As millions of Americans rushed to file their taxes before today's deadline, they may have been more preoccupied with "where did that receipt go?" than "where will my tax money go?" But a new project called The New IRS is urging people to think about it, and submit their preferences, called "Personal Allocation Plans," through its interactive website. The project will then issue a report on April 17 aggregating those responses and comparing them to the projected federal budget.
The unlikely founder of the project is singer-songwriter Alex Ebert, the frontman of indie folk band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who conceived The New IRS "to stimulate not only the intellect, but the imagination, so that we may re-develop a taste for political possibility," according to TheNewIRS.com. "What we are really doing when we vote for a politician in this country is saying where we want our tax money to go and not go. A politician’s platform—even their ideals—require additions and subtractions of money to implement. Tax Money."
With The New IRS, writes Ebert, "taxpayers choose, from reasonable and established categories, where our federal income tax money goes by choosing a percentage for each category. We call the new feature Personal Allocation. Through your participation, we will be able to collect national data that will serve to illuminate any disparities between the will of the people and the national expenditures of our representative democracy."
The 14 "reasonable and established categories" include national defense, job and family security, health care, and response to national disasters. Site users can allocate specific percentages to each, and must provide basic information on location and demographics, but the site says all data will remain anonymous. The project is clearly billed as a simulation, but one that Ebert hopes will generate discussion and "serve to reflect our ethics as a nation, as well as to illuminate disparities between our will and the actual expenditures of the current political powers." According to a press release, The New IRS is the first in a series of similar web-based experiments, which the site suggests has the umbrella name Second Gov, described in its as-of-yet inactive Twitter account as "Second Life meets Change.org."
Until the report is released on Thursday, it's impossible to know how many people will have contributed Personal Allocation Plans to the project—and there's no guarantee that those who do will have usefully thoughtful about it (i.e., not allocate 100% to agriculture in some kind of pro-weed statement). And since participation is voluntary and self-selecting, it's likely the sample size of people participating won't exactly be scientific. But it's still an interesting template for online citizen engagement.