Current laws designed to prevent spam haven't really helped - the international nature of the internet simply means that spammers route spam (and, on the other end of things, "generated leads") via countries without anti-spam laws so that they cannot be traced by law enforcement.
To eliminate spam, it is not necessary to be able to identify every single spam email. Catching 99% or even as low as 90% would probably do the trick. By reducing the income of spammers by a factor of 10-100, sending spam quickly ceases to be economically feasible.
Catching 90-99% of spam or more is quite possible with today's spam filters. The problem is that because the focus is on eliminating the damage done by spam (the expense of the bandwidth it uses) these spam filters are generally implemented on email servers rather than at the client end. This means that there is no easy way for users to give feedback when the spam filter makes an incorrect choice (no access to the emails marked as spam, and no easy way to report a missed spam as such). This means that people are inclined to turn the filters off (so that they don't miss any email) and also means that the filters are never "trained" to recognize the newest spam-detector-foiling techniques.
The first thing we need to do is have the most popular email clients contain Bayesian spam filters. Emails detected as spam are downloaded but put into a separate folder and users are not notified when new spam is downloaded as they are when new non-spam ("ham") is downloaded. This means that users never need to worry about false positives - they can always check back through their spam folders for a missed message. As the amount of spam decreases, it eventually becomes possible to look at every spam during slow periods, to make sure there were no false positives. These clients will have two extra buttons "delete as spam" and "false positive" that they can use to help train the spam filters.
Whenever the email client is connected to the internet, it uploads its latest changes to its filter data to a trusted central server. This server collates all the information from the clients and produces new filter data which is sent back to the clients. In this way, all spam filters can quickly be updated to recognize the latest spam keywords and filter-avoidance techniques.
How do we prevent the spammers from polluting the filters by sending a large amount of bad data to the servers? All clients are authenticated to the servers and a trust metric is set up. If the data sent by the client tends to agree with data sent from all the other clients, that client's trust rating goes up. If it tends to disagree, the trust rating goes down. That way, the damage that can be done by a particular client is very limited (the filter should be designed to be able to cope with a small amount of incorrect data).
The final change that can be made (and, I think, the one that would make the most difference) is educating end-users that responding to spam is a bad idea. If a large red flashing message saying something like "Warning! The message below is likely to be fraudulent in nature. Exercise extreme caution in giving any money or information to this person or organization" appeared above any email detected as spam, it would probably put off most of the potential clients of the spammers. This method also minimizes the negative consequences of false positives.
These methods work even if not everybody adopts them and for the most part they are most helpful for those who do adopt them (thus providing an incentive for adoption).
Please feel free to evaluate my spam solution against the spam solution evaluator:
Your post advocates a
( ) technical ( ) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante
approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)
( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
( ) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
( ) Users of email will not put up with it
( ) Microsoft will not put up with it
( ) The police will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
( ) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
( ) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business
Specifically, your plan fails to account for
( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
( ) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
( ) Open relays in foreign countries
( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
( ) Asshats
( ) Jurisdictional problems
( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
( ) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
( ) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
( ) Extreme profitability of spam
( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
( ) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
( ) Outlook
and the following philosophical objections may also apply:
( ) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever been shown practical
( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
( ) Blacklists suck
( ) Whitelists suck
( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
( ) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
( ) Sending email should be free
( ) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
( ) Incompatibility with open source or open source licenses
( ) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
( ) I don't want the government reading my email
( ) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough
Furthermore, this is what I think about you:
( ) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
( ) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your house down!
(I started doing so myself, but realised I could not be objective.)