applies to people who value public education, public healthcare, infrastructure, etc.
What about tax repatriation holidays? If it would be economically sound for corporations to allocate their taxes to the GOs that they directly benefit from...then what incentives would they have to hide their profits overseas?
3rd - Choice. Whoever (Congresscritters, I assume) is responsible for determining what line items are available for taxpayer choice, and how they are worded will have a huge amount of power. Previously, the way a Congresscritter got a pork project funded was to agree to support another Congresscritter's project. Now all they have to do is write good copy.Right now you have 0% control over how your taxes are spent. We'll always disagree with how other people spend their taxes...but at the end of the day we'll have to recognize that other people will disagree with how we spend our taxes. This is the essence of political tolerance. Clearly though you can't be the only one to define something as a "public good". Sure..I could make the argument that it's a "public good" for me to take a vacation to Madagascar...but the positive externalities are negligible. For the most part I've said that voters would determine the functions of government and taxpayers would determine which functions to fund.
4th - Law Enforcement. Theoretically, the public can now defund unacceptable forms of law enforcement (e.g. the war on drugs), but this does nothing for the actual criminality of the laws on the books. This will lead to highly selective enforcement, which is even worse than consistent enforcement because it allows corrupt, bigoted, or agenda driven targeting of people. Even more problematically, if the taxpayers were to defund prisons while funding enforcement, for example, it would be impossible for even fair-minded, honest, diligent enforcement officers to actually apply the law. If some programs are made contingent on 'end-to-end' funding, then we're back at problem 3, but with more of a vengeance.When I was pulled over for my speeding ticket...(see my post on the Opportunity Costs of Public Transportation) I asked the officer if it was a coincidence that I always drive the same speed in my old Toyota Tundra...and have had cops right behind me several times...but I end up getting a ticket the one time I borrowed my friend's Mercedes. Heh...like the cop would admit that he pulled me over because I was driving a Mercedes. I also asked him why he didn't give everybody who was driving over the speed limit a ticket. He literally passed people who were breaking the law to give me a ticket. Here in Los Angeles nearly everybody drives over 65 mph on the freeway.
If people want to pass a law...then they should have to put their money where their mouths are. It's not enough for people to say that something should be illegal...they need to understand that if they want something to be illegal...then they will be the ones responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced. As I mentioned in my post...it's a sign of maturity to accept responsibility for one's decisions. If people aren't mature enough to accept responsibility for the laws that they voted for...then it's not a bad thing if those laws are not properly enforced.
This of course ties into the opportunity cost concept. If you want people to purchase your product...then it's your responsibility to convince them to forgo the other products that they value. If you want other people to pay for your law to be enforced...then you should have to convince them to forgo the other public goods that they value. This is how we ensure the best possible use of scarce resources.
What you're saying in essence is that...the current method of dealing with crime is the best method of dealing with crime. How could anybody truly know that? What you're doing is blocking heterogeneous approaches to crime. Personally, I believe that an ounce of prevention is worth two of cure. My grandfather was always fond of saying that idle minds are the devil's workshop. Or something like that. If I only have a limited amount of money to spend on the problem of crime...which is certainly the case...then I'd spend it on sponsoring activities that offer at-risk youth with more choices besides joining a gang. Is this the best approach? Again, I can't know that. What I do know is that the only way we can truly discover the best approach is if we allow people to support multiple approaches.
Is there a demand to solve the problem of crime? Yes. Should organizations have to compete for the resources to solve this problem? Yes.
The rest aren't a per se objection to Pragmatarianism wholesale, because they could be applied to our current systems too, but they are relevant when considering it as an alternative to Libertarianism.
5th - Rate Setting. There's still no good feedback mechanism on what the size of government should be, just it's role. Fundamentally, your objection to Liberals and Libertarians is that each claims to know the optimal size of government, which you want to let the market decide, but unless you propose to allow taxpayers to allocate up to 100% of their taxes to their own tax rebates, Pragmatarianism offers no alternative but to elect either Liberals or Libertarians to set the tax rates.If I'm an environmentalist...and I want people to allocate more of their taxes to the EPA...does raising the tax rate mean that non-environmentalists will somehow become environmentalists? Probably not...it just means that I end up paying more of my own money to the EPA. If I want other people to allocate more of their taxes to the EPA then I have to convince them of the value of the EPA.
6th - Rights. There's nothing in here that addresses the ability of, say, congress interfere in other ways, e.g. criminilaizing activities that have no non-consenting victim (drug use, gambling, prostitution, home-brewing, prayer, free speech, etc.True. Coming from libertarianism...I have my own views regarding rights...and those views won't change if a pragmatarian system was implemented. Pragmatarianism is all about KISS....Keep it Simple Stupid. By keeping it completely nonpartisan...it helps to focus the debate.
Ultimately, I like the general idea and it makes a lot of sense in conjunction with a smaller, more limited government, but I have a hard time seeing it work without a much more Libertarian state than we have now.As a web programmer I spend a lot of time looking for bugs in the code. It's really frustrating when something should work...but it's just not working. I'm always like...hmmm...why isn't this working? To find the bug in the code I have to test each portion of the code separately. This allows me to narrow down the search.
If you take a look on my page on libertarianism you'll see I created a timeline of prominent libertarians' perspectives on the scope of government. All those guys were/are brilliant...so why aren't their arguments working?
Pragmatarianism is a method of debugging libertarianism. It removes the debate over the tax rate and it removes the debate over whether something is a genuine "public good" or not. The only thing remaining is whether congress can allocate public goods more efficiently than taxpayers can. It is my firm opinion that this is where the bug is located.
Can resources truly be efficiently allocated by proxy? Well...parents purchase things for their kids. That's one or two adults representing the interests of one or two kids. Well...what about Christmas? Santa Claus is responsible for giving gifts to all the kids of the world...right? Well...what about Jesus? Jesus died for all of our sins...right? Well...what about congress? Can 538 congresspeople truly represent the public interests of 300,000,000 people? Well...as I argued in my post on the divine disparity...it's certainly progress in comparison to having one king represent the public interests of all his subjects.
Kids want to believe in Santa Claus? Fine...no problem. People want to believe in God? Again...no problem. People want to believe in congress? Sure...no problem...as long as they respect my beliefs and allow me to directly allocate my taxes.
In other words...the bug in the political system is intolerance. Why haven't more people come to the same conclusion? As I argued in my post on the The Devil's Advocate for Public Goods...we think we are all "civilized" aka "all grown up" but we're really not...we're always in the process of growing up.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. - 1 Corinthians 13:11
Tradition, thou art for suckling children,It might be a mistake to implement pragmatarianism...and it might be a mistake not to implement pragmatarianism...but I'm pretty sure it's a mistake not to seriously consider the idea. So... kudos for seriously considering the idea!
Thou art the enlivening milk for babes;
But no meat for men is in thee.
But, alas, we all are babes. - Stephen Crane