Home
Tax policy has two purposes. One goal is to collect money to operate the government. The other goal is to promote public policy. For example, mortgage deductions are meant to encourage home ownership. Tax incentives are a proven way to change behavior. This makes me wonder if we could have a tax on stupidity and thereby reduce its prevalence over time. Seriously. The nation has a great interest in reducing stupidity.

Arguably, we already tax stupidity. When the government subsidizes student loans and helps fund colleges - that's a transfer of wealth from non-students to students.  Okay, it's not exactly a tax on stupidity, but it's certainly a proof of concept.

One big obstacle to taxing stupidity is identifying it. We generally believe that anyone who has an opposing opinion is stupid. So we'd have to ignore politics and religion when designing our test for stupidity. That still leaves plenty of practical knowledge that can be tested for.

Suppose we developed a general knowledge test that had clear and indisputable answers. The questions could range from parenting skills, to healthy living, to how to apply for a job, to basic science, and perhaps some other school skills. The test could run thousands of questions long. And it would be entirely optional. If you choose to not take the test, you can simply pay a stupidity tax instead. If you take the test, and score 100%, you pay no stupidity taxes at all. And if you take the test and miss a few questions, you pay a stupidity tax that is prorated by your test score. You can take the test as many times as you like to improve your score.

I know that you libertarians object to government activism. I get that. I'm just curious as to whether tax policy could make a huge difference in the effectiveness of society by directly taxing stupidity. Suppose science is applied to the task of identifying the most important knowledge that an adult should possess.  Could you find a few thousand bits of knowledge that successful people generally understand and unsuccessful people do not? If so, that could be the basis of the stupidity test. You might also want to include any information about science or economics that an involved citizen needs to make informed voting decisions. That might help the government become more effective over time.

As with most of my ideas, this one is thoroughly impractical. No elected official could support a tax on stupidity. And you'd create a cumbersome bureaucracy if you tried to implement such a thing. I'm just thinking ahead to the day I create my own principality, perhaps on some island, and design the tax system from scratch. I'd have to give some serious thought to a tax on stupidity. I think it might help to keep the nation out of a death spiral.

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +100
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
Jun 20, 2011
I wish people would stop saying that Lotteries are a taxs on stupidity.

Yes the expected returns average to less than expenditure, but here is the thing - buying a single ticket almost infinitely improves you chances of winning (you may find or be given a ticket so it isn't quite an infinte increase).

Simple economics dictates that buying a ticket has a near negligible oppertunity cost. Putting the extra dollar/pound/euro into your pension plan isn't going to let you retire a day earlier, even putting it in every week for 40 years is only going to get a minimal increase in savings (less than 2 weeks pay if you figure average wages and average lottery return of 50%).

In fact the amount of entertainment value contained in low-cost the gamble is probably comparable to going to the cinema and almost certainly better value than spending it on live sports, bar-hopping, concert/festival-going or buying a magazine (and only slightly worse than buying a novel or computer game).

Yes there are people who go overboard and spend a fortune on tickets, yes the odds are astronomical of winning no matter how many tickets you buy and yes it is stupidly high risk if viewed in the same light as other stratagies for planning for the future, but is buying a ticket in itself stupid? No more than virtually any other activity.

 
 
Jun 20, 2011
I thought we already had a stupidity tax... The Lottery. One could argue that sin taxes would count too for tobacco and alcohol.
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
There's a third purpose for tax policy, Scott: control.

The federal government, and many states, are run by people who are there because they want power over other people. We were supposed to be protected from that via our Constitution, but it now is pretty largely ignored. If you don't believe that, then look at the court decisions over the individual mandate section of Obamacare. It's plainly unconstitutional for the federal government to force you to buy anything; even President Obama, before he was president, said that.

Yet the lower courts are pretty much split on this, and when it finally gets heard by the Supreme Court, the odds-on bet is that it will be a 5-4 decision against the mandate. If there was ever a time when the decision should be 9-0 against, this is it.

So we should all agree that the Constitution no longer protects us from the excesses of government. But it takes more than the ability to order you to buy something to really control you. It also requires government being able to take your personal property and then give it to others. Your money is part of your personal property.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that government may take your physical property (land and houses) and force you to sell it to someone else if the result of that sale is going to provide more tax money to government. The current "Stimulus" bill took $700 billion to give to other governments, in the guise of creating some kind of "shovel ready jobs," which the president now chuckles about. Pretty funny.

But taxation has been uncoupled from spending. The government spends what it wants and then borrows the difference between what it spends and what it takes in in taxes. So taxation isn't really about spending any more; it's simply about having power over you by taking your money and giving it back if you act like a good little sheep and do what government tells you to do.

So Scott, it doesn't matter if they tax you for being stupid, or for being rich, or for having a toilet that flushes too much water. It's all about control over you; the word for that is "tyranny." America is no longer the land of the free; it's the land of dictators telling you how to live every facet of your life.

God help us all.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Many states already have a tax on stupidity- its called The Lottery. Either that or an additional tax on smokers.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
A detect a hint of bitterness. A tax on stupidity has one great flaw: the name. It implies that the world is full of people who are more stupid then you. Even if that were true, it is not very effective to call it that way. Suppose the people who are way smarter then you treated you like that, would you be inclined to agree with them?
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Arguably, state lotteries do this function quite well.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Let’s combine this Stupidity Tax with your Minimum Tax from your June, 1st post to create the ‘Minimum Citizen Tax’:
- Every voter has to pay a Civic Tax of 300$.
- This Civic Tax could be reduced by passing a citizenship test that grades you between 1 and 100 on economics, civil rights, the constitution, political history, etc. just like you said.
- You can take your test every year (to prevent abuse) to try and better your score, but you have to take it at least every five years to keep your rebate.
- Your score is available for everyone to see. So when you debate politics, you can settle an argument easily by saying: ‘I got 92% on my Citizenship Test, how much you got?’

This way, cheapskate could (in theory) pay 0$, and lazy bums could bypass the test entirely and pay 300$. This program would pay for itself, finance a public bipartisan education website, and any profit would go toward schools.
 
 
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
I doubt our politicians would support a tax in which they would be the largest contributors.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Install a time measuring device in every t.v. sold. You pay $5 in tax for every hour you watch. A meter displays your cumulative stupidity tax over the course of a year.
Also: $5 to watch a youtube video that involves cats.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Clearly, as others have pointed out, you are referring to the lottery. We all know that this is a tax on people who are bad at math.

But we need taxes on people who are bad at other things though. We need the government to actively engage in Nigerian payout scams, to tax people who are stupid at deductive resoning.

We need the government to actively enage in selling junky cars to... nevermind, they bought GM.

We need the government to actively subsidize the sale of over-valued real estate to tax people who are bad at economics... oh, that was me.

We need the government to use the tax code to encourage people to hold stocks in inflating bubbles to tax people who are bad at pattern recognitions (social media companies, I'm talking about you).

 
 
Jun 20, 2011
This was the stupidity test.

The correct answer: The stupid would likely be the least able to afford the stupidity tax.
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
In Holland we have something like this. We call it the States Lottery.
Every month 3 million people (out of 16.5 million inhabitants) volunteer to buy a lottery ticket with slim chances of winning a big price. The profits go to the government. In 2006 this stupidity tax contributed over 600.000.000 euros (or over $ 840.000.000) to our country's state income. I am very pleased with this system, because every month it gives me hope to become a millionaire.
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
Try killing several birds with one stone. Hold parents financially accountable for the behavior and performance of their children in school. This would make schools actual places of learning and also raise the collective IQ.
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
Can I cheat on paying on my stupidity tax?
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
While I get irritated at stupid people as much as the next person. This is actually old news and was preached before. In fact is was quite a popular subject in the early 1900's until the person that proposed it, Nobel Prize Winner Alexis Carrel, was found to be helping the Nazi's practice eugenics.

He came out with a book on his idea in where the world would benefit by a small group of "intellectual" reign in power. Man, the unknown was the title of the book which praised the Third Reich for attempting to create the master race. Which surprisingly, when you read the book it I think you would find a lot of the views in there welcome fresh ideas to watchers of Fox News.

We pardon this interruption to the normal wit that is usually Scott Adams, please return tomorrow.
 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Nice one. I actually laughed.

While you are at it, why not tax people with physical disabilities? You could use existing armed forces basic training obstacle courses, so there would be no need to spend money building facilities. You would just have to pay the salaries of the people administering the test, and you might even get some people to volunteer to do that for free. Hold the tests at night and you can eliminate people with impaired vision at no extra cost.

Would your island kingdom administer in vitro tests?
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Your idea would actually be a tax break for weasels. It's a tax on non-weasely-ness. Because, at the end of the day, the people who wouldn't or couldn't CHEAT on the test would be taxed more.
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
Very interesting idea. Of course, since there are many different kinds of intelligence and many different kinds of measurements, there is a lot of tricky stuff.

For example, a lot of what you are talking about is knowledge vs ignorance. This is obviously impacted by intelligence, but it's not the same thing. That being said, incentivizing somebody to learn is pretty straight forward. If you pass the test, you get a discount on your taxes. If you take these courses, we will subsidize them.

Taxing somebody based on IQ, of course, won't help to encourage much except impoverish people with low IQs. Given that there is some evidence that IQ is genetically inherited and a lot of evidence that impoverished people have more babies, you may actually increase the number of stupid people over time through a quasi-eugenic tax.

Basically, I think that this could be an excellent anti-ignorance campaign but a poor anti-stupidity campaign. I'm convinced that it wouldn't work in practice, but it is still a very interesting idea.
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
"Arguably, we already tax stupidity. When the government subsidizes student loans and helps fund colleges - that's a transfer of wealth from non-students to students. Okay, it's not exactly a tax on stupidity, but it's certainly a proof of concept."

Being well educated and not being stupid can be two different things. You can have tons of intelligence or knowledge but no common sense, that would probably make you stupid.


"So we'd have to ignore politics and religion when designing our test for stupidity. That still leaves plenty of practical knowledge that can be tested for."

Unfortunately, there's a lot of people who would say some matter isn't politics or religion but science and demand you use their political/religious questions to punish non-believers. Then you've got the dicey subject of government itself being a pseudo-religion (as it was in fascism), at least in terms of who people look to for answers.


Finally we are overlooking one important thing: people who are too smart for their own good, and by extension, the nation's good. Such people will probably demand to have a part in making the test, turn every question into a snafu, and doom us all in the process. As for your bits of knowledge, how do you define a successful person when in the past you've contented that some large companies, run by successful people (since you'd have to be successful to run a large company), could easily have been run better by a hamster on a wheel. In fact, with that in mind, the hamster on a wheel might come up with a better test than a group of smart people just by sheer luck.
 
 
Jun 20, 2011
@dilgal
setting restrictions on who can and cannot reproduce already exists. Its called eugenics. it was really popular back in the 30 and 40s, until Hitler used it as an excuse to kill a bunch of jews. its not so popular these days.
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog