Harnessing power of a crowd is less taxing

I enjoy paying tax. Reassures me we live in a caring society. Puts something back in return for the good fortune I’ve had. Would happily pay much more.
Except . . . I like to know my taxes are being spent well on people who need it more than I do.
There’s no guarantee.
And not everyone shares my zeal for handing any money to governments, let alone ones with a different world view or sketchy record.

So membership of my Willing Taxpayers Afternoon Tea and Bikram Yoga Discussion Group has gone the way of public phone boxes.
With tax-paying on the nose, other budget revenues struggling and too much middle class welfare to dole out, there’s going to be less money for a caring society.
There’ll be more cases of having to ditch projects like the ones the Gillard government so laudably talks about but sometimes stumbles with.
The danger is, once the pay-less-tax mantra takes hold, we risk becoming a culture of ”keep what you have and the rest can fend for themselves”. What we need is a tax for people who don’t like paying tax or the governments that survive on tax or even the very word tax.
Luckily, we can pay less tax and still improve social programs and infrastructure.
We just need community spirit, a tad less self-indulgence and a drive to put your money where your mouth is.
This Clayton’s ”tax when you’re not having a tax” is called crowd-funding.
It’s an old trick – like passing round the plate or a school raffle – but it uses that worldwide internet thingo the young ‘uns talk about. If you want a project funded, you set a target sum, ask for donations via a crowd-funding site, and donors pay up only when the target is reached.
Crowd-funding raised an estimated $US3 billion last year globally through almost 500 ”platforms” and is spreading into new areas.
There’s no reason it can’t replace taxes as the source of funds for some government-run policies – especially innovative ones that scare risk-averse politicians.
Unlike the tax on bank deposits to bail out Cyprus, crowd-funding is voluntary.
One devotee is social media guru Jordan Raynor, who spruiked at a TED (Technology, Education and Design) conference recently. He calls crowd-funding the ”democratisation of philanthropy”.
Readers of good repute would have noticed the Herald editorial last week proposed crowd-funding to finance the morphing of the Art Gallery of NSW into the ”Sydney Modern” – assuming trustee Steven Lowy is a bit short of cash. Sydneysiders might donate a few dollars in return for, say, discounted entry or a brick in the new wing.
Others would have seen how ”marshmallows” – fans of the cult US TV series Veronica Mars – used crowd-funding to raise $2 million-plus in 10 hours to fund a movie version of the show.
Australians dug deep to help fund movie animation short A Cautionary Tale, while myriad bands, painters and festivals have raised the odd thousand. Wineries and citizen journalists have as well.
President Barack Obama even had Congress pass a crowd-funding law – the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS Act. (It’s awaiting regulatory safeguards. The watchdog here is also alert to investor risk as crowd-funding expands into equity raisings.)
The Gillard government is also on board, offering last week to go 50:50 with crowd-funders of certain cultural projects.
Crowd-funding’s real potential as a tax alternative, though, began through social justice and social enterprise programs. These have been worthy causes or programs too small, risky or politically uncouth to attract traditional funding.
But why stop there?
Faced with shrinking budgets but growing social need – thanks to a new government or otherwise – crowd-funding offers an egalitarian version of public-private partnership, with investors – you and I – wanting little or nothing in return.
Raynor cites a crowd-funded bridge in Rotterdam.
But any new infrastructure project with a public benefit outweighing any short-term private return is a crowd-funding candidate.
Likewise, democratic philanthropic foundations to fund scholarships, medical research and social justice projects: created by millions, not rich individuals.
The visionary things like Gonski are a big ask but not out of reach.
At $6 billion a year, that’s $6000 from 1 million of us – and that’s without any of his money!
If 10 million of us each paid $600, then it’s done for a year. For $1200 you get two years. Then assess whether it’s worthy of tax dollars.
With a government safety net, crowd-funding can also support public programs targeted for closure, buying them time to find a better business model.
It’s a way to empower people to own solutions and share the load; to lock in the feeling we live in a society that cares. Just like paying taxes once did.
Such is life …

Source: National Times – Alan Stokes


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