Monday, April 26, 2010

Our country is in a very deep fiscal hole. We desperately need to find new and innovative ways to save money. Of course, any reduction in spending is out of the question. Fortunately, there is a solution to this sad state of affairs, and an amazingly easy one at that.

It occurred to me the other day when I heard that, for the first time, America is almost exactly divided: Half of the country pays federal income tax, half doesnot. Now some see this as a problem. They couldn’t be more wrong. This is a great, even historic, opportunity not only to make our tax system more efficient, but to promote much-needed societal comity as well.

So how can we transform the deficit lemon into lemonade? The solution practically presents itself when you contemplate the needless complexity of our current system. To get tax dollars from the citizens who earn them to the citizens who receive them, we have to rely on an enormous, expensive federal bureaucracy. You perhaps already see the simple, elegant and, all modesty aside, brilliant solution I have in mind.

We eliminate the middleman. For every tax receiver, we designate his very own taxpayer. No more 1040s. No more complicated tax laws. No more delay getting needed funds to deserving non-taxpaying Americans. Taxes would be deducted from the taxpayers’ wages as usual, but, instead of going into the federal trough to be masticated, digested and, ah, distributed, they would go directly to that taxpayer’s designated tax receiver. What could be more efficient? And, because it would be such a personal transaction, what could foster a more humane relationship between taxpayer and tax receiver?

In fact, I can envision a future in which on every taxpayer’s desk sits a picture of his designated tax receiver. What an inspiration it would be to the taxpayer working late or putting in the occasional weekend at the office. Should one ever find the will to work weakening, he or she could simply gaze upon the photo of, say, his very own retiree at his time share in Tampa, Fla., and dedication would be renewed, determination strengthened. I would never venture to suggest that this would banish the meanness, the petty cupidity from the heart of every taxpayer, but I have every confidence it would go a long way toward that end.

Another benefit of this new approach to taxation is also its built-in flexibility, which would be very helpful, especially in times of dire need. Take, for example, the recent subprime crisis. As you’re no doubt aware, the process of getting funds to victims of predatory lenders has been difficult and much too slow. But with this new system, getting emergency funds to a needy tax receiver could be as fast as next-day delivery. The tax receiver would simply call (collect, of course) his designated taxpayer and let that taxpayer know exactly how much cash he needed to meet the exorbitant demands of a predatory lender. The taxpayer would then write a check for that amount and FedEx it. The tax receiver could get it before 10 a.m. the next day. Guaranteed. How’s that for responsiveness? No more horror stories of blameless citizens being thrown out of their homes. America again could be the kind of country where all people, no matter their race, religion or income, can live in the four-bedroom, attached-garage, central-air, granite-countertops home of their dreams.

There is only one flaw in this system. (You may already have seen it yourself, especially if you’re a federal employee.) What happens to those thousands, even tens of thousands of hardworking bureaucrats who spend their days collecting, tabulating and distributing tax dollars? Never fear, there will be plenty for them to do making sure that every taxpayer, under penalty of law, fulfills his part of this historic bargain. So what are we waiting for? This idea has no downside. I call upon our legislators to enact it into law as soon as possible. After all, it’s the only fiscally responsible thing to do.

Tom O’Connor is a freelance advertising writer currently living and paying taxes in Bloomfield, Mich.

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