By Rachel Ochman
‘Dilbert’ creator Scott Adams, in his WSJ essay last weekend, shared some of his ideas about ways the government can squeeze more money from the rich.
They were, in short, terrible. In fact, that was the point. The “bad version,” he explains, is a television-writers’ technique to stimulate imaginations to engineer better solutions. And if the U.S. is wanting for anything in this moment of choking deficits, a deus ex machina for our budgetary woes certainly fits the bill.
The problem is that the current political structure–think short campaign cycles and 24/7 news– doesn’t allow for much room to brainstorm bad ideas, and thus, come up with better ones. So Adams turned the task over to his readers, in hopes that some of his “bad ideas” would inspire better ones.
Readers took his bait. The Tax Blog reviewed some of the hundreds of ideas and comments Adams inspired, and the subsequent live chat he fielded. We picked a few of the more popular and thought-provoking (if not always feasible) approaches readers thought Uncle Sam could take to make the rich less tax-averse.
Knowing the destination of your dollars. In his live chat, Adams noted that many of his readers “liked the idea of linking payment with some clear and observed use.” Adams’s own “bad idea” involved redesigning the tax code to funnel taxes on the rich to social services like health care and social security. The structure would incentivize the rich to reduce the need for those services, or make them more efficient and cost-effective. Readers offered up several derivatives of his idea, from paying for a year’s worth of a specific family’s health care (with feedback) to letting top earners pick the federal-program recipient of their tax dollars.
Taxing Democrats and Republicans at different rates. Call it “getting what you pay for.” If you want to enjoy the benefit of government services, or believe your fellow Americans should, pay the taxes to fund them. If not, don’t—and you’ll be roadblocked from access to certain government services. Outrageous? Sure. Creative? Definitely.
Taxing “vices.” Tax fast food to pay for the medical costs of obesity. Tax alcohol to pay for liver treatments. This reader’s idea wasn’t too far flung from a proposal already gaining traction in California. The California Cancer Research Act, now on the state’s 2012 ballot, proposes increasing tobacco taxes by $1 per pack, and using the revenue to fund cancer research and tobacco prevention and enforcement programs.
Donations. Some readers suggested donating time on the job–say, two weeks’ work and the wages you’d get–to the government. The unemployed would volunteer two weeks’ work (and the subsequent salary) in green industries. Everyone would be required to donate the same amount of time. After all, an hour is an hour, no matter how fat your wallet is. The exercise would be one of shared pain, that is, a burden we despise less if everyone bears it equally, says Adams.
Other ideas: a flat tax, a consumption tax, paying for naming rights to monuments and structures, taxing celebrities and professional athletes at a special (higher) rate, and the list goes on. WSJ is asking readers to vote on its top six picks.
Readers, what “bad” ideas can you add to the dialogue?