Everyone has their own favorite “what if” scenarios when talking about taxes. I’d like to talk about a Doctor Who tax.
In case you are not familiar, Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series that began in 1963, in black and white. It has had its ups and downs, and was cancelled for a few years and then revived, but to this day it remains one of Britain’s most popular television shows with one of the most ardent fan bases. If you are an American who has never heard of Doctor Who, you can probably just think of it as being a kind of “British Star Trek”. Even though the story-lines are totally different, they are both science fiction television shows that have been around a very long time and are enormously popular among certain groups of people.
So how do you think people would react if the government came along one day and told the British people: “Due to cost of special effects and other financial issues, the show Doctor Who cannot be kept running through normal economic means. It needs help from the government. So, we propose a very small increase in income tax, let’s say an additional 0.001%, on everyone in the United Kingdom. This additional revenue will be used to create new Doctor Who episodes that everyone can enjoy, if they choose.
What would the reaction be?
Of course, if you are a big fan of Doctor Who, you may think the idea is just peachy. But what if you are not?
In today’s political climate in the United States, often ideologically radical, we have a lot of people who would call this tyranny. They would say something like this: “What if I don’t like Doctor Who? Why should I be forced to pay for other people to have Doctor Who, when I don’t watch it myself? Why can’t they pay for their own Doctor Who? Are they lazy? Are they stupid? Why is the government stealing my money for something that I don’t even want?”
And so on and so forth.
But I don’t think this is a normal “non-Fan” reaction. I think this is a reaction that has been distorted by American politics and posturing.
I think a normal reaction, for a person who neither loves nor hates Doctor Who, would be something like this: “Can you show me any evidence that our society as a whole benefits from Doctor Who continuing?” Or, to put it another way: “Can you convince me that a society with Doctor Who is better in some way than a society without Doctor Who?”
Of course, even with this more reasoned argument, you will probably end up opposing the Doctor Who Tax.
But the important thing is the reason. You are not opposed to the Doctor Who Tax because it is “theft” or “socialism”, or because you think Doctor Who fans are “lazy” or “moochers”, or because you think you “shouldn’t have to pay for stuff” that you don’t use.
The reason you would oppose the Doctor Who tax is simply because there is no measurable material evidence that society as a whole will benefit specifically from keeping the show on the air.
That is the landscape on which all of these conversations ought to be held, in my opinion. Instead of this radicalized “all taxes are theft” and “I should only pay for stuff I use personally” rhetoric, we should be asking the question: Is there evidence that this will help our society as a whole?
I suspect that if we started asking the question in this manner, the answers would line up with the sensibilities of the majority of the population a lot better than the ideological battles that have been going on in America.
Is there evidence that society benefits overall when more people, even poor people, have a better education? I think the answer is “yes”, so I support taxation to help with education. If you think the answer is “no”, then that is a conversation that I would welcome. But the debate then needs to be specifically about whether it is provable that helping poor people to become more educated benefits society as a whole. The conversation should not be about whether poor people deserve money or “why should I pay for schools if I have no children” or any of that other nonsense.
The same level of debate should happen for every issue, in my opinion. Health care? The functional question, the practical question, is whether there is evidence that providing better health care for people who cannot afford it will benefit society as a whole. The same goes for roads, parks, public transportation, and even ….. Netflix.
Ah yes, the brilliant conservative argument! If we can have taxes for health care, then where will it stop? What is to say that society won’t simply decide that we need to have a tax to help poor people get Netflix?
Indeed… what is to say that society won’t simply decide that we need to have a tax for Doctor Who?
The reason conservatives get bamboozled by this argument is that they are so used to framing the notion of taxes in terms of their radical ideology, they literally can see no difference between a tax for health care and a tax for Netflix.
To them, both are theft. To them, both are socialism.
But the answer is simple: there is a difference, as I just described. The important question is, as I said before, whether there is evidence that having the thing benefits society as a whole.
This simple question makes it easy (or at least, easier) to distinguish between “a tax to help poor people get Netflix” and “a tax to help poor people get health care”. It also makes it easier to distinguish between “a tax to support education” and “a tax to support Doctor Who”.
The only way it is not easy to “tell the difference” between these scenarios is when you are asking the wrong questions.
Of course, with that being said, if you actually have a study showing that society benefits as a whole from Doctor Who being on the air…. I’d love to see it!