Saturday, November 7, 2009

Participatory Taxation

I culled this idea from listening to a man at the tea house last night. Although taxation is not my favorite tactic- drawing funding for our collective necessities from the activities or entities we want to reduce to disappear completely seemingly would promote their continued existence indirectly. I found this idea pretty interesting because the funding would never disappear, it would only keep shifting the burden of taxation to different entities thus overcoming this contradiction.

I had never heard of participatory taxation before last night (although he didn’t call it that). His idea was to allow the public decide through voting on a local level which businesses should be taxed and how much on a regular basis. There would be a grade curve so not every business could score high and not every business could score low. It would be on a relative continuum. So if we hate Chevron, we just vote to give them a relatively bad score and tax them to death. If we think Mission Pie is the most sustainable and equitable business, maybe we give them the best score and tax them very little if at all even though they are for profit. If a business does no harm, or even better contributes to the community through its commercial goods and services or donations, then they get a similar tax break like a nonprofit. Businesses would pay taxes but the taxes would be relative to their goodness or badness. This placement on the continuum of goodness and badness would shift periodically with a public vote and so would always be shifting. This would promote a competitive race to the top rather than to the bottom.

Now public perception could be skewed, especially if companies like Chevron throw a bunch of money behind a public relations campaign in order to get a better rating and lower their taxes. So public education and investigation are key. There is no way around that. But the businesses themselves would probably fund investigation and try to rat out the businesses that were doing harm in order to climb to the top of the relative index. And they would educate the public as to all the good they were doing. There might be some voter guide with a public (hopefully objective) evaluation of all the businesses. Now there are thousands of businesses in the Bay Area so it seems best to limit the voting to the businesses within a very small geographic region, where the citizens would also have regular contact with these businesses and would have first-hand knowledge of how they operate in order to make the most educated and accurate decisions about the businesses’ performance.

While again I am not a big fan of relying heavily on taxation, I am a big fan of participatory economic decision-making. If we are going to tax business, why shouldn’t the people decide? There is so much corruption in government that often skews taxation in favor of big, multinational business over small local business. I think things would be a lot different if we let the people decide.

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