Sunday, May 16, 2004

Voluntary taxes

I had lunch this afternoon in a rather typical kosher restaurant in Brooklyn. After paying for my meal I got my change, and there were some dollar bills and some change. Almost instinctively, after a cursory glance to make sure I was not supporting anything truly distasteful, I took the change and placed it in to the charity box nearest the cash register. Almost every Jewish or kosher retail store has a bunch of these boxes near the cash register. I assume that every so often the owner of the store empties the box and sends the contents to the charity, or every so often a representative of the charity comes and empties the boxes himself. I do not know how much each charity makes, but I am sure that the more popular charities (like Hatzolah or Tomchei Shabbos) do get a chunk of revenue from these boxes.

It seems to me that it might be a good idea for the city to do the same thing. Recently somone floated the idea of a tax on coffee in coffee shops. That is a dumb idea. Coffee already cost about $9.25 for a whatever at Starbucks. What the city ought to do is put little voluntary tax boxes in places like that. The city could ask for a $0.25 “tax” on each coffee you purchase. The tax will not be mandatory, and people will feel like they are giving to their city, as opposed to having the city take from them.

Perhaps they can have a few small boxes, each earmarked for different city projects. Perhaps they can have projects exclusively funded by the “voluntary coffee tax”. There are many popular projects that could get funded this way and free up funds for other-needed projects without having to raise taxes. I see a NYC 9/11 monument being a popular cause that people would want to contribute to that New York would have to pay for anyway. Perhaps money that goes directly to New York’s museums would drive people to shell out quarters. There are plenty of public works projects that could use more support, and this is just the right kind of way to get it.

At the very least, this concept is worth experimenting with. Libertarians like myself would welcome this sort of voluntary earmarked tax as just the kind of thing that needs to be in place for all government projects, and this would look like a good start. Do-gooder Democrats and communist-types would have to concede that any way to get more money from private people to the government has to be good, and all their girlfriends would look at them funny for not contributing at the coffee stand. Finally, Republican types, well, I am not sure what they would do. They tend to be charitable, and they will likely support causes that are endorsed by other Republicans. So we would just need to get them on board.

This is an idea whose time is here. We need to phase out some taxes and replace them with voluntary giving to the government. Hey, it works for Brooklyn.

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