I had an idea and was wondering if there's a term for it or if there might even be groups or research surrounding this policy.

The basic idea is that each year citizens of a country would vote for how taxes would be spent with their income tax report. For example, one citizen may have a grandparent who is dying of cancer, and so they would vote fully in favour of a particular health care program aimed at cancer prevention. Someone else might vote to improve a particular highway that they drive every day. Votes could also be split between programs (and most people would probably split their vote).

Each person's vote would then control how an equal portion of the taxes are spent. For example, a country with $1 billion in total taxes and 1 million tax-filing citizens would give each tax-filing citizen control over allocating $1,000 of tax income, regardless of their income.

There would be a minimum criteria in order to establish a program, for example 500,000 signatures might be required. There might also be restrictions on the types of programs that could be established. Then, each program could be given a unique identifying number. In the end, determining the budget is then a matter of information processing once a year. To prevent any sort of vote buying, programs would never be given the identities of who voted for them.

The idea would basically create a free market for government programs. Programs that failed to produce good results or didn't really help that many people would lose funding year over year in favour of better programs, as people would simply vote that portion of the taxes elsewhere. It would reduce the ability for lobbyists to influence where funding goes, since instead of lobbying a congress they'd have to lobby every citizen. New and better government programs would be able to be established. It would allow the taxes to accurately represent the needs of everyone as best they could be articulated.

Note this is not intended to be a discussion of whether this is a good idea or not. I wanted to find out if anyone has ever looked into or even implemented an idea like this. I'm hoping for a name for this policy if one exists or if anyone knows if there are any present organizations advocating this idea or anything even close to similar.

  • To the best of my knowledge there is no widely accepted name for such a system. Have at it to name it yourself.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 22:57
  • Something like this has been proposed in campaign finance, but I don't think they used a special name for it.
    – user9389
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 0:08
  • en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Alexander_Fraser_Tytler
    – user4012
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 3:33

2 Answers 2


Direct democracy

This is a kind of direct democracy, albeit limited to just budgetary concerns and with suffrage limited to tax filers.

I don't know of a more precise name, as I haven't seen this particular variant previously. I suggested allowing people to specify where their own taxes went. Larry Lessig suggested allowing people to specify where $50 of their taxes went, limited to political candidates.

If I were making up a name, Budgeting by direct democracy would be descriptive. Direct budgeting, tax designation, or referendum budgeting would be less descriptive but shorter.

This is the kind of thing that pairs well with tax simplification/reform. Because programs that specialized in tax filing could switch to budget filing instead.

  • Thanks so much! Can you see any issue with the name Democratic Taxation?
    – azoundria
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 0:07
  • Just that it's incorrect. The taxation isn't democratic. It's the budgeting. Also, it isn't democratic per se. In a democracy, the majority decision applies to everyone. This is better than democracy, because even the minority gets their way. That said, the technically incorrect name may be emotionally correct, making the right political appeal. It depends on how willing one is to ignore the technical argument. It's the kind of thing that normally gets processed in focus groups.
    – Brythan
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 0:51

There was a short science fiction story I read back in 70ies/80ies, which was exactly about that: an American citizen was working together with his computer on how to spend his taxes. The computer was calling him different branches of government (education, defense, etc), and he was telling it what portion of his taxes to allocate to each of it. He could also create new target -- around which the story revolved -- he wanted a new target called "Peace".

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