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The Taxpayer Receipt: Bipartisanship Breaks Out!

The center-left think tank Third Way has proposed that all taxpayers get a receipt breaking down what they got in exchange for their tax dollars. Liberals seem enthused about the idea. Interestingly, right-wingers do too. Here's Megan McArdle, and Jonah Goldberg:

Indeed, I think many middle-income Americans are undertaxed given the amount of government they are demanding. Giving them this sort of receipt would make that more clear — and, hopefully, make them more amenable to spending cuts and tax reform.

I think this is a rare issue where left and right can agree, because both fundmentally think the public is with them, and thus both think they would benefit from the public having more information. Like most liberals, I think the public is against government in the abstract but for it in the specific because most people have little idea what government spends its money on. Polls show people vastly overestimate the share of the budget consumed by unpopular programs like welfare and foreign aid. Providing correct information about the federal budget will make general atttudes toward government tend to fall in line with specific attitudes about popular programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.)

The right, by contrast, thinks the public's support for specific programs is the delusion, and providing a breakdown of the cost of those programs will undermine support for them. I'm eager to test that proposition.

Obviously, there would be a huge fight over the specifics of such a receipt. You can't list every single federal prorgram -- the list would be too long to have any use. Some condensing would be required, which would mean each side would fight over how to present the information. But since right and left both seem to agree that the idea is good, it seems possible for a suitable compromise to emerge. Who knows? Maybe it will happen.