Governments can reduce taxes, collect more of them and give us a proper say in how our taxes are spent, writes Chris Everett.

Imagine if, at the end of every tax year, you get a little ballot card sent to you in the post which lists a series of government spending priorities – let’s say 10 – which you can number in order of preferential spending. You fill out this card and send it back to the HMRC, which collects all the votes for the priorities and ranks them, sending this off to the Treasury.

Mandarins and Ministers at the Treasury can then use this data – which doesn’t have to be binding – to define spending policy over the next year, and to ensure current spending policy is not ignoring the public’s will.

You’re sceptical, I know. “What if everyone prioritises law and order, or defence, or hospitals? Where does that leave the other public services?”

If everyone chooses to prioritise those things, it is their democratic right to do so. The government will still be an elected body of representatives, and as the survey is non-binding, nobody will be locked in to any truly disastrous policies.

“Isn’t this why we elect politicians in the first place?”

Yes and no. We elect them based on manifestos, now expected to be fully costed and wonked up. Why stop there, though? After all, “There is no such thing as public money” so taxpayers shouldn’t only get a cursory look-in every five years. As guidance, spending priority information would be helpful in measuring trends and developing more efficient policies.

It’s not just the principle of representation or the logic of public consultation, though. Studies and even live experiments show that this system encourages more people to pay their taxes while providing balanced, sensible budgets. Extensive studies by academics like Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Dr Cait Lamberton, and Dr Michael Norton show massive increases in compliance with tax law – by as much as 16% in one 2014 experiment – with participants even rejecting questionable loopholes when given the option. As far as I am aware, none of these experiments – including large scale ones in Belgium and Norway – has ended with bizarre budget proposals.

So give the public a say and collect more tax revenue through increased lawfulness (allowing the government to reduce taxation overall). A bold idea, perhaps – but surely it’s in the spirit of the times?

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