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Bill Harrison


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How can we re-frame tax policy to make people happier about paying taxes and/or spending pro-socially?

We already require people to pay taxes, both for their own good and for the good of society as a whole. Michael Norton's talk, everyday experience, and our tribal evolutionary history suggest that pro-social spending makes us happier. Yet, many people hate paying taxes, possibly (as per Rory Sutherland's talk) because of the way tax policy is perceived or structured, or because they hate the lack of control as to where their money goes.

If you think social policies should be structured in such a way as to give the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people, then is there a way to structure tax policy in such a way to make people happier about paying taxes and/or spending pro-socially?

For example, maybe allowing (or requiring) people to pay some percentage of their taxes (beyond what they pay to the general fund) on some pre-approved set of necessary social programs, but allowing people to choose which ones, could be a policy that would promote pro-social behavior, and thereby produce happier and tighter-knit communities, nations, etc.

Such a policy would, in fact, be less restrictive than either taxation or education, both of which we already require. We don't allow selfish behavior (not paying taxes, remaining ignorant) in either of those cases, because we understand that pro-social laws and policies are necessary for society to function at all.

Policies like this are particularly necessary right now in the US, for example, where the country is extremely divided politically. This could also get the Mitt Romneys of the world to gain an appreciation of the interdependence that allows them to become and remain wealthy.

So, given that pro-social spending makes people happy (a la Michael Norton's talk) and given that re-framing where money goes can make people happier about paying money (as per Rory Sutherland's talk), how would you structure taxes so that people would be happier about paying them?


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    Apr 25 2012: Firstly I do believe the taxation system should cover the needs of its society to a level that make it a "society" and has an empathy for all its citizens. Society provides the infrastructure to make its citizens safe from harm (violence or intolerance) allows them to get around by road rail etc and if it chooses wisely it will provide universal health care. AND oh yeah education so they can make decisions about becoming libertarian or not lol.

    Maybe ..... a way to give recognition is that the government could send an occasional proclamation to some of its citizens thanking them for their contribution to a specific project and this personal contact will undoubtedly provide the same amounts of amount of happiness as does giving.

    We All humans share the same DNA and are family. Many of our flaws are geonomatically passed to us diversity makes some well suited to play this present game and others not so well suited and leads them into unwise decisions. We could punishing our family members and help them. Unlike the libertarians I be say we are obliged to help to pay for our protection.

    I agree with the facts that we need more effort going to help. Then I think good governance should do it through taxation and we should all feel proud to be contribution each to our ability.

    And lastly the time honored trickle down effect has not worked ... maybe too much water retainers in the subsoil

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