Justice Holmes said (and I’ve checked the quotation), “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society….”* The problem is that most people don’t know which civilized things they’re paying for and how much they cost—and as a result believe some bizarre things about where taxes go.
The Third Way, whose determination to evenhandedly blame liberals and conservatives for our fiscal problems generally irritates me, has come up with a brilliant solution (abstract, whole thing as .pdf): a “Taxpayer Receipt” to be sent to each taxpayer—not posted online, dammit; hasn’t anyone heard of information costs?—detailing what his or her taxes, at her level and composition of income, paid for.
A sample would look like this:
Alas, I’m afraid that Republicans, for all their stated zeal to scrutinize federal spending, would never go for it. They benefit quite nicely from the false but common assumption that the federal budget goes mostly to foreign aid and “waste.” Still, let’s propose it and see how they squirm. My reasons are different from Third Way’s: TW thinks that if people see what government pays for, they’ll realize the need to cut the big items; I think that if people realize how much they love what government pays for, they’ll stop hating taxes so much.
Via Ezra Klein.
*Dissenting in Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas v. Collector of Internal Revenue, 275 U.S. 87, 100; 48 S. Ct. 100, 105; or 72 L. Ed. 177, 183.