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A Self-Indulgence Surcharge

A Self-Indulgence Surcharge

by Dr. David Gruder

Continuing with my "government role-modeling theme" from my last posts, I believe that taxing actions that are out of integrity with collective highest good is worthy of serious consideration. I believe this would help send a message that making personal freedom more important than collective highest good is no more okay than doing the opposite. I suppose you could call this an "out-of-integrity tax."

As part of an alternative to income tax, we might want to consider having a consumption tax on all products and services that promote individually risky behaviors and/or that contribute to collective damage.

‘Taxing’ things like property damage fascinates me because that kind of penalty starts to hold people financially accountable for their choices to violate other individuals or society in general. It could be called an Amends Tax or Retribution Tax or something like that. The assessment might have two parts to it: one part would be the cost of repairing the damage that was done and the other part could be a "self-indulgence surcharge." That surcharge could be earmarked to help fund programs designed to reduce similar behaviors or rehabilitate people (such as drug rehab for drug abusers) or the environment (such as with polluters of all kinds from industrial polluters to people who toss their cigarette butts on the ground).

The Amends Tax could be used to cover the projected repair costs. The Self-Indulgence Surcharge could be used to used for preventive education. Speaking of education in this context, It would be wise to develop educational programs to help consumers understand the full implications and costs of their choices. I would propose the equivalent of traffic school for those who fall into this category. Our broken educational system has really dropped the ball on this one. Let’s call it for the moment, "Costly Behavior School." These kinds of programs would be mandatory for those assessed the Amends Tax and or Self-Indulgence Surcharge to attend and could contribute to the greatly enhanced level of personal and collective responsibilty and freedom that this planet so desperately needs. Put another way, this could help upgade our integrity.

Want to bring companies into compliance with true and legitimate environmental considerations? The dicey part here is that we have yet as a society to discern the intersection between environmental protection and human needs. We remain far too polarized in this regard, with business terrorists who are at the extreme end of the greed spectrum being as nutty as environmental terrorists at the equal but opposite end of the spectrum who stand in the way of business more out of hatred of capitalism than because the environment is truly in jeopardy in some of the ways they would like to claim it is.

That said, another income tax alternative is to either assess a hefty tax surcharge on true environmental offenders and/or significantly reduce the amount of corporate tax a corporation pays if they are green-friendly. I would propose a combination of giving corporations tax breaks for doing the right thing and assesssing them a surcharge for being more interested in being self-serving than in balancing that with what serves collective highest good. Those who fall more in the middle would simply pay a normal corporate tax rate. This kind of two-pronged approach role-models right balance balance between personal freedom and collective highest good.

Now, that would be integrity in action!

Let me finish this post by anticipating and responding to a couple of the objections that some people will have to what I am advocating here.

I completely agree that taxing behaviors could easily occur in ways that would make personal liberty subservient to collective highest good. I am adamantly opposed to that. As I have previously written, I am firmly convinced that the challenge of true democracy is to function at the intersection of personal freedom, the legitimate concerns of special segments of society and collective highest good. (See this blog post for details.)

Ways of taxing "behaviors" that live at the intersection of personal freedom, legitimate concerns of secial segments of society, and collective highest good, already exist. In fact, they exist as the kinds of consumption taxes that I believe are worth considering as replacements for income tax. A classic example of this is the tax on cigarettes. I see nothing in this type of strategy that places personal liberty at risk.

While I also believe that there can be no tax reform without reforming the feds, I believe that reducing the size of the federal government begins with a commitment to a balanced budget that includes whittling down and ultimately eliminating federal debt. In my experience people tend to be in denial about how much of the current federal budget bloating is caused by federal debt interest payments!

Some people advocate that the solution to reducing federal overspending is reducing the military budget. But, as tempting as oversimplification is, this sort of decision cannot not occur in a vacuum. Reductions in our military budget must, I believe, occur in the larger context of taking bold steps in the UN and WTO to set standards of collaboration that reflect the immense global interconnection that currently exist. This must include globally adopted mechanisms for containing countries that try to make their own parochial agendas, or the pursuit of hatred, more important than collective highest good.

Those who say that finding what and how to tax isn’t the problem and that federal spending is THE problem are, probably unintentionally in most cases, reflecting a kind of thinking that I believe has been destroying the fundamental underpinnings of what makes democracy work.

I believe we live in a culture dominated not only by spin but by the refusal to join together to co-discover and co-create solutions based on synergy instead of polarization. Synergy is a problem-solving strategy that is based on the assumption that no single person, group or perspective grasps the entire picture. Synergy presumes that viable solutions only emerge when we dialoge from the assumption that YOU see a piece of the larger picture more clearly than I do, that I see a piece of the larger picture more clearly than you do, and that what this larger picture REALLY is can only emerge as a result of combining the core of what you see with the core of what I see.

This kind of co-discovery and co-creation process cannot occur in a culture that is ruled by spin and by one group pushing their own perspectives while bad-mouthing the perspectives of others who are more attuned to another equally important aspect of the larger picture that no one individual group sees.

The kind of social discourse in which people insist that "x isn’t the problem/issue, Y is" is profoundly damaging. Yet this painfully common dynamic is being ignored and in some cases indulged, thereby preventing the quality of dialogue that is so necessary in a healthy democracy.

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