(P, R) Well, my checks to the Department of the Treasury and the Missouri Department of Revenue cleared the bank yesterday. I'm passionate year round about responsible uses of public dollars, but tax time does serve as a nice reminder as it puts the specific numbers in front of you in a way that can't be ignored.
For fun, I thought I'd break out rough estimates of spending categories exceeding $1,000 in 2008. I realize not everybody gets worked up by numbers, but these kinds of things really make me mad.
What's my top expense? Rent? Car insurance? Utilities? My Roth IRA? Nope. Federal income taxes.
1. Federal income taxes: $5,600
2. Roth IRA: $5,000
3. Rent: $4,900
4. Europe/Other travel: $4,000
5. Payroll taxes: $3,500
6. Groceries/Eating out: $2,500
7. Missouri income taxes: $1,800
8. Other taxes: $1,600
9. Car insurance: $1,300
10. Utilities: $1,300
In case you're keeping score, my rough estimate of my total tax burden last year (income, property, sales, OASDI, and medicare) is approximately $12,500.
Now, what separates me from the conservatives like Grover Norquist is that I'm not opposed to taxation per se. I recognize that programs require resources, and the purpose of taxation is to raise revenue to pay for those programs. I happen to like courts and armies and fire departments and schools and roads and subways and sewers and parks and so forth. Indeed, most people understand that in order to have these popular services, we have to be taxed.
What's aggravating, what gets me ranting around tax time, is the unnecessary expenses, the waste, the programs that do nothing to invest in the safety and prosperity of our country. The Republican Party has taken an interesting strategic course, which is to talk about fiscal responsibility while doing the opposite. The enormous disconnect between rhetoric and reality from the GOP leadership has done much to put them in an amazingly restrictive demographic situation looking forward. And the Democratic Party has certainly shown progress. But what stands out is how little has changed since the Democrats took control of Congress over two years ago now. It's like celebrating cutting an alcoholic back from 10 drinks a day to 9. Well, that's great and all, but it's only progress if much more noticeable changes are around the corner.
From corporate subsidies to war profiteering to the costs of inaction on things like mass transit, energy, and healthcare, there is enormous waste and outright theft going on in our system. We devote massive resources to law enforcement efforts against petty criminals, and yet these master thieves walk around freely enjoying the spoils of their endeavors. Maybe it's one of those cases where being mugged personally makes it easier for you to get angry about the more impersonal kinds of muggings going on.
AIG has been mugging me every month since last September. The broader financial bailouts, from Goldman to Citi and on, will be mugging me for years to come. The Iraq war has been mugging me every month since 2003. The drug war mugs me a couple times a year. Farm subsidies, wealthy tax cheats, on and on, these are greater thefts than any petty criminal who steals a hundred bucks from your wallet. Over six million Americans are incarcerated or on probation or parole. We've done God knows awful things to 'high value' detainees all over the world. And yet the very people who have caused massive suffering and looting still walk around in charge of our government and the financial industry they wrecked.
And then that doesn't even cover the opportunity costs, the extra expenses we pay because we don't have good mass transit systems, passenger rail lines, freight rail lines, wind and solar energy, single payer health insurance, universal unemployment insurance, and all the other investments that actually make us better off.
It's probably unrealistic to ask the rich to play by the same rules as the rest of us. The Bernie Madoffs of the financial world will be the Lynndie Englands of the war crimes world, people who did bad stuff, but who can serve to be scapegoats for the larger perpetrators rather than compasses pointing to the larger perpetrators. But at least, stop taking my tax dollars. If you want me to bail out Goldman Sachs, sell me as an investor, not a taxpayer. If you want me to fund a trillion dollar defense industry, fund everything else that lavishly, too, from education to healthcare to employment services to affordable housing to energy to transportation to the environment to every other sector that produces a bigger return than another Reaper flying over Pakistan.
Labels: drug war, gwot, inequality, iraq, robbery, rule of law, taxes