A very interesting experiment conducted by the University of Amman in Jordan speaks volumes about the acceptable, fair and effective conditions for achieving social policy: it shows that greater knowledge by the taxpayers of the impact of the redistribution of their tax dollars encourages them to be much more altruistic.

For the moment, in Jordan, as in most other countries in the South, the bulk of assistance to the poor involves subsidies in order to secure low essential products prices (fuel and food); but these subsidies usually benefit the rich more than the poor, who cannot afford these goods, even at subsidized prices.

The experiment, conducted as part of a World Bank report, called Jordan Gives, involved 420 participants, from middle-class communities, divided into groups of 20, in separate rooms. Participants received fuel vouchers worth a 10 JD (Jordanian dinars) voucher, the equivalent of the minimum daily wage. Participants were offered five proposals: keep the 10 JD voucher; give JD 20 cash per family to five poor families in the community; give a food basket worth JD 20 per family to five poor families; give JD 20 cash per family to five poor families, conditional on their completion of a free training program on work-related skills; give JD 20 cash per family to two poor families and JD 60 cash to the local school.

Some groups, known as « treatment groups », received additional information on what a poor family would be able to buy for 20 JD and were invited to witness the distribution of the selected proposal to the poor families.

All in all, two-thirds of the participants decided to donate part of their fuel vouchers in exchange for helping the poor in their groups.

The groups known as « treatment groups », gave more than the others, and preferred cash transfers over food transfer; in particular, the young people paid attention to the fact that they were part of the monitoring of benefit delivery. The others, significantly less altruistic, with low trust, tended to have a stronger preference for food rather than cash transfer.

The results of this experimental economics, that must be considered with caution, are very illuminating. They remind us that, in any country, knowledge of the real impact of public action is the condition of its acceptance by the taxpayers; and we too often forget the importance of pedagogy to achieve tax acceptance. The example of community life shows that, when citizens are really involved in social action, they bear its weight much more easily.

In France, in particular, where the taxes and charges are a very heavy burden, where social spending is so complex and does not always benefit those who need it most, a simplification of the transfer mechanisms and a better monitoring by citizens of the use of these resources would make these policies more acceptable. This would require a profound revolution in the organization of the administrations in charge of the collection of government (tax and social welfare) revenue; and in the simplication of the structures of the state, social security and regional authorities in charge of distribution. Without such a revolution, the citizens’ tax revolt is inevitable.