Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Idle thoughts on taxes, public goods and journalism

Some "thinking out loud"....

Government is, I think, too adversarial towards citizens.  While government needs to make and enforce laws governing the citizenship, it shouldn't be forgotten that ultimately government should be there to help facilitate a good society for the citizenship, rather than being there just as an authority figure.

Like in the way taxes are framed -- as a tedious thing that each citizen has to do for the government, or else get in trouble.  But paying taxes should be seen as a means for each person to contribute to society as a whole.  Alain de Botton has made this point.  He suggests that paying taxes should be treated as a civic good that the government should thank the citizen for, providing a receipt showing how the person's tax money will be spent (e.g. if they payed $5000, that $100 of that is going towards the education system. I'm making these figures up -- I have no idea how accurate that proportion is).

(I saw de Botton make this point in a tweet, but I haven't been able to locate that tweet.  I did however find an article he wrote on similar lines).

This goes the other way, too.  People should see paying their taxes as making a contribution to society.  Helping them to see where their taxes go would help this change of framing.

Shifting topics a bit, taxes seem basically for funding public goods that market forces aren't very good at funding.  Public goods such as research, and particularly basic research.  With such 'public goods', either market forces can't supply sufficient funding, or if they are relied upon too much for funding they can introduce unfortunate biases (that serve the ends of companies...  which isn't necessarily bad, but can be not-ideal in some circumstances).

It recently occurred to me that journalism is a public good that would probably benefit a lot if it was treated as one.  (Assuming that in the country there was adequate and effective funding of public goods -- I'm thinking about an ideal situation here).

At present, there seems to be severe difficulties in obtaining sufficient funding for journalism from market forces.  And there's too much bias introduced by funding through market forces.  One, biases towards content that will bring in money (e.g. clickbait), rather than on quality content.  And two, biases towards what will suit the companies paying the journalists.

In an ideal country, people would appreciate the value that public goods provide to them.  They would appreciate all the benefits that come from research, for example.  And they would be more willing to pay taxes to fund substantial research in the country.  And the government would distribute the research funding in a merit-based (and non-politically motivated) fashion.

Journalism could be treated in the same way.  In the same way that government could fund research in an ideal situation they could fund journalism in a merit-based (and non-politically motivated) fashion.

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