Tax-paying for Fun and Profit
June 10, 2013 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Today, despite our interconnected and indeed “flattened” world, taxes are still being collected on a model not substantially different from the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

"Modern advances give us the ability to re-engineer the taxation system to benefit from computerized automation and the insights of modern psychology. People like to do things that bring a tangible reward. Tax-paying should be made FUN, not a chore. You will want to participate if you perceive a direct benefit. This new model selectively adapts the old English system of raising money by granting royal monopolies. A tax-paying entity would be allowed to make a bid on the percentage of tax it would pay for acquiring monopoly rights on a particular venture, posted publicly on a government-auction website for others to see and to post their alternative bids. Proposals put out for bid could immediately be tested for market viability by getting a thumbs-up/thumbs-down from the general public. The rewards to the proposer and to the public can be immediately perceived by all. Hence, the conditions for a positive stimulus-response-reward loop are fulfilled. Tax-paying becomes both fun and profitable, even more gratifying than betting in Las Vegas, because the bidder gets a perceptible benefit from it right away. The advantage to the state and its citizens is that monopoly efficiency does not just serve the monopolist but also the public. The would-be monopolist must make a precise calculation of how much to offer the state in taxes; upon pain of losing the auction to a competitor. With minimal government intervention, the “invisible hand” of economic theory is put to the task of serving the public good".
posted by three blind mice (44 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
You will want to participate if you perceive a direct benefit.

Libraries, roads, schools, police, firefighters, regulation on corporations, military....

That sort of thing? So lame compared to sexy, sexy monopolies. The only way to motivate people is to take away actual benefits and replace them with the prospect of (maybe) getting cold, hard cash which they can use to purchase a subpar version of the benefits they lost.
posted by DU at 10:10 AM on June 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


This all sounds great until some apex-predator corporation comes along and decides that their favored strategy is to become a monopoly of monopolies.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:13 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, let's take this thing that has worked relatively well for the last 5000 years and chuck it out the window, because my gold-plated gold needs gold plating reasons.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:13 AM on June 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Anytime somebody comes along and tries to make paying taxes easier the tax software companies lobby congress to make sure it doesn't happen.
posted by livejamie at 10:16 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: "This new model selectively adapts the old English system of raising money by granting royal monopolies. A tax-paying entity would be allowed to make a bid on the percentage of tax it would pay for acquiring monopoly rights on a particular venture, posted publicly on a government-auction website for others to see and to post their alternative bids. "

The toll rate on E-470, roughly 33 cents per mile, is one of the highest rates of any toll road in the United States. The toll price in 2010 was $3.00 per toll gate and is now $3.25.
posted by boo_radley at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tax-paying should be made FUN, not a chore. You will want to participate if you perceive a direct benefit

"Fun, not a chore" and "giving my money to a for-profit monopoly" are not exactly a "chocolate and peanut butter" kind of pairing, y'know?
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:19 AM on June 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


A tax-paying entity would be allowed to make a bid on the percentage of tax it would pay for acquiring monopoly rights on a particular venture, posted publicly on a government-auction website for others to see and to post their alternative bids. Proposals put out for bid could immediately be tested for market viability by getting a thumbs-up/thumbs-down from the general public.

This system would be gamed before you could say "4chan online poll fraud."
posted by zombieflanders at 10:21 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hey, this sounds as pragmatic and sensible as railway privatization here in the UK!
posted by alasdair at 10:27 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I believe the technical term is tax farming, which suffice to say has a pretty bad reputation.

Anyway, if we're going to modernize the tax system, why don't we do something cool, like replace tax brackets with an integral function? Thanks to computers, you wouldn't even have to know calculus to figure out what you owe.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:27 AM on June 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Great idea! I'll start oiling up the guillotine.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:31 AM on June 10, 2013


Anyway, if we're going to modernize the tax system, why don't we do something cool, like replace tax brackets with an integral function?

Faved for the math content, but the political content is pretty terrible. How much are you going to bring in on the "triangles" on top of the bars vs adding the missing tax brackets we no longer have (people making more than $200k)?
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on June 10, 2013


Tax-paying should be made FUN, not a chore.

I'm having a hard time accepting the premise that the people and organizations that have enough money to participate in the buying of monopolies aren't paying taxes because just because it's boring.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:36 AM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


With minimal government intervention, the “invisible hand” of economic theory is put to the task of serving the public goodprivatizing everything that's left to privatize.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:38 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Today, despite our interconnected and indeed “flattened” world, taxes are still being collected on a model not substantially different from the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

It's definitely a bummer every year after the riparian floods when I get shanghaied into corvée labor to construct temples and till fields of einkorn wheat.
posted by XMLicious at 10:41 AM on June 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


Try explaining an integral to the general public. Tons of people don't even understand how the brackets work. Now, invisible brackets? Might as well be witchcraft.

All they need to do is intersperse a few more brackets in there, reconfigure some deductions and the AMT and reconfigure the cap gains tax. Problems solved.

I'm not against the idea of making some services fee based. Certainly, optional things like gun permits and the like ought to be self-funding. What I'd like to see more of is a codification of just how much funding comes from each source. Take a subway system- it should be cast into law what percent of the funding should come from the general tax base, and what percentage should come from rider fees.
posted by gjc at 10:41 AM on June 10, 2013


You mean like the exclusive monopoly Comcast has for providing my town with cable services?

The one that, in principal, could be revoked and given to someone else who promises to provide better/cheaper/faster services but never, ever, will because Comcast will just raise a stink about how it's unfair to disrupt everyone's service and rally everyone to their cause by spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:42 AM on June 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


How much are you going to bring in on the "triangles" on top of the bars vs adding the missing tax brackets we no longer have (people making more than $200k)?

Good question; if I had time this afternoon, I could probably work out the numbers. Obviously it's no substitute for increasing the top rates, but it's an interesting exercise.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:43 AM on June 10, 2013


To be serious, the idea sounds cute, is fundamentally wrong, and distracts us from dealing with the actual problems we face. This post might be epitomic.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:46 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is parody, right?
posted by 256 at 10:47 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the Roman Republic and early Empire made substantial use of tax farmers. Eventually, they stopped, because of wide scale abuses and the deep hatred of the general populace.

Instead of dismantling society to the point of violent revolution, maybe we could go directly to the revolution. That will save a great deal of infrastructure and make the emergent People's State that much more awesome.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:48 AM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


We need more democratic control of the provision of social goods, not less.
posted by phrontist at 10:48 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tax-paying should be made FUN, not a chore.

Tax-paying will never be FUN. It will always be a chore. I don't know what else there is to say.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:49 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tax paying has never been a chore. It's that settling-up of accounts in April that is pretty much a PITA.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:51 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Considering that the month in which we get our tax refund is often the only month in a given year we stay comfortably in the black anymore, my wife and I look forward to tax season as it is. Speaking as a middle range income earner here. Sure, the process of filing itself can be a little tedious, but hey, it doesn't usually take much more than a few hours on one day out of the year. And that refund money sure helps make the second half of the year go smoother for some of us.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:53 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I get into arguments every April. It goes something like this:

Stranger: Tax Time is hell.
Me: I dunno, I don't like the forms, but I like paying taxes.
Stranger: WHAAAAAAA?!?!
Me: Well, I like roads and schools and a fire department that shows up quickly.
Stranger: Yeah, well, that stuff is good.
Me: That is what taxes are for, right?
Stranger: I hate taxes.

Now, I would much rather pay the state to maintain roads than to essentially let the state auction the rights to charge me for roads to the highest bidder. Currently, if I don't like the roads, I can put some pressure on the state. I am not sure I would have any leverage with a private company who perhaps had some oversight from the state. Why increase the chain of responsibility?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:30 AM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Modern advances give us the ability to re-engineer the taxation system to benefit from computerized automation and the insights of modern psychology."

Like receiving a deduction for not killing my father and/or having sex with my mother?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:33 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Threads like this are a big part of why I hang out here. Someone posts a dumb idea that's stupid enough to become the Republicans' next big trial balloon full of methane, and it gets shot down humorously by a dozen expert marksmen. There should be a podcast consisting of just this stuff read aloud.
posted by JHarris at 11:34 AM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Tax-paying becomes both fun and profitable, even more gratifying than betting in Las Vegas, because the bidder gets a perceptible benefit from it right away.

The only thing that annoys me more than the absolutely ludicrous premise of this paper is the inclusion of that line in the abstract. If you ignore the inconveniently obvious connotations of greedy casinos robbing unsuspecting people through games that always favor the house, the claim is just so utterly inappropriate and insulting. We all know that a trip to the stupid Box Factory can't possibly compare with a visit to Disneyworld, so why are they even trying to convince us with with horribly insincere comparisons like this?

This is parody, right?

I hope so.

I really hope so.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:41 AM on June 10, 2013


Why increase the chain of responsibility?

Because it would be FUN! As the authors argue, this tax scheme is even more gratifying than betting in Vegas. (But probably not as gratifying as losing your house at the craps table and then getting rolled in the street by a hooker.)
posted by octobersurprise at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the paper's authors has been in the news before:

Robert Kunstadt, a New York patent attorney by day and amateur rock musician by night, recently merged his two interests by patenting a guitar with a flexible neck.

Mr. Kunstadt, leader of Prior Art, a soft rock group made up of patent attorneys, said the new instrument took the string tension off a guitar's neck and prevented it from becoming warped.


That's a fantastic band name, considering the context.
posted by cjelli at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


patenting a guitar with a flexible neck.

Is this real? How in the world does a guitar with a flexible neck hold its tuning and intonation? I mean, from the article, I sort of get that the idea here is that in this design the neck isn't what holds the strings in tension, rather the headstock sort of independently holds the strings in the proper tension, but if the neck bends flexibly, won't the fret board deform all the same? And won't the fret board's deformation still screw with the tonality/pitch of the note you get when pressing the string to the fret board? I guess I just don't get it...
posted by saulgoodman at 12:23 PM on June 10, 2013


How to change the tax system in six steps:

1. Introduce new tax system. Make it opt-in. Ensure that the taxes are slightly lower than the traditional system (perhaps 1%).
2. Everyone who cares about taxes opts-in. Lots of good press.
3. Make the old system more complicated.
4. Force the remainder to switch to the new system.
5. Eliminate the old system.
6. Raise taxes.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:26 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Given that people will spend an insane amount of money to qualify for dubious prizes, why not "gamify" taxes by offering a ticket for every, say, $1000 paid, with some (three or so) chances for those who don't pay anything. Make the prizes decent, like NPR premia, with maybe the top prize of 5 percent off next year.

Or, turn the corporate tax rate into some sort of dungeon grind for loot or something, where each $1000 has, like, a .003 percent chance of winning them an H1B visa.
posted by klangklangston at 12:33 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this real? How in the world does a guitar with a flexible neck hold its tuning and intonation?

No idea! But the patent filing is online, with illustrations. I don't have the musical knowledge to judge how well it would work.

Thinking about this more, it kind of makes that a patent attorney -- ie, someone who works with government-granted monopolies all the time -- would see a system of government-granted monopolies as being a good way to reform the tax system. When all you have is a hammer, etc etc.
posted by cjelli at 12:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or, turn the corporate tax rate into some sort of dungeon grind for loot or something, where each $1000 decreases the chance of being eaten by a grue.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:44 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


How in the world does a guitar with a flexible neck hold its tuning and intonation?

Must've had Steve Vai as a customer, eh.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2013


Threads like this are a big part of why I hang out here. Someone posts a dumb idea that's stupid enough to become the Republicans' next big trial balloon full of methane, and it gets shot down humorously by a dozen expert marksmen.

The thing is, with a big and dumb enough balloon, you don't need to be an expert marksman. You just have to shoot in the general direction.

In other words, you don't need a PhD in historic taxing schemes or a masters in economics to realize that monopolies don't work as well as they do on paper. There are plenty of real-world examples of privatized utilities where the cost of the good or service has increased substantially compared to that same good or service where it is still offered by a public entity.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:34 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Today, despite our interconnected and indeed “flattened” world, taxes are still being collected on a model not substantially different from the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs."

It's not just taxes! We still make our wheels round too! Just like CAVEMEN!

"Because we've always done it that way" should never be an argument to either continue or stop doing something.
posted by VTX at 2:18 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the unspoken argument here is not that we still collect taxes in some old-fashioned manner. Rather, it's probably that we still collect taxes, period.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tax-paying becomes both fun and profitable, even more gratifying than betting in Las Vegas, because the bidder gets a perceptible benefit from it right away

This is precisely how state lottery systems work, isn't it? They do raise some funds, I guess. In my state, around 1/200 of what would be needed to replace conventional tax income. We just need to have the lotto prizes be things like "clean water" and "a fair trial" and stuff like that and it'll all work out.

The rewards to the proposer and to the public can be immediately perceived by all. Hence, the conditions for a positive stimulus-response-reward loop are fulfilled […] it seems plain enough that our current taxation system flagrantly violates the most elementary principles of sound and practical modern marketing

It's true, the main problem with our society is that we don't make enough of our major policy decisions based on immediate gut reactions to un-factchecked publicity websites.

It seems like this proposal basically boils down to "let's eliminate personal income tax and derive 100% of revenue from corporate income tax" plus an unrelated proposal to eliminate most services in favor of monopolies granted via game-show.

I couldn't make it all the way through the paper, but I loved the part where they argued that the monopolies will not be harmful because competition will keep the price down (‽).
posted by hattifattener at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Congratulations to cjelli for derail of the year :)
posted by brokkr at 7:02 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman: patenting a guitar with a flexible neck.

Is this real? How in the world does a guitar with a flexible neck hold its tuning and intonation? I mean, from the article, I sort of get that the idea here is that in this design the neck isn't what holds the strings in tension, rather the headstock sort of independently holds the strings in the proper tension, but if the neck bends flexibly, won't the fret board deform all the same? And won't the fret board's deformation still screw with the tonality/pitch of the note you get when pressing the string to the fret board? I guess I just don't get it...
Nope, it's not possible - not even if the flexibility was exclusively around the parallel axes of the frets. It's a meta-comment, or a professional joke.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2013


Interestingly, this idea was also tried in the middle ages. "Corporations" (guilds) would sponsor public works (such as building and/or repair of bridges), granted by royal or city license, and collect tolls to reimburse the costs. The works were often self-interested (better bridge access to markets, for instance, or a hospital built primarily to service injured and aged guildmembers and their families), but also served a very real PR purpose in an age where "noblesse oblige" was a huge standard by which the wealthy were judged. It worked fairly well for their age; many UK hospitals today trace their origins back thus.

Of course, the Grosser's Guild of London wasn't in a position to develop a monopoly over every bridge in England, nor even all of London (without the continued collusion of the Lord Mayors, who were elected for limited terms from all the important guilds).
posted by IAmBroom at 10:32 AM on June 11, 2013




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