One of the outstanding needs in the further perfection of fiscal systems, and one which can only come with the gradual dissemination of knowledge as to the nature of expenditures and revenues, is an enlightened public. The nature of public expenditure is too often overlooked, or not understood. Individuals and communities frequently assume the attitude that it makes little difference whether any return is rendered for receipts from public treasuries. The Congressman who succeeds in getting a massive government building for his home village has been a benefactor. The discharged soldier points with pride to the equipment he managed to purloin from the government. These illustrations but represent an aspect as it appears at first sight. Governments generally depend upon their citizens for their funds, since they have no magic source of supply. A government expenditure, then, is a removal of funds from one pocket for the purpose of putting them into the other, with some deductions for the expense of handling. If the amount is not taken from the pockets of the particular individuals who receive the benefits, it must be taken from those of their neighbors, so there is no gain to society. When individuals realize that it is their demands upon the government that cause the increase in tax burdens, they will be more concerned about the demands which are made.
It naturally follows that the citizenship of a state should have some adequate knowledge of what constitutes proper expenditures. Obviously this will depend upon the conception which may be held as to the proper functions of the state. An anarchist and a socialist, for example, would have difficulty in coming to an agreement on the proper lines of activity upon which a state may properly enter. Yet, in order that the citizenship may have some notion as to whether they are receiving a value commensurate with the tax burden, they should have in mind some measure of the proper activities for state initiative. In general, the citizen should feel that a greater value is being given when the funds are being expended through his public representatives than if they had been left to be expended by himself. A study of public expenditures, with this in mind, will lead to a closer scrutiny of the acts of public officials, and will hold them to a more strict accountability for the way in which public funds are spent.
The citizen, moreover, should become so enlightened that he will demand the efficient management of public funds. It has frequently been said that if the business principles which are used in conducting the various political units were applied to a private enterprise, it would soon be forced to bankruptcy. Too many candidates who run on efficiency platforms leave the platforms behind when they assume the duties of office. The citizens have a right to demand, and in the interest of reducing the public burden and in securing value received for their taxes, should demand, as exacting business principles in the conduct of the state as in the conduct of private business enterprise.
With an increased study of fiscal problems by the officials who must administer them, and by students who are to become the leaders in civic life, through whom knowledge will be disseminated to the public as a whole, problems of expenditure and revenue may be expected to be handled much more efficiently in the future than they have been in the past.