Sometimes I have to hand it to people in this corner of the world – when it comes down to problem solving they can be either completely useless or utterly brilliant. Usually the brilliance emanates from the average man on the street, some of the hotfixes I’ve witnessed in the name of repairing scooters or increasing their carrying capacity should be enough to secure their creators a senior post at NASA. The governments typically fare less well in this regard but there is one exception: the Taiwanese receipt lottery.
Some years ago the powers that be were faced with a conundrum. How to raise a largely underground economy up into the light of the modern world and keep track of sales and purchases for tax purposes. Any extra effort required on the part of businesspeople and consumers is usually greeted with a less than enthusiastic response so there must be an incentive. Well as the old adage has it, money talks.
Technically gambling is illegal in Taiwan but the peculiarly Asian thirst for the odd flutter thrives here so the authorities decided to grant every citizen free entry to a game of chance with a sizeable reward for the lucky winner. Every receipt you receive, from any shop whatsoever, is emblazoned with a unique 8-digit number which, if you were ignorant of purpose, you would likely fail to notice at all. Every two months the government publishes a list of 5 similar numbers and matching all or part of them to any of your receipts from the corresponding months can net you anywhere from $200 (about £4) to $10,000,000 (£200,000!). In Taiwanese terms the latter sum is quite incredible and even the former can buy a good meal or a bottle of cheap-ass whisky.
Anyone is eligible to enter this lottery – locals, tourists and alien residents like myself alike – so every purchase is now a matter of record and goes straight on the books. Taxes are duly collected, the government is happy and the people get a small but free chance for riches with every item they buy. In a wonderfully cheeky twist the government gets a little extra by taxing the winnings at 20% despite the fact that said winnings themselves come from tax money. As a tax fan myself it bothers me not one whit although I’ve heard some right-wing Yank expats grumbling about it. “Oh noes, I’ve got slightly less free money than I think I deserve!”. Fecking conservative retards.
Oh yeah, that’s the other thing – the receipts and numbers are per transaction rather than per item so should you want to be a greedy jerk about it you could buy every single item in your shopping trolley separately and pile those receipts higher. I can’t imagine sinking much lower however🙂
Postscript – I just worked my way through March and April’s receipts. Nothing. Not a sniff. And now I’m more settled here I’m making fewer random runs to 7-11 for supplies so my pile for May/June is going to be considerably smaller. Oh well, it only takes one golden ticket to pay off my remaining mortgage four times over…