Should Citizens Have A Say In Deciding The Taxes They Have To Pay

True Participative Democracy Can Result Only From Citizen Rights In Tax Decisions

Image Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHistorical_Marginal_Tax_Rate_for_Highest_and_Lowest_Income_Earners.jpg)

Traditionally, the concept of democracy is limited to the election of our leaders. However, with increasing availability of technology and tools, we might be advancing towards a stage where people will also have a say in major decisions of the Government. The most important of them are those that relate to taxes.

Democracy virtually means government or rule of the people, for the people and by the people. It is time we say the same about the taxes as well.

Why do we need taxes ?

Taxes are defined in the text-books as a compulsory levy imposed by the Government on its subjects without any services or goods directly in return to the taxpayer. In a democracy, this is not exactly true, since the Governments exist for the people and are supposed to serve only the interest of the people. Taxes are used by the Government for providing various services to the people, including national security, law and order, courts of law, police force, maintenance of roads and other public infrastructure, social security and all other things that the Government may wish to do.
Since in a democracy, the taxes are meant to be used for the benefit of the people, it should be only logical that the people have a say in deciding how to collect them and what for.

Democracy and governance in 21st century

Democracy in eighteenth century was a right to choose your rulers. That was because it was virtually impossible to involve the masses in making decisions. However, things are not the same any more, and it is time we all realise this.

In twenty first century, democracy means much more than elections of a President or a Parliament.

Today, with massive information explosion, seamless human networking and the readily available technology to gather the views and opinions of the masses with the click of a mouse, democracy is no more limited to the selection of our leaders. Democracy in twenty first century means that the people need to have a say in all crucial decisions affecting our lives, that the Government takes, and the most important among all such decisions are the ones that impose tax on us.

Given the technology, and the ease of secured and verifiable communication, today it is possible for the Government to actually collect the views and opinions of the masses before they make or implement any decision. Such an approach is very much possible. All we need is to brace ourselves for taking a greater control and responsibility of our lives.

What we need to aim for is Real Democracy !

Most of us have come to worship the word 'democracy'. I use the word 'worship' because democracy is almost as important as one’s faith. Putting this faith aside, let us once again ask ourselves as to whether what we have today is a ‘real’ democracy, which is supposed to be the "rule of people, by the people and for the people". In the twenty first century, when we have the means to do so, just the power to elect the leaders is not sufficient for fulfilling the ideal of democracy. If the citizens do not have the right to be a part of most important decision that affect their lives, like those pertaining to taxes, then the concept of 'rule by the people' will never be a reality.

Can it actually happen ?

I do not blame someone who feels bewildered on reading this. After all, it is a radical idea. Maybe, it is the most radical idea in a very long time. We should still not be overwhelmed by it. After all, it is very much possible. In today's world connected by Internet and telecommunication, where business can be done at the speed of thought, things that were earlier unthinkable have become possible and are happening round the clock, throughout the world. No reason why the same cannot happen with the Governments.

Imagine a scenario where every citizen votes not only to elect their representatives, the President, or the Members of Parliament, but is also given a say in how much tax she will have to pay to the government, and what will she get in return. She quotes what she thinks everyone should pay including herself, and she also suggests how she would prefer the taxpayer's money, belonging to people including her, to be spent by the government on different public services.

Would there be problems ?

In the beginning, there could be many problems. For example, there could be a problem of making sense out of widely different views, with different people suggesting different figures, both for taxing as well as for spending. However, with modern tools of dealing with figures and databases, even enormous ones, it should be possible to make sense of multitude of ideas.

These will also show how many citizens are willing to pay how much tax for a particular service that the government provides to them. So if the government service is unsatisfactory and if people anyway have to spend from their pockets, they will prefer that the Government does not take up such activity. On the other hand, if something important, like health care is becoming too expensive in the open market and the people think it might be preferable to have it provided by the Government, then they will vote for a higher tax, with a condition that there should be a greater spending on it by the Government. It can lead to a situation where people pay a specific tax for every particular public service that the Government provides. When that happens, we will also have a much better accountability of the government.

That may be ‘real democracy’. Hope we are able to have it in our lifetime.
 


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