Rethinking taxation
© Greg Nash
With President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE promising to cut taxes for businesses and ordinary Americans, Congress is going to have its work cut out for it in trying to figure out how to trim the bloated federal budget while expecting lower future revenues. But instead of simply arming up for political battle over who gets what and what gets cut, it would behoove the country to entertain a mental reset on taxation and instead re-conceptualize the necessary evil as “confiscation.” 
 
Many on the left decry tax cuts as giveaways to the rich. However, this understanding of taxes ignores the basic fact that government, for the most part, does not inherently have any income to begin with. Nearly every dollar the government spends is a dollar it has forcibly taken from a resident, citizen, or a resident’s or citizen’s business.  Therefore, a tax cut is not a giveaway, but rather a decision to confiscate less of someone’s private money. 
 
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Indeed, confiscation is more of an appropriate way to thinking of taxation. When we think about tax rates, what we are really considering is how much of individual Americans’ private property we should confiscate for the purpose of paying for something that the government wants to spend money on. Thinking of taxation and public spending in this way allows us to more prudently evaluate not only tax rates and cuts, but the true value of the myriad projects and programs on which the government spends money annually.
 
Basic defense and homeland security costs are something that most Americans can agree on. It is important for the government to confiscate individuals’ hard-earned money in order to pay for these vital priorities. And the same can likely be said for infrastructure. We all benefit from well paved roads, secure bridges and tunnels, and state of the art airports. Confiscating limited amounts of money from citizens’ bank accounts and pocket books is reasonable to pay for these essentials of modern public life. 
 
But slightly further down the spectrum of essentiality come expenditures on programs like foreign aid, research, and higher education. Many would still agree that these should be very important national priorities, and we, therefore, should continue to confiscate American’s personal income in order to pay for reasonable public-benefit investments with appropriate justifications and oversight. Even basic low-income benefits programs garner support from a large percentage of Americans, and we are OK turning over our personal money to the government in order to ensure that these priorities continue to be funded. 
 
But the re-conceptualization perhaps becomes most useful when we start to think about programs further down the spectrum of critical national importance. Consider the various federal expenditures highlighted in former Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE’s annual Wastebook. In the 2015 version of the book, the banner for which was carried forward by Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePence casts tie-breaking vote for Trump appeals court judge Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving Flake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ MORE, these are just some of the 100 questionable government expenditures that were highlighted: $5 million to support the “Help a Hipster” movement, $200,000 to produce designer dog fashions, $2.6 million spent on jazz and poetry to “inspire” scientific creativity, $2.6 million to study the perfect tweet, $5 million for “ultimate tailgating” kits, $1.2 million to construct a life-sized PacMan game, $40 million on art and junkets at the Department of Veterans Affairs, $110 million for unused buildings in Afghanistan, $2.8 million for rainbow bridge lighting, $300,000 for a cheese heritage center, $1.8 million for a zipline, and the list goes on. 
 
Few would agree that we should be confiscating Americans’ hard earned personal income to pay for programs and projects like these, yet obviously we are. However, we don’t think of it in such a realistic way because we see it as spending the “government’s” money. But of course it’s not the government’s money at all that’s getting wasted. It’s your own hard earned dollars legally confiscated straight out of your personal bank accounts. 
 
In the list above, I intentionally left off the many examples of legitimate scientific research because I personally am supportive of government funding of research that can potentially benefit us all. However, I did include a few examples of government funded art projects because I am less personally supportive of these. 
 
This brings up a potential solution to the problem of over-raiding Americans’ bank accounts to fund pet government projects - voluntary taxes. If some Americans support surrendering their own money to help support scientific research or the propagation of the arts, perhaps this should be done through voluntary contributions to these programs. Currently we are only allowed to elect a few dollars of our tax bill to be applied to a presidential campaign fund. Of the many federal expenditures that we could be asked about volunteering our tax money towards, this is a peculiar choice to be the only option on our annual tax forms. 
 
However, if options were expanded to include many more less-essential programs, it is likely that we would have plenty of funding for these programs without automatically funding them with money that has been confiscated from taxpayers in good faith that such sums would be spent wisely on essential national priorities. 
 
Would some programs have to be cut? Of course. But would we be more responsible stewards of Americans’ tax dollars if we thought of taxation as confiscation and government spending as raiding American’s personal bank accounts for essential public purposes? Definitely. 
 
But this is reality, and the quicker we come to terms with it, the quicker we will come to terms with the new reality of governance under the new administration. 
 
Alexander Nicholson is a political consultant, strategist, and published author based in Washington, D.C. He is CEO of the government affairs firm SRB Strategic.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.