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By Kitty Testa
In a bold experiment in voluntary taxation, the Norwegian government launched an initiative in June that allowed those who thought their taxes to be too low to make contributions to the state.
The program raised just over $1,300 in its first month.
Norway is a country of 5.3 million people who already pay as much as 46.7% of their earnings to the government. So perhaps it’s not much of a surprise that few were willing to pay more. If the rate of contribution holds steady, Norway will have raised $15,900 by next May 31. The paltry sum is about 0.3 cents per capita, hardly anything to crow about.
It might surprise you to learn that the U.S. Treasury also accepts voluntary donations “to reduce debt held by the public.” (Next time someone tells you they’ll gladly pay more, direct them to treasurydirect.gov.) In fiscal 2016, the UST received $2.72 million in donations, almost a penny (0.85 cents) per capita. The UST had its highest year for donations in fiscal 2012, with $7.75MM donated to assuage our bulging debt. The donations don’t really help all that much, considering that the national debt will soon eclipse $20 trillion.
We often hear from progressives and socialists, and even run-of-the-mill Democrats, that our financial woes are a product of greed. If only people will pay their “fair share” everything would be just fine. As there is nothing to stop anyone from giving a little extra to the government, why aren’t Hollywood millionaires leading by example and shoveling millions over to the government to make it all better instead of lecturing the folks in fly-over country about how greedy they are?
As far as charitable donations go, the government isn’t high on Americans’ list of worthy causes. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, philanthropy by Americans totaled $373.25 billion in 2015. Individuals accounted for $268.3 billion, 71% of all charitable donations, with foundations, bequests, and corporations providing the remainder. It seems that all Americans, regardless of their political persuasion, are more likely to trust private charities with their hard earned money than the reckless, wasteful government.
This is a great illustration of how voluntarism directs funds where people believe those funds will do the most good. Norwegians aren’t eager to give their government any more of their money, and neither are Americans. If they really thought the government was doing a bang-up job, they’d give more—unless, of course, they just don’t think that’s fair.
The concept of “fairness” is subjective. If two couples have dinner together, is it fair to split the check four ways? Is it fair that each person pay for what he ordered? Is it only fair that the wealthiest among them pick up the tab? Such is the nature of our perpetual arguments over taxation. Who picks up the tab? Who gets to order? Can they have anything they want from the menu regardless of whether they’re paying? Do they get drinks too?
The progressive/socialist mind regarding taxation is not one of generosity; it is one that seeks to implement the artificial fairness of forced giving. The progressive is no more interested in volunteering his own funds to pay down the debt or fund a public school or a park if others in his tax bracket are not required to do the same. It is a mindset that has scarcely changed since childhood: Jason has two cookies and I have none. That’s not fair. The difference with taxation is that Jason will be thrown in jail if he doesn’t give up one of his cookies.
As for our friends in Norway, the voluntary tax program is likely to cost more money than it generates. Who would have thought? Leave it to government!