April 15, 2002

April 15: Tax Day

Tax Day. I don't know how much taxes I owe for calendar year 2001 because I haven't finished doing them yet. However, I can look back at calendar year 2000--a highly prosperous year for the DeLong-Marciarille household--and calculate that that year we paid $91,400 in taxes: $43,700 in federal income taxes, $23,400 in federal social security and medicare taxes, $12,600 in state income taxes, $8,200 in local property taxes, and $3,500 in state sales taxes. At this point, here on the world wide web, I am supposed to rant about how this--heavy--tax burden is an unsustainable burden, an oppressive violation of my natural rights, crushing the spirit out of America's creative and entrepreneurial minorities, reducing us to a nation of ingenious tax cheats on the one hand and those desperate for a suck on the government teat on the other.

I say, "Bull****!"

From my perspective, my taxes are well-spent--a way of buying a lot of very important things I could never get any other way.

First, of course, is external security. 18% of federal government spending goes to defense and international affairs. Only sixty years ago you could count all the democracies in the world without taking off either of your shoes. Only sixty years ago, however, you could argue that this did not matter: the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans made the United States automatically secure by making invasion logistically impossible. Today--in this era of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, of airliners turned into kamikaze missiles, of dictators and others fearful of democracy, of free speech, and of female education--no one (save perhaps the High Politicans of the Bush Administration before September 11) believes that the U.S. can "disengage" from the pursuit of democracy, prosperity, and peace anywhere in the world. Foreign aid, the institutions of global economic management, and most of all the U.S. military are, from my perspective, extremely good investments funded by my tax dollars.

Second is internal security. We tend to think that our overwhelmingly civil, overwhelmingly peaceful, low-crime (by historical standards) and secure-property civilization is natural. But it isn't. As Alexander Jablokov wrote in his novel _Carve the Sky_, civilizations--spaces and times where houses have large exterior windows, and where valuable possessions are not carefully hidden--are hard work to build and maintain: "'Do you think our civilization exists by accident? Your house at Fresh Pond.... It exists because something else doesn't. Fresh Pond could be covered with pavement, and you could live in a mile-high tower. You could fight on its shore in blasted ruins for ancient cans of preserved beef.... These are all choices. Each benefits someone. Each displeases or oppresses someone else.' Anton didn't try to argue the point that a world of blasted ruins benefited someone. He'd met people who would have been perfectly suited for such a world." Our laws, our courts, our police, and most of all our democracy itself are items of extraordinary value bought by our taxes. They are worth our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. To have to pay only a small part of our incomes for them is an extraordinary bargain. And we do pay a small amount: the administration of justice is usually included in the residual "other" category when government spending's components are set out.

The only piece of federal spending I begrudge is the 11% of federal spending that is interst on the national debt--the legacy left us by Ronald Reagan's Administration, and its extraordinary botch of fiscal policy.

Then comes the meat and fish of the government: social security--accounting for 23% of federal government spending--medicare, medicaid--health accounts for 19% of federal government spending--veterans' administration and the other social insurance programs--"income security" makes up 11% of federal government spending. The other 18% of federal spending and state and local spending give me a great deal: we get Burton Valley Elementary School; roads, traffic lights, bridges, and tunnels; the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Disease Control, the Advanced Research Projects Administration, and the National Institutes of Science and Technology; the National Park Service. If the government simply provided external and internal security alone, I would think it a bargain. That it throws in Yosemite, Yellowstoned, the Grand Tetons, Sequoia, Point Reyes, and the Grand Canyon too closes the deal.

It is easy to convince yourself that one-third of government spending is wasted. I, at least, also find it easy to convince myself that the other two-thirds of government spending buy capabilities and accomplishments that the private market--which, remember, could not exist at all without the institutional underpinnings provided by the government--could never provide at all.

So I look at the $91,000, look at what I get back from the government, and think, "What an amazing deal!"

Of course, if you can find someone else willing to pay my share, so that I can keep my $91,000, have 'em give me a call...

Posted by DeLong at April 15, 2002 03:49 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Are you actually proud of social security, medicare, medicaid, etc. They would be much better if they were open to the market and privatized.

Posted by: Allen on February 23, 2003 03:01 PM

I have always thought kind of silly the tendancy that many people have to pretend that the merest utterance of dead (never living!) relatives was a priceless pearl. I would, however, like to report something that my departed grandfather once said that has stayed with me.

My grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who had lost much of his family in the holocaust. One day, when I was a teenager, I saw him preparing his taxes. I made some remark to the effect that he must really hate having to pay them, and he said the following: "I don't begrudge it to them. If I had stayed in Poland I would be dead." Simple as that.

Posted by: David J. Balan on June 9, 2003 10:31 PM

I have always thought kind of silly the tendancy that many people have to pretend that the merest utterance of dead (never living!) relatives was a priceless pearl. I would, however, like to report something that my departed grandfather once said that has stayed with me.

My grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who had lost much of his family in the holocaust. One day, when I was a teenager, I saw him preparing his taxes. I made some remark to the effect that he must really hate having to pay them, and he said the following: "I don't begrudge it to them. If I had stayed in Poland I would be dead." Simple as that.

Posted by: David J. Balan on June 9, 2003 10:32 PM

I have always thought kind of silly the tendancy that many people have to pretend that the merest utterance of dead (never living!) relatives was a priceless pearl. I would, however, like to report something that my departed grandfather once said that has stayed with me.

My grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who had lost much of his family in the holocaust. One day, when I was a teenager, I saw him preparing his taxes. I made some remark to the effect that he must really hate having to pay them, and he said the following: "I don't begrudge it to them. If I had stayed in Poland I would be dead." Simple as that.

Posted by: David J. Balan on June 9, 2003 10:35 PM
Post a comment