A reader writes:
While I like that taxpayer receipt, there is one big problem with it. About a third of our current budget is paid for by deficit spending, not taxes. I would suggest that another column needs to added, with numbers in red, showing how much is being borrowed to pay for the various items on the list.
The one that just drives me nuts: The IRS. The cost of our system of tax collections has always been too high. Just think how much better off we would be as a nation if we directed all of the human capital now spent on paying our taxes to driving our economy. We spend untold billions on educating the participation's - plus the massive man hours - with absolutely nothing achieved. Ditto on the DEA.
Something is amiss in this receipt.
First of all, it's a bit misleading because it breaks up combat, military pay, vet benefits, and military retirement. Now, on one level, that is helpful info, but it makes more sense to me to collapse those under a general "military" umbrella, which brings that total to well over $500, placing it between Medicare and Medicaid, more like where it belongs. To make the case a different way, Social Security could have also been broken up to reflect retirement benefits, disability benefits, administrative costs, etc. You get the picture.
Which leads to the second point, in that this list gives you no sense whatsoever of the real place of general defense spending, which is larger than Medicare and Medicaid combined, and larger than Social Security. These 2009 figures also do not reflect the fact that most of the spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were done outside the Congressionally approved budget, in discretionary spending, which contributed wildly to our overall debt. (Thanks so much to the Bush/Cheney war machine for this Republican insanity.) This pie chart actually breaks it all down far better.
While I appreciate that the source of this information is at least relatively sane (i.e., thethirdway.org), I'm puzzled that their breakdown is so misleading.
I would personally love to receive a tax receipt, but unintended behavioral consequences should be considered first. For example, I can imagine people donating less to charity. Once they have concrete numbers of tax expenditures, they might begin considering a portion of their taxes to be charitable donations that they no longer feel compelled to make. Not necessarily a reason not to implement tax receipts, but worth thinking about.
I think the receipt is a really good idea. I was just wondering a few weeks ago if there was any merit to giving people some small amount of discretionary amount in their taxes. Basically, with 2% of your tax bill, you get to choose whether it goes to some broad categories of government work (arts funding, or military hospitals, let's say). I have absolutely no idea what it would mean for tax administration (probably a lot of effort and useless headaches), but I do wonder if maybe people would feel less robbed by the government?
Thought you might like to know that the tax receipt idea was proposed by Ethan Porter in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas earlier this year. The article is called "Can't Wait Till Tax Day!", and Porter asks, "It's a heretical thought, but would people pay more taxes if they could designate where a portion of their money went?"