Use More Creativity in Funding Government

Get your name on buildings, streets, programs and positions.

How did America create and pay for the best teaching and research universities in the world? What can government learn from this success story? When both carrots and sticks are known to motivate, why restrict funding to sticks (tuition or taxes) when carrots (donations and endowed chairs) could also provide money?

In my recent book (“Optimal Money Flow”) I proposed the taxpayer appreciation program (TAP), which would allow the naming of a taxpayer supported institution or edifice after those who pay an especially high estate tax. For example, at some point in the future, and with the approval of the appropriate board, a primary school in Omaha, Nebraska might be named “The Warren Buffett Elementary School.” Of course, you only get to die once so under TAP you could only get one institution or edifice named in your honor.

However, there is no reason that such naming should be limited to estate taxes or taxes in general. Universities allow donors to have their names attached to campus buildings, programs, scholarships and professorships. Whatever people are willing and able to fund might be considered for approval. Why shouldn’t the public sector explore this approach as well? Voters or their representatives could approve a particular donor to have their name attached to a building or road. You might be able to pay to have “Union” in Union Station or “Country” in Country Lane replaced with your name.

But what about funding actual government positions as endowed chairs? A donor named John Smith could donate a few million dollars to make Mayor Bill de Blasio the John Smith Mayor of New York City. If several wealthy people want to bid for naming an official government position, the naming of the position could be auctioned off. Of course the funding for these positions need to be large enough to pay both the future salaries and operating expenses of the named position. This would free up tax money to pay other expenses, or that tax money could be earmarked for a reserve fund to be used in an economic downturn instead of cutting back services or going into the red.

If having individual donors pay to have their names associated with key positions seems unseemly, with the approval of her family and next of kin why not create a “Go Fund Me” page to create a Ruth Bader Ginsburg Justice of the Supreme Court? The nation as a whole could show their respect and appreciation along with that of her important and wealthy friends and colleagues by funding a Supreme Court position in her honor. One of Georgia’s senators could be named the John R. Lewis Senator of Georgia. Endowed positions could eventually be created for every position in the Congress of the United States.

As the wealthiest Americans accumulate more and more money, they may wish to use their money more creatively than just investing it all in the stock market. Not every wealthy person has the ability and ambition to create an Amazon or a Tesla so offering them another way to get their name out there may be just what they were looking for. Alternatively, a “Go Fund Me” page for honoring our fallen heroes may be exactly what we need to reestablish our sense of commitment and unity as a nation. Let’s hope that our leaders will have the courage to give it a try. It has got to be more popular than raising taxes or running up the national debt.

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