Taxes: A modest proposal

By H. Wayne Schow

In the course of an over-long election season, it became clear that a great many people react viscerally against being taxed. “My money is mine,” they say. “I worked hard for it [or maybe they didn’t], so don’t tell me that government spending has an upside.” That’s the gist of their angry complaint. They suffer from what might be called the Grover Norquist syndrome. “I hate government waste,” they thunder, “and I hate government handouts to lazy freeloaders [unless, of course, they happen in one way or another to be a recipient, in which case it’s not a handout per se and certainly justified].”

It’s a dilemma isn’t it. Anybody who thinks about it with an open mind must admit that government does a lot of good things for just about everyone (more for some than others, to be sure, and it’s not necessarily the poor who benefit most—the rich do pretty well with tax loopholes and policies that are capital-friendly). Still, come tax time, when we look at the bite the Feds have taken, many of us want to grumble a little, feeling slightly bruised. Others are so resentful they’d like to secede from the country. That’s resentment big time.

What’s needed is a strategy that would make people feel not merely good about paying their taxes but even look forward to it. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

To be honest, I don’t think you could base such a plan on altruism or an appeal for personal sacrifice. Human nature being what it is, self-interest (or at worst greed) is all too often the bottom line. So that must be acknowledged up front and factored in.

Well, I think I’ve found the solution—and it’s been right there staring us in the face for quite some time.

Not long ago while driving to town, I read a billboard message: “$100 million raised for Idaho by the Idaho Lottery.” Or it was something close to that.

It started me thinking creatively. Just about everyone I know throws a few dollars at the lottery now and again; some people even do it with disciplined regularity. And do you know what? I’ve never heard any of these people complain about the result. Doesn’t matter that the odds against a big payoff are ridiculously short. Doesn’t matter that their wallet is thinner. Doesn’t matter that they lose. There’s just the excitement of the remote possibility that you might make a LUCKY SCRATCH and voila! it could be a grand new life on easy street.

Wow! Suddenly the vision hit me. It’s so obviously a marriage made in heaven. We just have to COMBINE TAX PAYMENT WITH A LOTTERY.

Here’s how: You’d set aside one percent of the tax income, give or take, for lottery prizes. But nationally that would amount to millions and millions and millions to be doled out to the lucky players in USA TAX LOTTO. And the lottery tickets would be apportioned based on the amount of tax paid. That’s the genius of it—it would be absolutely fair for all players; no one could complain about socialistic redistribution of tickets and the odds of winning. (Freeloading non-taxpayers, too bad for you.)

Suddenly citizens would no longer resent paying their taxes. They’d look forward to it. They couldn’t wait. Everybody would want to pay early. They’d probably even throw in a few hundred or a few thousand dollars extra—or even more—just to get more tickets and increase their chances of winning big.

I’m confident that such overpayments would not merely cover the cost of lottery prizes offered; the considerable excess could be used to pay down the national debt painlessly, without forcing anyone to sacrifice—which after all is just what everyone wants, right?

Politicians could forget about making arguments to the deaf ears of grumpy citizens that, after all, their taxes serve the commonweal. Our representatives wouldn’t be intimidated that voters might throw them out of office if good sense and fiscal responsibility called for a tax increase. Voters would no longer care—because their own self-interest would obliterate other considerations.

I should mention an additional upside to this proposal. With extensive nationwide advertising and administration, it would create many new jobs in every state in the union and thus bolster the economy. Lawmakers and citizens alike would love that (the former could take credit for bringing home the pork). And, of course, privatizing the USA TAX LOTTO would certainly be an option if anyone objected that this would otherwise grow the Federal Government undesirably.

It’s just a win-win-win proposition all the way around.

Some will say that with implementation of this idea I will have done a public service deserving of the nation’s gratitude. Perhaps some will even wish to make me a regular gratuity, a pittance of a percentage, taken from the national lottery prize pot. But I will modestly decline, feeling sufficiently rewarded in the satisfaction of having made such a beneficial gift to my fellow Americans.

H. Wayne Schow of Pocatello is a professor of English emeritus at Idaho State University.