Public Services, Voting, and a Dystopian Scenario

In South Fulton County, Tennessee, if you want firefighters to show up at your house during a fire, you need to either pay a $75 annual fee or a $2,200 fee during the fire. If you don’t pay and there’s a fire, your house will burn to the ground. This is essentially an elective tax.

With a US election recently under our belt and having just re-read Ready Player One (fantastic book), I have dystopian futures on my mind. Here’s the idea:

What if you were required to vote once a year on all major public services? Roads, military, health care, public schools, etc. Each vote to support and use a service comes with a bill for your portion of the annual expense. Consequently, if you opted out of all of those services, you wouldn’t have to pay any taxes.

Obviously this would give rich people a hugely unfair advantage over poor people. $50 to gain access to interstate highways for a year is nothing to a millionaire, but that could be a lot for someone living on food stamps. Also, the whole point of programs like food stamps is that you can’t afford to pay for food.

That said, I think it would be very interesting to see how the lower- and middle-class’s decisions would be impacted by the direct connection between their votes/dollars and their lives. In a way, we already do this–we vote for politicians whose views on the federal budget may vastly vary. Also, in some states, you have to pay tolls to use roads. Same idea.

I bet there’s so much we take for granted. I’m even having a hard time thinking of public services for this blog post. Oh, what about the FDA? You could vote for your dollars for the FDA, and if you don’t, you only have access to untested, unregulated food (remember, this is a dystopian situation).

This post isn’t meant to advocate this idea or stir up trouble. I’m just curious to see what life would look like if we only gained access to things we voted on. What do you think about this odd scenario?


5 Responses to “Public Services, Voting, and a Dystopian Scenario”

  1. Joseph says:

    It’s crazy! 🙂 (You asked!)

    An equally crazy scenario would be for everyone work for the government, for free. All jobs are government jobs. It doesn’t matter what job you have or what skill you employ. There is no room for advancement, but the government takes care of everyone’s needs equally (with no respect to how much or how little you worked).

    The dystopian scenario you posit is heartless, while my scenario is completely void of self improvement, incentive for hard work, drive, and striving to achieving goals.

    As with most politics, and board games for that matter, the genius is coming up with the balance of the two asymmetric ideals.

  2. T-Mac says:

    My immediate thought upon reading this post was this, “What if the government set an amount for the budget and had the people vote on it via some sort of forced slotting system or percentage allocation?” I’d love to see how the collective vote came back. Would some things that the President/Congress allocates billions to receive next to nothing? Would we create something akin to the Tennessee Valley Authority and fund tons of public works projects for jobs? Obviously this isn’t going to happen, but I’m sure I’ll think musingly of it when the White House asks me to flip through the budget and line out some items again this year.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I wonder if some hybrid of the two would be interesting. My concern with the slotting system is that people may not vote at all for things they take for granted. But if the ballot made it clear that I couldn’t use interstates unless I paid $100 for the year, I would absolutely pay it.

      That said, I would be very interested to see how people would fill out that forced slotting ballot.

      • T-Mac says:

        It’d be interested because I’m sure they “pay to use” system would end up with some things decommissioned all together. Take the fire department example–say a fire department needs $500,000/year to run. If we ask for $75/year to use this fire department and 2 people sign up, do they shut down? Do we ask those two people to each pay $250,000 to keep the fire department open (do we adjust price for demand)? Interesting questions, I think.

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          That’s a great point. With a fully synced, electronic ballot, this could make things particularly interesting, as the required payments for each vote might depend on how many other people have voted.

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