Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We, The People - Jack C. Haldeman II

Not too long after I started asking people about tax choice, a fellow on facebook mentioned that a science fiction story had been written on the subject.  Unfortunately, he couldn't remember the title of the story or the name of the author.  That was a year and a half ago.

Just yesterday, in this thread...How to Defeat a Liberal in a Debate...raytri had this to say about pragmatarianism...
Right. Because taxpayers are going to take the time to research all the available options and carefully weigh what needs funding.
For that matter, who decides what options are available to be chosen from? Within a broader category (like, say, defense), who decides what weapons systems will be bought, and how many?
We have representatives for a reason: they're supposed to spend the time developing the expertise and studying the options to make good decisions on our behalf. We can then judge them by the results, and vote them out if we don't like the results. It's a very rational division of labor.
The fact that many Congresspeople are idiots, or deep partisans from safe districts, is a problem. But direct democracy at the level of granularity you're talking about isn't a solution.
Are you a collector?  I sure am.  So I added his response to my collection...Unglamorous but Important Things.  But that's not all that raytri had to say about the subject... 
BTW, there's a science fiction short story based on the premise of individual allocation of taxes. It's called "We the People", written by Jack Haldeman:
W00t!  Partial knowledge for the win!
The problem is thus in no way solved if we can show that all the facts, if they were known to a single mind (as we hypothetically assume them to be given to the observing economist), would uniquely determine the solution; instead we must show how a solution is produced by the interactions of people each of whom possesses only partial knowledge. To assume all the knowledge to be given to a single mind in the same manner in which we assume it to be given to us as the explaining economists is to assume the problem away and to disregard everything that is important and significant in the real world. - Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society
Speaking of partial knowledge...I quickly updated the Wikipedia entry on Tax Choice.  Wikipedia, tax choice and Buddha's parable of the blind men and the elephant are all based on the concept of partial knowledge.

The science fiction story by Jack Haldeman was a lot shorter than I had took less than 5 minutes to read...but it was even better than I had imagined.  Here's what Haldeman himself had to say about his story, which was published in 1983...
"We, the People," written in a flush of bitter anger, but with an undertone of hope -- has over the years gathered me more response than anything else I've ever written. It has appeared in a variety of newsletters from such diverse organizations as Libertarians and CPAs. I was told that someone once sent copies to all the members of the Senate when they were considering tax reform. It has been used in classrooms to teach the critical difference between a Democracy and a Republic. I wrote it years ago, but I feel it is as pertinent today as it was when it appeared in Analog magazine. - Jack C. Haldeman II, Political Science Fiction
1983 was a long time ago!  You'd figure that somebody would have already fleshed out the conceptual framework for the idea.  Why hasn't the idea gone viral yet?  If you get a chance check out Arnold Kling's blog entry...The Idea Factory.

Maybe going viral is a matter of connecting the right dots.  When I searched google for other references to Haldeman's story I found this large and relatively recent dot on the subject...Voluntary Tax Rates and Personalized Earmarks: How to Solve the Debate over Taxes.  How many more dots have to be connected before the tax choice movement can gain momentum?

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