In this age of instant information, as we all know, there is a great deal of instant misinformation. Add to that a basic lack of understanding in the population at large of critical economic, budgetary and tax concepts, and it is not hard to see that it is relatively easy for an well-funded advocacy oriented organization to use slick materials, frequent repetition and catchy themes to convince people about their particular position, even though it may be against ordinary American's interest to support that position.
Countering the misinformation, and the misleading information, about taxation--the underlying concepts and the way it works, the distributional effects and various ways to think about fairness, the reason taxation is necessary and the connection between taxation and spending (as well as the hidden spending that can be accomplished to benefit targeted groups through tax expenditures)--is an important task that is shortchanged in our society today. Not many high schools have good programs that teach about finance, budgeting, and taxation. While some college students take economics, they usually just get a grounding in the received wisdom of the Chicago school on supply and demand, efficient markets, etc. They may acquire some terminology, but they may actually gain a bias in looking at most economic resources from the (now discredited) view that "the markets" can deal with all problems. At least the ones that take economics can then read intelligibly. Those who never taken any finance, accounting or economics courses are in the dark and at the mercy of the spin doctors. And there are lots of those on the issue of taxation--from the anarcho-libertarians who consider taxation nothing but state-sponsored theft to the oddball remaining communist who thinks the state should control all factors of production. There are some reasonable organizations out there performing a public service of bringing facts and figures to the fore, but not many of them,; they fill small niches here and there. In spite of what the teabaggers say, the governmental alphabet-soup ones are among the best--including the CBO (congressional budget office), the JCT (joint committee on taxation), the CRS (congressional research service) and others. Why, the IRS even has joined the digital generation, now making YouTube videos on tax issues to help ordinary but digitally cognizant taxpayers find their way around the bureaucratic tangle of the federal income tax. See the IRS YouTube video channel!
As I've mentioned before, Marjorie Kornhauser at Arizona State's O'Connor Law School has launched an ambitious project aimed at making learning about basic tax concepts and mechanics fun and digital for the digitally adept, using the federal income tax as the system discussed. The goal is to increase knowledge and understanding of taxation among the general public, but especially among young adults, without advocating any particular tax structure, rate or even philosophy. People just need basic information and understanding to make their own informed decisions about tax.
The project has a Steering Committee (disclosure--I'm a member), an Advisory Board, a webpage under design, three (for now) web-based tax games in progress, and an agreement for pro bono availability of the Thompson Reuters Tax Law Dictionary on the website. Student groups at various law schools may develop some projects--I'm hoping that the newly established Tax Law Society at Wayne Law (congrats, folks! and especially to Joe Lakier, who worked hard to make this a successful venture) will contribute a game, some YouTube videos and/or some other innovative idea.
But there's more that's needed. Namely money, ideas, money, IT expertise, money, YouTube videos, and money. Money is needed to pay research assistants, IT expertise for flash animation, get professional help when needed to make it all pull together, etc. So, folks, if you want Americans to become more knowledgeable about tax so that they can make informed decisions rather than be too easily swayed by propaganda from left or right, then open your pocketbooks and help us make this bipartisan tax literacy project a huge success. $5, $10 or $1000--we'll take any amount, large or small.
TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE TAX LITERAC FUND (please do):
online: at https://secure.asufoundation.org/giving/online-gift.asp?fid=418 (no appeal code necessary)
check: make payable to the ASU Foundation --write "Tax Literacy Fund 30004788" on the memo line--and mail to the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University, PO Box 877906, Tempe, AZ 85287-7906