Daily Ticker

Dear Congress: We Want Our Money Back

Daily Ticker

When you buy something that turns out to be defective, what do you do? Return it and ask for your money back.

Well, if you’re one of the 125 million Americans who pays federal taxes, you’ve been paying for something that’s defective: the U.S. government. So, as I argue in the video above, it seems appropriate for taxpayers to demand a refund for every day the government they pay for remains shut down and fails to serve them.

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Democracy can be messy, of course, and the usual unsatisfying prescription for addressing its flaws is to wait until the next election, or the one after that, or maybe the one your children’s children will vote in decades hence, when politicians will surely be more upstanding than today’s jackals. Then you’ll be able to throw the bums out and send better people to Washington. But the retail sector may have a better model, which works for Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT) and Apple (AAPL) and any company, really, that cares about its customers: If you screw up, offer them a refund.

This would be simple to do. For every day the government is shut down, every American's 2013 tax bill would be reduced by one day's worth of income taxes. Here’s the math. The average family earns about $50,000 per year and pays about 12 percent of that in federal taxes. That works out to about $16 a day. Might not sound like much, but a two-week shutdown would generate a rebate of about $230. If you earn $100,000, the rebate would be close to $500. If the shutdown lasts for a month, you’d be pushing a $1000 rebate.

Americans may be bitterly divided on most political issues, but there’s near-universal agreement that Congress has screwed up. The legislature’s approval rating is as low as 5 percent, which is so low that Congressional employees and their families may be the only people in America telling pollsters they’re favorably impressed by Congress. Organizations that Americans usually disdain the most—banks, airlines, cable companies—belong on the customer-service All-Star team, compared with Congress.

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Even some members of Congress are disgusted by themselves. “It’s very hard … to figure out who has lost their minds,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said recently. “One party, the other party, all of us.” Hey, why split hairs? Once taxpayers start to get some of their money back, they may not care so much who’s fault the government shutdown is, as long as there’s something in it for them.

If you agree, let us know in the comments below. And be sure to call your representatives in Congress to ask when your refund will be on its way.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter:@rickjnewman.

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