The personal website of Edward Yu.

Proposal: a Volition Tax

Here’s an idea which I’ve had floating around in my head: take 1% of each person’s taxes and let that person choose where it’s allocated. So come April, when I’m filing my taxes, the tax form will have a checklist of federal organizations I want to support. I’ll call this the volition tax.

Scenario: Saving NASA

I’ve been quite concerned about the future of NASA.

NASA Budget

Funding for the organization seems to be slowly drying up, although evidence suggests that for every dollar that goes into NASA, $7-14 are added to the economy, via direct employment and indirect technology innovations. To give a few examples of NASA spin-off technologies:

  • Artifical limbs
  • Aircraft anti-icing systems
  • Freeze drying

Now what can I do about this? I suppose I could call my representatives in Congress and demand that they increase funding. This is unlikely to work, because my representatives are far more concerned about political ramifications, and this isn’t exactly a hot-button issue. I could donate money directly, but my few dollars are insignificant.

Now imagine that the volition tax exists. I would check the box on my tax form, and 1% of my taxes would be allocated to NASA. Far more importantly, everyone in the country has to make a decision about which organizations to support. I could post to social media and badger my friends to add NASA to their list of organizations to support. This has a much higher likelihood of success because it is low-effort on their part.

NASA or interested third parties could also run an outreach campaign urging people to support them. Let’s say the campaign goes viral on social media and 10% of Americans decide to allocate their volition tax to NASA. Quick math:

  • US Federal Tax Revenue is: $3.25 trillion
  • Portion for volition tax would be: $32.5 billion
  • NASA would receive: $3.25 billion

This is an 17% increase in their annual budget!

Citizens can make a big difference in issues that they care about. Instead of lounging around waiting for Congress to make things happen, we would be directly responsible for increasing funding for important programs. There would be auxiliary benefits too. Americans would be more incentivized to participate in direct democracy, and would be better educated on federal programs. Political ads would shift from attack ads to promotional ads urging people to support certain agencies. Hopefully, this increase in political activism affects voting come November.


This bill would never pass. Maybe, maybe not. I’m just throwing an idea out there.

Where would this money come from? Either take 1% of the existing federal budget, or increase taxes by 1%, whichever would create the least financial hardships.

Only trendy organizations would get funded. Important but under the radar organizations would be ignored. No, this is how the current system works. Politicians aren’t willing to support organizations without some sort of political gain. Citizens, on the other hand, support federal programs that affect their lives. These programs can reach out directly to people and solicit their financial support. Think about it this way: if a federal program can’t convince anyone to support it, why does it deserve to have its funding increased in the first place? Worst case scenario: its budget is cut by 1% in order to pay for the volition tax.

Politicians would just defund programs that receive a lot of funding from the volition tax. Would Congress see that NASA’s budget increased by x% and just cut its original budget by the corresponding amount? There is one built-in barrier preventing this from happening - the programs that receive the most funding are ones that voters have actionably demonstrated are nearest and dearest to their hearts. Thus, cutting funding to these programs is likely to draw incredible outrage. It doesn’t seem like a smart political move to do this.