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2011 May 11 Wednesday
Andrew Cohen: Charge To See Bin Laden Death Photos

The United States government is desperate for revenue and is headed for either a sovereign debt crisis or high price inflation. Andrew Cohen offers a modest proposal: Why Not Charge People to See Bin Laden's Death Photo?

I just don't think the Obama administration ought to give them up cheaply. And by that I don't only refer to the government's legal defense against the blizzard of Freedom of Information Act requests for the photographs already filed or on the way on behalf of individuals and media organizations alike. I refer also to simple market principles of supply and demand. The government is desperate for money. And it has a wholly unique "good" that many people in and out of Washington seem eager to view.

I think this idea should be a starting point for unique experiences that only a government can sell. Want to see a serial killer get the electric chair or lethal injection? (and surely the electric chair execution will command a much higher viewing price) Sell the seats on eBay to the highest bidders. The biggest name serial killers will earn the most for spectator viewing rights.

How about trials? They are expensive. Big name trials ought to have ticket prices for the audiences. New highway or bridge? Charge extra for anyone who wants to be first to drive it when it officially opens. The US military is going to test-fly a new fighter jet? Okay, sell tickets to the side of the runway. Why not?

You can imagine that special forces are in a position to make some pretty awesome videos of their battles with mujahideen. Why not sell viewings of videos of air strikes of muj camps? Some people will pay good money to see that sort of thing, especially if telephoto lenses show the muj guys walking around for minutes before getting splatted. Video of them laughing and smiling and then dying could earn movie viewing revenue.

Also, it is about time that those front rows of Presidential speeches to Congress have top bidders rather than US Supreme Court justices, generals, or cabinet secretaries. Those people can watch via closed circuit video - unless they want to pay big bucks of course.

Got any other ideas on how to monetize the US federal government or other governments? I'm thinking the British Parliament needs a bigger peanut gallery of paid spectators when its time for the Queen to give a speech or for Prime MInister's Questions. Also, the US Navy ought to charge for a Trident submarine ride or for a landing on an aircraft carrier. Set a price that'll earn a hefty profit. What else? We need bigger ideas for bigger revenues.

By Randall Parker    2011 May 11 09:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2010 April 18 Sunday
The VAT Tax Battle Looming

In order for the Leviathan to maintain its present bloated size new kinds of taxes (not just higher levels of existing taxes) must be enacted. So battles for the Value Added Tax and Carbon Tax are basically battles to ensure that the Leviathan can stay at its current expanded size and even grow. Since I do not want to see America become more like Europe (we already have Europe to act like Europe and need no further exampes) I am not keen to see either a VAT or a carbon tax enacted. Recent the US Senate voted against the VAT in a resolution and this great result disappoints Derek Thompson of The Atlantic.

The Senate overwhelmingly voted 85-to-13 on Thursday to reject the idea of a value-added tax in a resolution proposed by Sen. John McCain. All six of the senators on the president's bipartisan commission on the deficit -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- voted with the majority.

Sad. The resolution isn't even close to binding, and the VAT could live yet, but it's dispiriting that Sen. McCain would force the Senate to vote on this issue based on his emotional reaction to a Wall Street Journal editorial on the subject.


George Will argues that passage of VAT should only be done as part of a move to revoke the constitutionality of an income tax. I like this idea.

When liberals advocate a value-added tax (VAT), conservatives should respond: Taxing consumption has merits, so we will consider it -- after the 16th Amendment is repealed.

A VAT will be rationalized as necessary to restore fiscal equilibrium. But without ending the income tax, a VAT would be just a gargantuan instrument for further subjugating Americans to government.

The sovereign debt crisis of the 2010s is going to be used by the Left to try to solidify their gains in making the Leviathan bigger. The Right needs to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's playbook in California where each year's budget crisis gets settled mostly with big cuts in spending. The crisis will hit with each oil price spike and recession that will knock down tax revenues and increase demands for unemployment and other welfare transfer payments.

People who have been living in California for the last 10 years know what it is like to live under a continual government debt crisis. You'll hear a continual drum beat of claims that spending must not be cut, that taxes must go up. Demand the opposite. If the crisis gets resolved with an expansion of the Leviathan then your disposal income is going to take a really big hit. Higher income taxes and VAT taxes on products and services will lower your living standard.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 18 11:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 July 30 Thursday
The Upper Class Funds The US Government

Inequality and high marginal tax rates mean that a small fraction of the population pays an outsized share of taxes.

Washington, DC - The top 1 percent of tax filers earned about 22.8 percent of the nation's income in 2007 (the latest IRS data available), and paid 40.4 percent of all federal income taxes - more than the bottom 95 percent of tax filers combined, according to a Tax Foundation analysis of just-released IRS data.

Do you know why this is great news for the government? Granted, getting such a large fraction of revenue from top earners makes tax revenues more volatile. But why is income inequality great for the leviathan? Think about it. I'll explain below.

You might think that the top 1% pays to fund government programs for a large chunk of the rest of the population. But there's more going on here than that.

Both income and income tax shares for the top 1 percent of tax returns (AGI over $410,096) hit all-time highs in 2007. In Fiscal Fact No. 183, "Summary of Latest Federal Individual Income Tax Data," Tax Foundation Senior Economist Gerald Prante notes that the record-setting trend for income and income tax shares is likely to end with 2007, given the economic downturn in 2008.

"This pattern at the top of the income spectrum is the same during almost every recession and recovery," according to Prante. "Unlike middle-income wage-earners whose incomes and tax liabilities are fairly steady, high-income people have incomes and tax liabilities that fluctuate wildly with the economy. The sharp rise in federal government tax revenue from 2003 to 2007 is likely to be followed by a substantial dip in 2008, 2009 and perhaps 2010 as the economy struggles through the worst recession since the early 1980s."

Unstable revenue, sure. But since the top earners earn such a large fraction of total income inequality makes it easier for government to raise revenue. Imagine income was more evenly distributed. In that case government would need to anger more people with higher tax rates in order to collect just as much revenue. Yes, inequality is a ravenous democratically elected government's friend because inequality allows high tax rates on a small fraction of the population to bring in such a large chunk of revenue. No need to anger most voters in order to collect a lot of tax revenue.

141,000 tax returns (probably some of those are couples) bring in a fifth of all revenue but only 12% of all adjusted gross income.

Fiscal Fact No. 183, available online at, also takes a look for the first time at the top 0.1 percent of tax returns (the top 10 percent of the top 1 percent), which amounts to only 141,000 tax returns, but accounts for nearly 12 percent of AGI earned and around 20 percent of the nation's federal individual income taxes.

I expect inequality to increase because demographic trends mean a larger fraction of the population will not have high school diplomas. Texas style demographics mean greater wage inequality. Great for the leviathan.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 30 09:32 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
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