CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You can tell that it is a political year. This is when everyone seeking political office advocates cheaper and less government. The result is an endless array of prescriptions of what and who to cut. Fear, anger, and sensationalism dominate the scene.
Perhaps it is time to take a fresh approach. There are several interesting options to generate revenue and create value. First, it is time to re-introduce an old concept known as the "use tax." The concept is simple. Basically, if you use a service, you pay for it. If you do not use the service, you do not. The use tax is commonly used for service fees, like tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike. Now may be the time, however, to use the concept for big bucks.
As noted in Newsweek, firms that export jobs from the United States and import goods to the United States using shipping lanes protected by the U. S. military should pay an "escort fee." Firms that expect U.S. foreign policy to fight for open markets should pay a "free market fee." Firms that expect the U.S. State Department to fight for overseas patent protection for intellectual property rights and against copyright infringement should pay a "protection fee." Giant firms that expect the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote export crops should pay a "marketing fee." The firms that expect public education dollars to train their employees should pay an "education fee." Actually, the list is extensive. Internalizing such costs to those who need particular services would save the government billions, even permitting some of the generated revenues to support legitimate programs that serve all citizens instead of only campaign contributors.
The second is a no-brainer. As noted in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, there are $400 billion dollars each year in uncollected taxes, which is a separate problem than money hidden in offshore havens by tax evaders. In this case, the tax gap consists of business and individuals who underpay, don't file, and/or underreport. According to Tony Pugh in McClatchy Newspapers, this problem causes "honest taxpayers to pay more -- about $2,200 a piece to make up the revenue short fall."
The biggest losers, he continues, "are America's wage earners and salaried workers who pay an estimated 99 percent of their fair tax burden because their taxes are automatically withheld from their pay." Benjamin Harris, a research economist at the Brookings Institution, says that better, more targeted IRS enforcement could close the gap and the Obama administration has proposed to increase the IRS budget and collect the money. However, deficit reduction/anti-tax activists advocate cutting the IRS budget by $600,000, which IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman says will cause tax collections to fall another $4 billion due to the resulting cut in enforcement. The bottom line, whether it be tax evaders who hide income overseas or tax cheaters who do not pay their fair share, is to collect what is owed and make everybody comply with the same rules that most Americans follow.
The third is a version of the Time Bank program. This concept, known by various names like time-dollar, establishes a different economic system that uses "time" for "money." Commonly but inaccurately referred to as barter, the time dollar program sets up a community-wide database that contains credits of exchangeable time. In addition to swapping services, this economic concept creates value and builds back the sense of community by creating respect for the contributions that others can provide. The concept is spreading. Recently, The Charleston Gazette had a feature on Bernal Bucks in San Francisco and noted complementary currencies now exist in Sweden, Japan, Venezuela, Kenya and Britain.
According to Edgar Cahn, distinguished professor at the District of Columbia School of Law and co-founder of both the Antioch School of Law and the National Legal Services program, "The problem is finding a distribution system that works equitably that enables all people to gain adequate access to the abundance this county has the capacity to produce. Work used to perform this function. The work ethic was the official mechanism for distributing wealth. But the work ethic is in trouble because work itself is in trouble. It no longer functions to provide minimal access to a decent standard of living. If everyone must be given the chance to secure a minimally decent standard of living -- without promoting dependency -- work must be redefined so as to compensate those socially important tasks that need to be done but that are undervalued or uncompensated by the market economy."