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On Taxes

There is much talk about taxes in the U.S. these days, with the Tea Party Movement as the most vocal group outlining their disagreement with how our government raises and uses taxes. These folks are generally anti-tax, suggesting that the less we are taxed, the better. It’s a Libertarian stance.

Others, often with some sort of social justice leanings, will decry some ways in which our taxes are used, normally for wars like Iraq and Afganistan, and others more against the whole militaristic bend of the U.S. government.

Still a third group, including many independent voters, takes an approach of inevitability toward being taxed, and pretty much allows that taxes are the way of life in the United States, and they take ‘the bad’ with ‘the good’ that this country provides.

For me, I can identify with aspects of all three groups, but there’s a very familiar business term that needs to be attached to taxes. ROI. ROI is Return on Investment, and every business of any size is quite familiar with the concept. From this perspective, it’s not so much whether we pay a larger or smaller percentage of our income in taxes, but what we get in return for these payments.

With taxes, ROI is based on the ‘investments’ of the government [it’s priorities in spending], and on the efficiency of their efforts. Which leads us to another consideration: at what level is government going to be most efficient in dealing with a given situation? Which leads to the classic states rights vs. federal rights in determining who should be the primary controller of a given topic area.

Since the federal government gets most of our tax money, and has the most control over how it’s spent, let’s consider policy, or what they spend our money on.

You’ll often see pie charts of the US. federal budget that suggest over half our annual budget is spend on social programs like Social Security and Medicare. But we know numbers can be fudged. The venerable War Resistor’s League suggests the pie chart seen is as far more accurate.

According to their numbers, military spending for 2009 was 54% of the budget. Let’s be conservative and call it half. Half our spending goes toward military build up, wars, incursions and sustaining bases in over 200 countries. And the ROI? If you’re a huge military contractor or energy company that stands to gain billions, it’s pretty lucrative. If you’re an average citizen, you’re being abused by such practices and priorities. If you’re an average citizen in some country being impacted by U.S. hegemony, that abuse can be death.

And the ready response is some sort of ‘anything for our safety’ bullshit. The truth is, whether ‘threatened’ by the England, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Japan, the Cold War, Granada, Venezuela or Terrorists, our government always finds some excuse to further empower the military/industrial/media complex at our expense. The war budget continues to climb. Even as any expert will tell you social contracts and police actions are far more effective than military actions. But, lest we forget, there’s a lot more money for fat cats in war. ROI.

Then there’s corporate welfare. According to the CATO Institute, in 2006 corporate welfare was 92 billion. Energy companies, paper companies, farm subsidies, and a host of other corporations receive unwarrented assistance. After the deal Obama made with Big Pharma, they are surely part of the fat hogs sucking on the government teat.

The need for federal, state and local control is evident. We cannot have widely disparate views of say, gun control, where one state has very strict ownership and buying guidelines and a neighboring state with very liberal ownership laws. Education, infrastructure projects, social services – in each of these the local influence helps provide local direction – one size does not fit all. And yet local communities don’t have the taxes or resources to honor their own priorities, so local communities are run over with the dictums from the state and federal level.

That’s one component of efficiency. Another is process, with implementation of policy as enacted by the bureaucracy. It takes administrators, project managers and boots on the ground to implement government priorities. We all know waste and abuse within the system, whether it’s government workers who act without integrity, or massive no bid contracts to private war companies like the formerly named Blackwater.

Again, it’s not so much whether taxes are high or low, as what we receive in return. Sweden has a high tax rate [nearly 50%. comparable to the U.S.], but with free healthcare, free education through college, subsistence support for the needy, clean and available water, etc. Plus they have the contentment-inducing knowledge that they are not apart of a far-flung empire imposing its will on the rest of the world through military and economic manipulation.

So to summarize, taxes should be measured by ROI. Taxes and policy decisions need to be balanced among federal, state and local levels to be fair, targeted and efficient. And the process of management must have transparency to minimize the drawbacks of bureaucracy. Is this going to be easy? Hell no. But it’s much easier if we keep focus on what matters.

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