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.

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Jun 20, 2011
If the politician is stupid, he's worried about alienating his consituents. If he's smart, he's worried about whether or not he'll pass the stupid test himself.
Jun 20, 2011
Not gonna happen,, no politician is going to vote for a tax on stupidity thus alienating 95% of his constituents.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Or...you could adress the problem at the root. Invest in education, making it accessible to as many as possible. But much more has to change, the media as well.

Furthermore, your problem does not address stupidity that is not the person's own fault. And finally, you would also have to include incompetence. The workplace is full of people that up to a level are "intelligent" and maybe even "successful", yet partly or fully incompetent. Your comic is based on it.

Bottom line: look for the root cause of stupidity, don't tax it afterwards.
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." --Scott Adams

This is not a tax on stupidity, it's more like a tax on ignorance. Although sometimes occurring together, ignorance and stupidity are not synonymous. Ignorance is mainly a lack of knowledge and can be fixed -- for one area at a time -- by some sort of training. That is the main difference between ignorance and stupidity: you can train a stupid person all you want, and he'll remain stupid. That's why taxes on ignorance are OK and taxes on stupidity are not: it's not their fault.

Of course, you could argue that your test idea actually tests for ignorance, inasmuch as even a total dumbas could be trained to ace it if he was willing to memorize a bunch of facts he didn't understand. In that case, I could support it.

I notice that someone mentioned the lottery as an example of a tax in stupidity. I agree that only stupid people pay for the lottery, but it fails on the definition of a tax because a stupid person who forgets for a couple of weeks doesn't get the IRS in his doorstep collecting his receipts and shi t like deranged magpies.
Jun 20, 2011
A tax on stupidity already exists. If one isn't smart enough to take advantage of all the current tax deductions, credits, and adjustments...
Jun 20, 2011
I think best way to implement your "stupidity tax" (hardly a PC concept - need a new name) is to have increased level of taxation on "stupid" behaviors (cigarettes, alcohol for example)
But as noted elsewhere, many of those indulging in "stupid" behaviors are probably the lease capable of paying addition taxes and as a result the level of some "Stupid" behaviors might decline.
The real issue, is whether the government is the ideal vehicle to determine what is "stupid" behavior or stupidity. Given the overall performance of our elected leadership, they should have 100% pay included as part of the "stupid" tax.
But really, how much do you want government to intrude on individual behavior or set minimum knowledge levels........
Jun 20, 2011
The poster "sglaser" is on the nail. Lotteries are a tax on stupidity. The odds of winning are so long that you're more likely to drop dead on the way to buy the ticket that scoop the top prize. So, smart people don't bother. Stupid people buy loads, thinking that this shortens the odds.
Jun 20, 2011
Um, I don't know about you, but I've met plenty of not-very-intelligent people in college, including professors (and myself).
+21 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
Scott - you're on to something here. What's killing the country is lack of education. (and you're going to love this - because it's due to women's liberation).

in the 50s/60s - if bright women wanted careers, virtually the only choice was teaching (I'm simplifying, but..) so our best/brightest women taught our kids, for minimal pay (was ok, they were all married and the culture said the man should be the main breadwinner). Then came women's lib (which I support), which let women do anything they wanted, so the best/brightest went largely elsewhere, and the quality of teaching fell in line with what it was paid.

Another contibuting factor (also, coincidentally traced to women's lib) was the breakdown of the 2-parent supportive home, because women (often rightfully) walked away from truly repugnant men (again, I'm simplifying). Problem is, good education always depends on good support in the home, and without it, all the spending-per-pupil in the world won't fix things, so lots of kids dropped out physically, or, at least, mentally, and never really got an education.

Now that whole generation of under-educated is out in the world - in politics, controling air traffic, etc.. They don't really understand history (can't learn from it), don't understand that economics is zero-sum (can't vote yourself bread/circuses forever), distrust "science", etc..., they have no perspective and their world isn't much bigger than what's around them.

Even worse, they don't like/trust educated people. So, instead of years ago, when we thought we should elect the most qualified capable people, we now want people "like us" or at least people who pander to us, and so we get the government we deserve. Government that is uneducated, for the uneducated.

And the minority of people who managed to get well-educated are the one-eyed-people on the rollercoaster in the world of the blind.

Just my $.02, I could be wrong

and that's what's killing the country.
Jun 20, 2011
I think part of the problem here is the question "what type of knowledge is valuable?" Does knowing algebra really make someone a more productive citizen? The whole utilitarian basis of our society is that incentive structures will encourage citizens to develop skills and knowledge sets that others demand. I'm not confident that anyone could create a test that got close to measuring "useful" knowledge or intelligence.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
"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 don't know about a stupidity tax, but I like the idea of buying differing degrees of property rights. If someone wants to buy complete sovereignty (no taxes) then they have that option. Or if somebody wants to buy only the use of something, not the ownership of something similar to renting a house, then they have that option also. The seller would be the government or whoever is in charge of property rights on your island. I'd think that'd be more effective at removing stupidity, providing more choices which have differing amounts of ramifications.
Jun 20, 2011
You don't need the test just tax stupid things like the payday advance tax, co-signing a loan tax, bungee jumping tax, etc and give tax credits for smart things so the rest of us won't have to take care of you. For example the having term life insurance tax credit
Jun 20, 2011
How about let them take the test once a year for free, and buy into the test at progressively higher cost. Making a test like that would be costly to make it so it is different each time taken.

And then take half the budget of the "war on drugs" and start the "War on stupidity." Let me know where I sign up for that kind of military action.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
You wrote.....No elected official could support a tax on stupidity...... This is true because most elected officials would score horribly low on the test. And we all know how much tax they want to pay.
+23 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
There's already a gullibility tax. It's called the Lottery. That's a close relative of a stupidity tax and much easier to administer.

There's also taxes on stuff like cigarettes and alcohol. I'm sure we could think of a few more to add (boxing gloves, premium gasoline, ...).
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
voting should also be allowed based on similar test. or there could be weight for a vote based on your score.
maybe the tax issue would solve itself then :)
Jun 20, 2011
I like the idea. You wouldn't be able to force compliance with the knowledge; you'd only be testing for the presence of the knowledge. For example, you could say, "True or false: Children who were spanked frequently are more likely to commit crimes." Regardless of whether or not someone agrees with spanking, you can ensure that they are informed of the facts. In fact, it would be very helpful to get into the more controversial areas. Religious knowledge can be tested without ever implying adherence; just because I know who Muhammad was doesn't make me Muslim, but understanding Islam can lead to a better understanding of my neighbours and the world. And oh, the rapturous joy I experience as I imagine testing creationists on biology...
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
One problem with a stupidity tax (assuming it's an overt tax and not some subtle trickery) is that stupid folks could argue - probably with some degree of accuracy - that they are the least equipped to pay said tax.
Jun 20, 2011
Missed it by that much. State run gambling is a tax on stupidity and the government is addicted to the income.
+33 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 20, 2011
The lottery is exactly that, a tax on those who don't know math.
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