Thursday, March 18, 2010

Taxing my patience

I have never understood people who do not like to pay income taxes and estate taxes. It makes little sense to live in a society that provides roads, bridges, control towers for airplanes, a postal service, police and fire services, a national park system and a number of agencies designed to protect the public from insentient entities that have no conscience (such as commercial corporations), without being willing to pay for them. The only time I feel unhappy about paying taxes is when a disproportionate amount of it is spent on things I do not find necessary or useful. The 2009 tax year was one in which I found myself unhappy at how most of my tax dollars were being spent. The following table offers a summary. (The source is The Friends Committee on National Legislation website.

33% Military 24% of the 2009 budget is for the Pentagon's budget of $767,463,000,000, 6% is paying interest on past deficits, and 3% goes to veterans affairs.
27% Economic stimulation 26% of the 2009 budget went toward bailouts of corporations that were deemed “too big to fail,”and 1% went to such things as job training and various social programs aimed at keeping the economy vibrant or helping those who were suffering because the economy was not vibrant.
17% Health care This covers the budgets for Medicaid, medical research sponsored by the NIH, centers for disease control, public health programs, and Indian health programs. This budget does not include the budget for Medicare, which is not funded through tax moneys but rather through trust funds.
11% Responding to poverty Budget for providing food, housing, utilties, and educational programs to people who need public assistance.
9% General government expenses 7% of the 2009 budget goes to paying the interest on previous deficit spending in civilian programs, and the rest goes to funding the Congress, the judiciary system, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the IRS, and
the Treasury.
2% Science Scientific and environmental research, environmental protection, NASA, the national park and national forest system, oceanic research, atmospheric research, and most departments within the Department of the Interior.
1% Diplomacy The budget of the Stae Department, support of the United Nations, the cost of maintaining embassies and consolates, support for the Agency for International Development, and all non-military foreign aid.

Several aspects of this budgetary information captures my attention.

  • If one adds the interest paid on past borrowing for military expenditures and the interest paid on past borrowing for civilian expenditures, it turns out that 13% of the tax money that is collected from Americans is paying for past debts. Given that the federal budget for 2009 was $3,184,888,000,000, this means that some $4,140,355,440,000 went to servicing past debts.
  • The percentage of the 2009 budget for the Pentagon was lower (33%) than in 2008 (43%), but the actual amount ($1,039,531,000,000) was higher than in 2008. The president's recently proposed budget call for a significant increase in military spending, which should bring the percentage back up to 39%. The reason the pecentage amount of the total budget spent on military was lower in 2009 was that an extraordinary appropriation was made for bailing out financial institutions that were “too big to fail.”
  • The combined cost of maintaining the three branches of government is relatively modest. What is expensive is the decisions that America's elected and appointed officials make. While I would be perfectly happy if 5% of my tax dollars went to the military, I am not at all in favor of the 28% that is spent to invade and occupy foreign countries, maintain military bases in more than 130 countries, and maintain and guard an obsolete nuclear arsenal and an arsenal of illegal chemical and biological weapons. So 28 cents of every tax dollar collected from me is going to military expenses I do not approve, and another 26 cents in 2009 helped pay for a bailout of financial instituions that were being rewarded for unprecedented degrees of greed and stupidity, while the victims of the policies of those institutions received almost nothing. That is a total of 54 cents of every dollar I paid in taxes going toward enterprises I consider foolishly wasteful. I would be happier if 54% of my tax dollars paid for reducing domestic poverty, funding education and science, supporting the UN and giving non-military aid to foreign countries and paying for a single-payer government-run health-care system that provided basic medical insurance to everyone in the United States, including visitors from foreign countries.

Although I am probably slightly to the left of some members of the Tea Party movement, I agree with their claim that government spending is out of control and that neither political party is serving the interests of the majority of Americans. A nuclear arsenal is not in anyone's interest, nor are all the bombers and fighter jets and helicopters parked in American airbases around the world, nor are stimulus packages paid to American auto manufacturers that have consistently built oversized fuel-inefficient vehicles and to financial institutions that grant mortgages to people who cannot afford them and lend money to poor people at usurious rates of interest. But unlike those who like the Tea Party, I do not think the answer is to reduce the size of government. It is not less government that Americans need, but good government. That has been in very short supply for as long as I have been alive. But it is never too late to try to achieve it.