Yesterday, a funny confluence of events happened.
I paid my taxes and the Senate passed the spending bill, all in the same day.
In one fell swoop, I could see both money out and where it was being spent.
Because the two events came together, I felt rather personally connected to where my money was being spent. And the more I looked at it, the less I liked it. It was not where I would choose to spend it, for the most part.
If you are on a payroll, your taxes come out with each pay check. They are deducted before you see the total, and it happens weekly or bi-weekly. So, although you may look at the numbers on the pay stub, you don't really "feel" the full impact of taxation. However, if you are like me and you are self-employed, then you pay taxes in bulk, generally quarterly. What this means is that every once in a while you sit down and write some whopping big checks to (in my case), the city, the state and the federal government. All in one shot. This, believe me, you feel.
Living in New York City and New York State (since they are inseparable), my combined taxes -- city, state and federal, come to just over 50 percent of my income. Again, if you are self- employed, a lot of that money sits in your checking account for a while and you might have the mistaken impression that it's yours. It isn't.
But writing such big checks (which pretty much wipe out the balance each time), makes one focus on where the money goes. How ironic that The New York Times pretty much answered that question for me.
When income taxes were instituted, there was no Internet (clearly) and the best you could do was put all that money in the hands of your elected legislators and hope that they spent it wisely. And if they didn't, then you could, in theory, throw them out and replace them with someone else (you see how many incumbents get tossed each election cycle -- next to none). The thing about being an elected official is you are spending someone else's money. You have not earned it yourself. And, as anyone who has ever won a lottery or received a big gift from a rich uncle knows, when you haven't actually earned the money yourself, you tend to treat it a bit differently from money you have earned. It's human nature.
So elected government officials (or unelected bureaucrats), tend to look at our money (and spend it) differently than we might look at it or decide to spend it ourselves.
Which made me think, why in the age of the Internet, could we not have some voice in how our money was spent? Maybe not all of it. Maybe, say, half of it. Let's say that for everything above, oh say 25 percent of your income, each person got to decide where the rest of the money got spent. You could do it online, by checking a few boxes. It would, in fact, be easy to do. As they used to say on The Six Million Dollar Man (when 6 million was still a lot of money), "we have the technology."
We could do this. It is possible. And, I think, it would create a very different spending pattern (and a different country!), if we were to really democratize the spending process.
Given the choice, where would you spend your money for the good of the country? You are allowed to ask. It is, after all, your money. I know where I would commit mine (or at least a part of it that I had control over). PBS, for example, only gets 0.012 percent of the federal budget. NASA gets even less. I would opt for arts, science and education. But that's me. In the Internet Tax System (feel free to use the name) everyone gets to decide for themselves. What would the outcome be?
The nice thing here (and there are many nice aspects to it), is that it would disconnect legislators from the enormous power of a few rich funders who underwrite their campaigns. If you disconnected the Congress from at least a percentage of how our money gets spent, I bet you would also disconnect Congress from the persuasive power of "contributors", because in the end it's all about money, isn't it?
Now, I doubt that even if the technology exists and even if someone could build a "Spend My Tax Money Here" app (how hard could this be compared to something like Snapchat?), I doubt that even one Senator or Congressperson would vote for it.
Which is too bad.
Because don't we have a right to decide how our money gets spent? Or is that too much democracy?