Monday, September 07, 2009

Of Government and Men: Spending and Taxes

There are a few things about government that are painful, unpleasant, noxious, and just can't be avoided. Two of those are taxes, and government spending. Both cause the tax payers to have less money and both should be done with a lot more caution than seems to happen. There are ways to really harm people with both of these as well. As terrible as taxes and government spending are, they are also a necessary evil.

As a matter of full disclosure, I am almost always for less taxes. I believe the more the government taxes us, the more it cuts into our freedoms. Our current Federal tax code would print out to more than 7500 pages long! For comparison my study Bible weighs in at a little over 2100 pages complete with notes, research, annotations, and scripture. That 7500 pages doesn't include any state or local taxes you may have to pay which will be covered by their own lengthy rules. I also believe that many things the government spends money on could be better done by the States, the private sector, or even charities. My rule of thumb is that the government only does two things really well: Make war and waste money.

Stepping down from my soap box, there are a few things the government needs funds for, and it is authorized to collect them under our constitution. For example, a strong federal government is the only entity that can protect all 50 states in a time of war. A strong federal government is also the only entity that can manage our federal court system. These aren't the only examples, but they are two examples of why our government needs to collect taxes. However, the income tax system we use is probably one of the worse tax systems available. It punishes those who work and produce while rewarding those who don't. The harder you work, the more successful you are, the more the tax system requires you to pay the government. If this was the system of punishments and rewards at your child's school, you would expect your kid to avoid working and studying because they would get rewarded for doing just that.

I posted a story about Congressman David Crockett a few days ago. This is the David Crockett of fame, who eventually became a Congressman. I think that story illustrates one of the problems with the governments priorities when it spends money. As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons for the government to tax, and then spend that money it takes through taxes. However, there are a number of things the government spends on that it shouldn't spend on. If the government is spending money on things that "feel good", it probably shouldn't spend that money. Recently, the auto bailouts seemed like a good idea to some. However, in hindsight, what did we get for the money we spent, and is it worth sticking future generations with the bill for bailing out two companies?

This is a topic that could easily fill a book (though not as long as one as the tax code). However I want to leave you with this parting thought: Everything our government does requires money. That money is only obtained by taxing or borrowing. If the government taxes to pay for it, then it is taking money from you, your neighbors, your parents and your grandparents to pay for it. If it borrows, then it is taking money from your children and grandchildren. Shouldn't the government be a little more careful with how it spends money than what we see in Congress right now?


Seattle Dave said...

On your last line.

Shouldn't Congress have been more careful with the money it spent over the past 10 years?

Personally, I don't consider spending money on a war opened on 2 fronts any more responsible than attempting to spend money on overhauling health care.

Not directed at you on this next point.

I have always found it funny how spending money on wars, secret wars, etc. isn't considered "spending" by republicans, but when democrats attempt to spend money to fix problems in our own backyard, the calls for fiscal responsibility from the republican party come a flying.

Why is there such a double standard?

Halston said...

The largest part of our federal budget exists as subsidies for the the elderly, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The older voters in America will effectively be parasites (excuse the vitriolic language)on the younger working people of America. If these three programs continue on in their current form the United States will go bankrupt. In fact we could eliminate all foreign aid, eliminate all earmarks, eliminate NASA, eliminate the National Endowment for Humanities and eliminate the entire Defense Department tomorrow and still not solve the problem. Do the young people of America deserve this tyranny simply because they don't show up to the polls?

Andy D said...


Congress should always be careful with the money it spends, regardless of if it is on a war, health care, or a lunar mission. There is also a difference between spending money on wars and on health care: the government is suppose to spend money to protect us from foreign enemies. Going to war is a power that is defined in the Constitution. We can debate whether or not the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan were worth going into, but that is s separate issue. The government does not have a defined role in health care from the U.S. Constitution.


Welcome to the site, and thank you for your comments. Programs such as social security that tax the youth to provide a check for the elderly are pyramid schemes. Social Security has grown way past what it was originally intended for.

To answer your question, the youth of our nation (whether they are voting age or not) do not deserve to have their futures billed for our choices today. The spending in Washington is going to hand a bill to our children that they may or may not be able to pay.

Seattle Dave said...

But Andy, coming from a business background, I'm going to tell you spending is spending. It doesn't matter if it's to invade another country or reform a social program.

When we are talking about running deficits as a country, there is no line between either or. Both cost money. That money is spent from our coffers(if we are running a surplus) or from tax if we are already in a deficit.

The fact that the constitution gives executive authority to go to war doesn't come into play in this case, or context.

And if you are going to invoke the constitution as the justification for military spending, then i'm going to disagree and say that the "why" behind going to war in Afghanistan or Iraq IS the most IMPORTANT aspect of us being there, and spending billions to be there.

Again, I ask, why such a double standard? Does it really boil down to either saving us from ourselves, or saving us from our enemy? Which, in plain terms, is what the argument amounts to. Spend money to save us from our enemies, but don't spend money to save us from ourselves (or, maybe "from within" would be a better phrase here).

Likewise, and pushing this further into "off-topic" land, if you are going to use the original constitution as the guiding principal to how our government can and can't act, then you can't forget that the original document was written in reference to governing 13 states, not 51, and that slavery was deemed legal and acceptable.

Obviously, things change. Social issues change, foreign issues change and particularly change when population expands.

The constitution was, and will always be, the most amazing document ever written in this country. However, because it is that, that doesn't mean that it's 100% relevant to today's issues, as evidenced by the slavery laws first introduced.

Andy D said...

I am going to try to answer all of your points Dave:

First, you are right, spending is spending. Whenever we spend tax money, we should be sure that whatever we are spending it on is worth it. If we are in a war like Iraq or Afghanistan, we should debate if the war is worth the outlay of monies.

However, there is a difference between this and something like health care, or the department of education, or the endowment for arts. The Constitution gives the President the ability to use troops, and it gives Congress the power to declare war and to fund that war. The other items (health care, department of education, etc) are not granted to the Federal government in the Constitution. As such, you can make the argument that the Federal government doesn't have the authority to spend on these items in the fist place due to the Tenth Amendment. Whether or not you believe we should be in Iraq, or I believe we should or shouldn't have a national health care is another debate entirely. These debates have a different starting point. In the first, the debate should start: Should we go to war. In the second, the debate should start: Can the government even do this?

Andy D said...

Your Constitution comment deserved it's own response. The argument that the Constitution isn't 100% relevant because of slavery and the difference in 13 states versus 50 (not 51) states doesn't hold water. The constitution was amended to make slavery illegal after the Civil War. The Constitution also doesn't specify the number of states it applies too and even allows for the addition of future states.

The Constitution provides the backbone and core to everything our Federal Government does. The government can not do anything that is forbidden by the Constitution.

One of the problems with our government is the number of people who actively serve in it that believe the same thing you just stated. Their attitude is that the Constitution was an incredible document, and was great for when it was written, but it isn't really applicable to today's society. That simply isn't the case. The further our politicians take us from the Constitution, the more our entire government becomes a government on a house of cards. As such, it would be very easy to cause the whole thing to collapse.

I am glad you asked that question. This is a debate that deserves it's own space.

Halston said...

Dave and Andy,

The strength of the constitution lies in the fact that it is a 'living' document. It can be amended as times change, and our understanding evolves. The founders should be respected NOT because they knew everything, but because they understood that their vision of the future is limited. If our vision is now more clear, it is only because we stand on the shoulders of giants like Thomas Jefferson.
To address spending and specifically war spending: We have never formally declared war on either Iraq OR Afghanistan. Ergo, the word 'war' is a misnomer for our current state of affairs. If targeted assasinations were still legal under US law...I think we would be in a better situation today, and we would have saved a lot of blood and treasure. Saddam Hussein could have been killed (maybe not a great idea) and we would have saved countless American lives and billions of dollars. Kim Il Jung, Fidel/Raul Castro, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could all be taken care of...along with some spurious Chinese and Russian businessmen. I think there needs to be a real debate as to the morality and frugality of political assasinations. Why should ordinary citizens both American and others, pay the price??

Seattle Dave said...

Andy - Respectfully, I disagree. As with anything, time and progress always changes the relevancy of documents that precede them. The right to bear arms was an entirely different issue when the constitution was framed, than it is today, as an easy example.

@Halston - Good points, and I would be all for sanctioned assasinations as opposed to sending an entire army of soldiers into no win situations. However, the military industrial complex would never let that happen. Sad state of affairs, tbh.

Andy D said...

Dave, those issues may be viewed in a different light today, but the protections provided by the Constitution are no less relevant. When the Constitution was written, quartering troops in private homes without the consent of the home owner was a huge issue. The British had used this as a way to control the populace. Today, we can't conceive of the President ordering political opponents to house troops without their permission. We can't conceive of it because we are protected by the Third Amendment.

To say the Constitution is no longer relevant is a very dangerous slope. Who gets to decide which parts are and aren't relevant. Should I be able to say that I don't like what the New York Times prints, so they must not pass through a federal editor prior to publication? Should you be able to say that you don't agree with the Second amendment so you are able to forcefully confiscate legally purchased firearms? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding "No".

If you, me, or anyone else believes passages of the Constitution are no longer relevant, there is a fix: the Amendment process. The framers new that issues would arise they couldn't foresee, so they gave us a way of modifying the Constitution. This has been done 27 times, with the most recent being in 1992. Is it a difficult process? Sure. It should be. Without it, any party could change the government as it saw fit anytime it got into office. You and I may disagree on a number of issues, but surely we can agree that we don't want that.