Comment 39948

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 18, 2010 at 12:20:47

I'm not sure if I really agree with user fees for government services, but the choice is not between all user fees or all general taxes.

I think the idea is that when only a relatively small proportion of the population uses a particular service (like emergency response for traffic accidents), or if the service is a "luxury" (like public golf courses), or if we want to make more efficient use of a finite resource (like water or road capacity) then user fees make sense.

When almost everyone uses a service, and it is not a finite resource then user fees don't make sense and it is better to fund out of general taxes. For example, in the UK there is a license for TVs (to fund the BBC), but they discontinued the license for radios (since radios are so cheap and radio is cheaper to fund than TV).

Each case needs to be examined (and re-examined periodically) to see if a partial or full user fee is justified. Another example is the attempt in the 1980s to add a relatively small user fee to doctor visits to encourage better use of this (expensive) resource. Quebec has recently revived the idea.


The problem with doing away with general taxes altogether is that you still benefit indirectly from some services even if you don't use them yourself, and it would be very hard to bill everything on a per use basis. For example, you benefit from having a police service, from public education, from public libraries even if you don't actually use these services yourself because your standard of living relies on the sort of society that these services provide (an educated workforce, safe streets, an informed and educated public).

Historically, governments took over many social services during the 19th and 20th centuries because relying on piecemeal provision of these services by charities was causing society to break down (and was bad for business). See

for a review of how this process happened in Victorian England.

It's important to remember that we know exactly what an industrial society with minimal regulation and social services would be like: it would be like early industrial era in Europe and North America.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2010-04-18 11:22:06

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