Take FEMA of the US as an example of a governmental service. This is financed by the federal budget, which in turn is mostly financed by income taxation of the public.

However, in the case of a disaster, due to limited resources, it is very likely that some people may not receive help. For example in the case of the Harvey disaster, it is being estimated that while some people may receive new homes by FEMA, a lot of people are going to have to seek help from local services. This has the unfortunate consequence that some people who actively support FEMA will not receive help, while others that do not support FEMA, will receive help. I think many people would deem this highly injust.

So, considering this scarcity and injustice, why not make contribution to FEMA optional, and give preferable aid to those who made that contribution (which could e.g. be in the form of an excess optional tax that goes directly to FEMA).

That way, FEMA could allocate their resources towards those who actually help support FEMA, while those that do not support FEMA, are on the bottom of the priority list?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Bobson, Communisty, Alexei, Panda, Machavity Sep 12 '17 at 13:20

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    What you're asking in the title of your question is quite different than what you're asking in the question body. – Martin Tournoij Sep 5 '17 at 14:41
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    "So, considering this scarcity and injustice, why not make contribution to FEMA optional, and give preferable aid to those who made that contribution?" That already exists. It's called a disaster insurance. Just that you don't do it with FEMA but with a private insurance company. – Philipp Sep 5 '17 at 15:12
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    @ImeanH So the difference between a state-offered disaster insurance and your new model for FEMA is that the "optional FEMA tax" is based on income and not fixed. Is that correct? – Philipp Sep 5 '17 at 15:29
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    As for the question, you are essentially asking "why don't we do away with taxes in general and have everything become a user-fee". Which is a really broad question, albeit with a rather simple answer: it'd be highly impractical and inefficient. – user1530 Sep 5 '17 at 15:42
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    It's arguable that FEMA already does discriminate. People who choose to live near (or below!) sea level on hurricane-prone coasts are a lot more likely to receive aid from FEMA than someone who lives in say the Great Basin or Rocky Mountains: newamerica.org/in-depth/weather-eye/… – jamesqf Sep 5 '17 at 18:00

The problem with selective taxes is that only the people they were most relevant to would pay them, and this would cause the system to be underfunded and fail. This is why Obamacare is mandatory, if it wasn't the young and healthy would not pay in and the sick would end up paying the full medical costs.

As for why we need to pay out after disasters, long story short leaving large areas of the country destitute is very bad for the country. There are too many arguments on that front to be listed here though.


So, considering this scarcity and injustice, why not make contribution to FEMA optional, and give preferable aid to those who made that contribution

Some aid goes to other governmental organizations that are part of impacted states, counties, and municipalities. Or to private organizations like hospitals.

A lot of the federal aid goes not to individuals but to doing things. For example, it may clear out your neighbor's collapsed house and bulldoze the debris that floated onto it during the flood. That keeps you from living next to a property with rotting animal and fish corpses. So it helps you as much as it helps your neighbor.

Aid that goes to companies helps not just the companies' owners but also their customers and workers. What about people who have lost not only their house but their jobs? Or people who come back but can't get groceries because there is nowhere to shop.

Perhaps the doctors and nurses from the hospital evacuated. Providing them with shelter, food, water, and electricity to return benefits you if you need medical care, even if they didn't pay their premiums.

In addition, aid that goes to individuals is often distributed to everyone. Truck rolls in, people grab jugs of water or packages of food. They don't check identification, so they have no way of checking if people are paid up. Even if they wanted to add that extra layer, some people don't have identification.

Only a small portion of the aid goes to individuals in a way that it could be cut off if the individual didn't pay the tax.

There is an existing government program that gives aid just to people who pay, called the National Flood Insurance Program. I found that by reading about federal preparation for Harvey. It doesn't work quite like you want. It's a traditional insurance program. It collects premiums rather than charging income tax.

There are ways to make aid more related to payments. Federalism shifts burdens away from the national government and to states. And it can be taken further, to counties and municipalities. Due to the way that currency works, it is more difficult for smaller governments to borrow money at need. To make this work, they have to save ahead of the time. Texas actually has a rainy day fund for such things, although it may not be funded enough for hurricane relief.

Federalism would push aid down to lower levels. Then Texas would be paying for Texas aid. And previously New York and New Jersey would have paid for their aid. So we wouldn't have New York and New Jersey politicians accusing Texas politicians of hypocrisy for voting for Texas aid but against previous aid to other states.

Of course, we might then have residents of Houston complaining about how their politicians didn't save enough ahead of time.

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