by James Hanley
Way back when I was in graduate school, a couple of my students started talking to me about their experiences in student government. Their chief complaint was that they had no actual authority beyond distributing student fees to different student organizations requesting funds.
Then they asked what I thought.
My first response was that I wouldn’t give any authority to a bunch of half-educated testosterone-fueled adolescents who would be leaving the organization before they had to deal with the full consequences of their decisions.
My second response was that they shouldn’t even have authority over the distribution of students fees. I proposed that student fees should remain the same, and that each student should be allowed to direct their fees to whatever student organization(s) they chose. The students turned pale, as they realized I was proposing to take away the only bit of actual power they had. “But, but, then there’d be no need for a student government,” they protested. Indeed? Well, maybe that means something. “But then some groups won’t get any funding, like the Black Students’ Union!” I’m sure most of the black students will contribute to it; some might even direct their whole fee to it, which could result in them getting more than they do currently. And are you sure all non-black students are racist enough to deny them any funding? And if the BSU doesn’t get sufficient funding, maybe they need to sharpen their sales pitch–it’s a good life skill worth learning.
So what about a similar system on a larger scale? Disband our welfare agencies and create a charity agency. Set some portion of our taxes to be directed to it, and citizens could get online and distribute their charity-tax dollars as they wish.
Various details would make the scheme work better or worse. Just as a starting point I’d suggest that:
–Xach charitable organization’s request, and the amount already donated to that request, be clearly visible and updated in real time.
–Organizing the website for easy search would be important to the taxpayer, so charitable organizations should be organized by region, by type of charity, by religion/secularity, and also by amount of unmet need.
–I would allow any charity organization in the world to be listed, even if it’s as small as a fund to provide clean water to a tiny Botswanan village. If somebody insists on only organizations that are incorporated in the U.S., I’d grumble a bit, but I’d certainly accept it as a political necessity.
–Some people won’t bother to designate their charity-tax dollars, so the agency would distribute that amount equally among the organizations with unmet requests.
–Organizations could still do independent fund-raising, but they’d have to update the amount of funds they’d received both from the charity-taxes and independent fundraising on a regular basis.
–A part of the agency’s task should be studying need and publishing crucial reports on unmet needs. Additionally, it would need oversight authority to ensure all charities are legitimate and operating appropriately.
–Any charity agency receiving federal funding this way would be prohibited from discriminating against recipients (or, alternatively, any agency that discriminated would have that information highlighted on the government website).
That’s it. Conservatives wouldn’t have to complain that their tax dollars are going to support baby killers at Planned Parenthood and liberals wouldn’t have to complain about being forced to fund faith-based initiatives that teach that 90% of humanity is going to hell. Libertarians would object, of course, because it’s still taking our tax dollars and giving them to other people, but I suspect they might at least find it a little better than the current system.
[Author’s note: I wonder how long it will take before some liberal either sneers at this as “libertopia,” or takes pains to point out that it’s not libertopia, so really shouldn’t I call myself a liberal (or conservative)?]