Actually, people aren't willing to pay more tax for the NHS


There's a report out announcing that loads of people would be entirely happy to pay more tax if that extra cash was allocated to the NHS. Two important things #to say about this. The first being that it's untrue and the second being that if it is then that's just great:

Almost half of voters say they would be happy to pay more income tax as long as the money went directly to the NHS, which is facing a £30bn gap in its finances by 2020.

Polling firm ComRes found that 49% of people would be prepared to pay more tax to help fund the health service, one in three (33%) people said they would not be ready to do so, and 18% did not know either way.

However, if only the views of those who expressed an opinion are considered, as many as 60% of people are willing to pay more tax to help the NHS providing its wide range of services; 40% are not.

The reason it's not true is our old friend revealed preferences. We should never try to divine what people really want from what they say: we should instead look at what they do. And we do have a method of being able to pay extra tax: simply send the cheque to "The Accountant, 2 Horse Guards Road, London SW1" and they're absolutely delighted to apply it to whatever area of public spending you wish to inform them you favour. Admittedly it's a few years since I looked into this but in that year an entire 5 people had actually done so and four of them were dead, leaving bequests.

So revealed preferences tells us that exactly one live person was actually willing to pay higher taxes for any reason at all, not just for the NHS.

But let's assume for a moment that this is in fact true. That the reason, perhaps, that more people don't pay is because they don't know where Mr. Accountant resides? All we have to do is tell everyone where he does and that's the problem solved, isn't it? A few people to open the flood of envelopes that will no doubt overwhelm the office and we're done. Everyone who wants to pay more tax for the NHS may do so and no one who does not needs to.

If only all public policy questions were as simple to solve as this one.