Tax Incentives I'd Like to See
The government should encourage people to quit annoying me.

The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, September 11, 1996

President Clinton's economic plan rests on a host of "targeted tax credits"--attempts to use the tax code to encourage certain types of behavior. For example, Mr. Clinton proposes a $5,000 credit for adopting a child ("more if the child has a disability") and an unspecified credit for businesses that hire people off welfare.

This, of course, is nothing new. Government has long sought to use the tax code to influence behavior, through such provisions as the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions as well as through "sin taxes" on our favorite vices. But some of Mr. Clinton's proposals seem rather half-baked. Take the $1,500 tuition tax credit "to make the typical community college education available to every American." Is our great nation really suffering from a shortage of junior college grads?

And anyway, wouldn't it be nice if the government just left us alone? In this vein, Bob Dole's 15% across-the-board tax cut seems vastly preferable to Mr. Clinton's laundry list of special breaks (though I do wish the Dole cut were closer to 100%).

Maybe, though, there's room for compromise. If the government won't leave us alone, couldn't it at least use tax incentives to induce our fellow citizens to leave us alone? Here are some suggestions:

The Childhood Noise Abatement Tax Credit. This is similar to the $500-per-child credit Mr. Dole has proposed, except that it would be available only to parents who keep their little bundles of joy out of movie theaters, airplanes and restaurants. For parents of adolescents, the credit would be contingent on the kids not playing heavy-metal or rap music in public.

The Tolerance Tax Credit. A $175-a-year credit for paragons of virtue (nonsmokers, recovered alcoholics, environmentalists, born-again Christians, vegetarians, etc.) who refrain from fussing about other people's lawful pleasures. For us nonparagons, ineligible for the credit, the absence of bitching would be worth well more than $175 a year--meaning that this policy would create wealth.

The Urban Quality of Life Tax Credit. A $400-a-year credit for all taxpayers who live or work in a city of more than 400,000 and do not commit any quality-of-life offenses--littering, giving money to panhandlers, failing to clean up after their dogs, drinking in public (except in New Orleans) and so forth. What makes this proposal especially ingenious is the enforcement scheme: Half of all IRS agents would be reassigned to patrol city streets in plain clothes and cite anyone committing the designated offenses. Not only would the cities become more livable, but by gutting the IRS's auditing and other enforcement capabilities, this plan would make government less intrusive.

The Vexatious Charity Deduction Exclusion. No more tax deduction for donations to any nonprofit organization that lobbies for increased taxes or government spending, fills our boxes with junk mail or produces weepy TV solicitations featuring Sally Struthers.

The Plain English Tax Credit. A $250 annual credit to anyone whose work involves writing--from the lowliest scrawler of memos to the loftiest professor or consultant--who consistently avoids using empty jargon (terms like paradigm or linearity) and ungrammatical but politically correct constructions (like everybody does their part).

OK, maybe this last one is a little over the top. But then who says we editors are above special pleading?

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