Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moral Discretion

In a perfect world, Dairy Queen would be open for breakfast, Chivas Regal would be sold by the gallon at Wal-Mart, and the only dilemmas anyone would ever face would be the consequences resulting from their own decisions and actions. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, nor will it ever be. People are constantly having to deal with the consequences of the decisions of others.

There are many individuals, groups, businesses, and governments who will abuse freedom to a point where other people are exploited, injured, or even murdered. When the decision and action of some removes the ability of others to freely decide for themselves, then good people need to step in and take action to restore the equilibrium where both side are equally free to decide. The action taken to restore equilibrium needs to be appropriate for the situation and can include both preventive and punitive measures.

The United States made a moral leap forward after Viet Nam when it discontinued the draft and instituted an all volunteer military. Allowing young men and women to choose membership in the armed forces has resulted in higher moral amongst the troops and a much more professional and successful military.

The United States could make additional moral leaps forward if the concept of free choice was extended to include the way military operations are financed and implemented. When available tax dollars are thrown into a big pot, just like tithe dollars in a Church, too much effort is spent fighting over how the dollars in the pot will be spent and too little effort is spent accomplishing worthwhile humanitarian goals.

An alternative to this big pot financing approach would be to allow tax payers more discretion over how their tax dollars are spent. Tax payers who earnestly believe the military action in Iraq was morally necessary could direct their tax dollars towards financing the military in Iraq while tax payers who believe a peace keeping force in Darfur is a moral obligation could direct their tax dollars to helping Darfur.

Since most people do tend to vote with their dollars and their efforts, government leaders would know with certainty how much support they have for a policy and how large or small a budget they have to work with. This type of financing would not eliminate all of the political hostility between parties and citizens completely, but it would reduce much of the rancor because no one would be forced to support government policies they oppose and everyone would be allowed to freely choose how to best use their resources and efforts for big and important humanitarian measures.


Derek Simmons said...


A few years back I made a suggestion similar to yours to my very very very Blue Aunt. I can't recall now what she was ranting against my support of, but in that setting I made "your" suggestion. I suggested that everyone be allowed to support with their tax dollars that sector of the federal government and its policies with which they agreed. She immediately stopped her side of the mutual rant to tell me "no way." It was "no way" because, she said, I and too few others would choose to support programs she favored. She would--she said--continue to take her chances in the political arena where her vote might convince an elected body to make me fund what she knew were the important and absolutely necessary programs of the Federal government.

There are alot of "my aunts" out there who want me to fund things I wouldn't send my "voluntary" income tax contributions to support, except that the Feds have all the guns and all the prisons.

Hammertime said...

I used to hold this position myself. Then I considered the inherent depravity of man, and discarded it.

If a man does not support the military funding, doesn't he still get protected? How about the police? Fire? Road maintenance? Does his section of street outside his home not get plowed while his adjacent neighbors do? How does one make a plow truck do this? How do the firefighters know not to protect that house that didn't pay its fair tax when the one next to it did and both are burning?

Why should I worry about supporting the justice system when I know that others will pay for it - or at least think so? Do I get a judge when acused of a crime?

There are certainly things I don't want my money spent on. Yet, Blue Aunt wouldn't want the Air Force to get any of her dollars and she'd enjoy their protection.

A sort-of solution to this would be that someone gets to decide what is so important that everyone pays for it...but then, of course we are right back where be began.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Derek,

Great minds think alike, huh? : -)

Your aunt, her kindred spirits, and a whole bunch of Red State Republicans who feel the same way probably make a majority. That’s why I needed to spend some time making the case for the morality of freedom and choice. I’m not real happy with how my pieces turned out, though. I need to spend more time refining my arguments for freedom.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Welcome back. It’s good to hear from you.

Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I would not allow anyone to choose whether or not to pay taxes, but I would allow everyone to choose how their tax money is spent. I think this would go a long way towards establishing government priorities and budgets.

Instead of the politics of personal destruction, we would hear campaign adds that support or decry certain policies and then tax payers could vote with their tax dollars. Policies deemed most important to tax payers would get the most financial support.

If the military or fire department is under funded, tax payers would have the opportunity to vote more dollars towards each or less if they think a department or policy is over funded. I think tax payers are smart enough to send a message to some government programs to get by on less or in some cases to close down completely.

Dean McConnell said...

It sounds awfully wild, but the results might actually be interesting. If, when you turn in your income tax return, you could divide the money up between budget line items, the results might actually be workable. Each section of citizen opinion would budget more for their favoured causes. The end result might be surprisingly balanced.

Buz said...


The beings from the planet Grebus who control all electronic communications on the earth must have a sense of humor, because right next to your blog on allowing people to decide where/how their tax monies should be spent was a Google Ad for "Grants for Christians" ... "$10,000 in Free Government Grants Never Repay" at "".


I trust YOU didn't really do that on purpose.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Dean McConnell,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a good comment.

This isn’t the type of change that could be implemented over-night. However, it could be implemented in stages and it would work just fine. It may not even have a big effect on how money is spent, but it should help to lower the hostility between high ranking members of both parties.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Google adds are completely computer generated.

Does it make you laugh or cry? What have we become? Christians fighting over a piece of the government pie!

Anonymous said...

Even if it were unworkable for people to direct where their tax money goes, it would be interesting if we were able to, on our tax returns, express were we would like it to go. The data collected could then influence the legislative process.

Keep in mind, though, that taxpayers in the top 1% of the income distribution pay about 35 percent of all income taxes and taxpayers in the top 10% pay about 70 percent of all income taxes. (

Furthemore, a majority of the people who pay 70% of all income taxes live in California and New York.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

Good points. I’ve always believed the person picking up the check gets to choose the wine.

I’m no fan of California politics or politicians, but the national system in America does not fairly represent Californians due to the number of citizens served by only two Senators. Income tax designations would make the system more fair, even if the policies were not improved.