Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Your tax dollars at work

The current budget of the United States is $2,397,308,000,000 (in words, two point four trillion dollars). Every person who pays taxes into the coffers of the United States contributes something toward that budget, and taxpayers in future generations will pay for what today's taxpayers do not cover. According to the national debt clock the  debt is now over $9.3 trillion, or nearly $30,620 for every living human being in the country (bearing in mind that about 23% of the debt is owned by foreign agencies).

So how are US tax dollars spent? According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation web site, the current national budget is apportioned as follows: 44% of every tax dollar goes to the military (a figure that includes 13.5% that is paying costs associated with previous wars); 19.7% goes to various aspects of health care; 11.8% goes to dealing with poverty; 10.9% goes to paying interest on the national debt; 7.0% is used to maintain non-military government programs; 2.5% is allocated to scientific research (including NASA) and environmental issues; 2.2% is dedicated to various social programs; and 1.5% goes to all non-military interactions with other nations, such as foreign aid and humanitarian work.

Let's state a hypothetical case. Suppose you paid $5000 in taxes this year to the IRS. This means you are paying somewhere around $2,220 to help pay for everything the military does and has done through the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, Homeland Security, and aid to foreign militaries. Compare that to the $125 you are contributing toward scientific research through the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Forest Service, the National Park system and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The chances are good that you have helped finance more killing, detaining, torturing, wiretapping and other forms of spying than you have helped finance finding solutions to global warming.

It has been estimated that even if American troops are withdrawn from Iraq fairly soon, the total cost of the Iraq war could surpass $1 trillion, or about $3300 for every man woman and child in the USA. (If the average family has 4 people, then the average family's share of that war would be $13,200.)

If the choice had been yours to make, would you have spent money in the ways just outlined? If not, there are things you can do. First, you can write to your various representatives and urge them to spend money in ways you find more appetizing. (I personally would favor reducing military spending to around 3% of the national budget and putting the a much larger share into a national health care system, scholarships for students at all levels, and scientific research. I would also favor balancing the budget by dramatically reducing military spending.)

A second thing you can do is to take more control over how your money is spent by giving substantial amounts to charities and causes that dramatically reduce your taxable income so that little or none of your money falls into the hands of a government that apparently cares much more about killing than in healing, educating and aiding.

Think very carefully about how you vote in this year's elections. None of the leading candidates at this point have shown signs of being willing to make major cuts in defense spending. (Democracy Now! reports that Obama actually supports increasing military spending. That is not the sort of change I can believe in; none of the other leading candidates offer anything much better.) At the very least, if you have grown weary of the American Empire, make the American budget an issue. Ask tough questions. And don't feel there is any wisdom in settling for a candidate whose priorities do not reflect those of you and your family.