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Context: OnDemocracy

Quora Answer : What do liberals and progressives think of the idea of "budget balloting", a system in which taxpayers can allot their tax funds among a pre-approved list of causes in any manner of their choosing?

Jan 22, 2018

I'm actually in two minds about it.

Against : obviously, running the country is a holistic exercise in which many policies are interdependent and have to be done together or not at all. Allowing the public to pick and choose what sounds good to them can leave inconsistent and ineffectual government action. Furthermore there are activities which are essential but have little public support and might not be funded or done at all.

For: like it or not, government is losing authority and credibility in the 21st century. It commands less respect or trust. People are more and more accustomed to freedom and flexibility from service providers and are less tolerant of monolithic solutions handed down to them. Reconfiguring government as a number of more explicit and explicitly costed services which are chosen by the citizens may be the best strategy to restore their confidence and support. I trust the average British voter to value and fund the UK's National Health Service more than I trust the Conservative government which always promises to look after it but continually fiddles and worries at it, clearly hoping that it will eventually unravel.

Like I say, I actually don't know which of these tendencies wins out. I think high-quality, wise and authoritative statesmen / stateswomen could reconfigure government into a kind of "service oriented architecture", giving citizens more control over what their taxes are spent on, renewing government's credibility and effectiveness, and creating a new strong contract between the people and politicians.

I also think that mediocre, small minded or badly intentioned politicians could claim they are doing all of the above, but in fact create a catastrophic mess where people are told they have more choice, but choices are between a bunch of badly run, incoherent services that are so ineffective they leave government eviscerated, less useful and less popular than ever.

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