Hand the Taxpayer a Receipt

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The left half of the blogosphere is getting pretty excited by this idea of the Third Way's to provide an itemized receipt for what your tax dollars are spent on:


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There seems to be an unspoken assumption that opposition to spending rests on misperception of what the money is spent on; Americans tell pollsters they want to cut spending, but it turns out that what they really want cut is the imaginary fortune they think we spend on foreign aid.

But of course, it seems to me that this could just as easily go the other way:  isn't it possible that the widespread support for programs like Social Security and Medicare rests on the fact that most people don't realize just how big a portion of your paycheck those programs consume?  I don't know the answer to that, but I will point out that most economists believe that paycheck withholdings enable (among other things) higher taxes; if people had to write out a check for their tax bill every year, resistance to income tax increases would be much fiercer.  

This suggests that handing people an itemized invoice for their government programs which shows them the total yearly take might increase support for the Smithsonian, and decrease it for the stuff that appears higher up on the bill.

Whichever way it cuts, I think this is a good idea; more information is generally better.  I just think that the emotions this sort of receipt provokes in liberal bloggers may not be the same ones it provokes in the average voter.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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