Wonder where your taxes went? Well, here you go.
April 15, 2011 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Your 2010 Federal Taxpayer Receipt. "In his State of the Union Address, President Obama promised that this year, for the first time ever, American taxpayers would be able to go online and see exactly how their federal tax dollars are spent. Just enter a few pieces of information about your taxes, and the taxpayer receipt will give you a breakdown of how your tax dollars are spent on priorities like education, veterans benefits, or health care."

For more tax related fun: Tax Cut Calculator
posted by saulgoodman (76 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apparently the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost me about $405.62 last year.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just ...putting this here
posted by The Whelk at 7:33 PM on April 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


where's the bit where you pay for the president's salary?
posted by rebent at 7:34 PM on April 15, 2011


Now THAT'S smart.

"Let me see how much that Public Radio and Planned Parenthood the nice people on Fox tell me are bankrupting the country cost."

".002 cents, huh?"

"The Defense Department gets WHAT?"
posted by leotrotsky at 7:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


I actually thought something like this would be a good idea. The ideal (though costly) situation would be to ask a few questions of tax payers and then tell them their money was spent on something they approve of.

Military fans can see how they helped by 1/10000 of a missile, and peaceniks can help fund a new levy in New Orleans or something.
posted by drezdn at 7:35 PM on April 15, 2011


I'd be cool with military fans being helped by a much larger fraction of a missile, frankly.
posted by spacewrench at 7:44 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


All the taxes I pay go toward NHPRC. I just know it. If I say it to myself enough it will be true and I'll be able to get some sleep tonight.
posted by marxchivist at 7:45 PM on April 15, 2011


Let me guess: 1/3 military; 1/3 social and corporate entitlements; 1/3 other.

How'd I do?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:47 PM on April 15, 2011


Science, Space, and Technology Programs
1.2%
$600.00
NASA
0.7%
$350.00
National Science Foundation, additional science research, and laboratories
0.5%
$250.00


National Defense
26.3%
$13,150.00
Military personnel salaries and benefits
6.0%
$3,000.00
Ongoing operations, equipment, and supplies
10.5%
$5,250.00
Research, development, weapons, and construction
8.8%
$4,400.00
Atomic energy defense activities
0.7%
$350.00
Defense-related FBI activities and additional national defense
0.3%
$150.00


Can I get these reversed? kthx bye
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 PM on April 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Let me see how much that Public Radio and Planned Parenthood the nice people on Fox tell me are bankrupting the country cost."

This was put up by Obama, so you know you can't trust it, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:48 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Frankly I am flabbergasted that we spend 5x more on Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid than we do on Defense. I was under the impression that half the budget was Defense. Is this because Social Security & Medicare are broken into their own taxes (payroll tax)?
posted by synaesthetichaze at 7:51 PM on April 15, 2011


Flabbergasted in a good way.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 7:51 PM on April 15, 2011


Now if only Obama and the Democratic Party would actually bring this up in discussions about the "deficit", instead of this ridiculous "strategy" of meeting lunatics halfway.

Oh right... they increased war spending, already "took care of" health care, and extended tax cuts for the wealthy. All that's left now is to cede the country to a much worse set of lunatics in a couple of years, having propped up their banker friends for a while.

Third-worldization, full steam ahead.
posted by anarch at 7:54 PM on April 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Frankly I am flabbergasted that we spend 5x more on Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid than we do on Defense. I was under the impression that half the budget was Defense. Is this because Social Security & Medicare are broken into their own taxes (payroll tax)?
For SS, yes, it's a whole separate thing, funded by separate payroll taxes. Has nothing to do with budgets or deficits. At least until Obama started selling it down the river...

Medicare/Medicaid is mainly so expensive because isn't allowed to do simple things like negotiate for drug prices, unlike in every other industrialized country. This should be a scandal, and the Obama admin's Health Care Bill is only going to compound that problem by further entrenching the for-profit insurance industry and proliferation of lifestyle drugs.
posted by anarch at 7:58 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Entitlements are the whole kit & kaboodle. The US government is basically a social security/medicare/medicaid checkwriting machine funded by taxes, the rest, numbers-wise, is just detail.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:59 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]



"Let me see how much that Public Radio and Planned Parenthood the nice people on Fox tell me are bankrupting the country cost."

".002 cents, huh?"

"The Defense Department gets WHAT?"


I doubt this tactic will work. I've had this argument with the more... republican? members of my family, for instance. According to them, the defense department spending is "necessary", for "the security of the country", and cutting public funding to public radio, planned parenthood, etc. is necessary because, and I quote, "The savings add up." I wish I were fucking joking.

People can justify anything to themselves. Facts aren't even in play, at the moment.
posted by mrgoat at 8:04 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy cow - according to the link that The Whelk posted, Eritrea spends over a fifth of its GDP on its military.
posted by Flunkie at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2011


At least until Obama started selling it down the river...

I don't know what you're talking about here. Obama's only recent (and only period, that I know of) proposal regarding SS was to advocate raising the payroll cap on the SS contribution to more than just the first $100,000 of income, so that those earning higher incomes would have to pay into SS based on more than just their first $100,000 or so in earnings, as it works currently. That's a wonderful idea--one that I've often advocated here. It's not fair or practical to pretend there are no Americans making more than $100,000 or so just when it comes to how we finance SS. Our entire tax system should be progressive, not just parts of it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:09 PM on April 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


National Defense          26.3%

Health Care                 24.3%

Jobs & Family Security  21.9%

Education & Job Training  4.8%

Veterans Benefits           4.1%

Natural Resources, Energy, & Environment
                                  2.1%

International Affairs       1.7%

Science, Space, & Technology Programs
                                  1.2%

Everything Else            13.5%
-----------------

Yeah, like TheWhelk says, I'd like to switch National Defense and Education & Job Training, please.
posted by carsonb at 8:13 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the USA spent the same percentage (currently 4.7%) of its GDP on defence as Guyana (0.8%), it would still spend more in dollar terms than China.
posted by knapah at 8:30 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is exactly what I hoped the White House would do, and I hope it gets widely promoted.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:30 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why are veterans benefits broken out from national defense?
posted by polyhedron at 8:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's weird that it tells you to enter line 55 of form 1040, which doesn't factor in the various tax credits that people receive.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:36 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are veterans benefits broken out from national defense?

Because veterans don't defend the nation!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


This isn't a receipt, this is a quickly cobbled together calculator that can take quite different inputs depending on how you want to interpret it. They should let me put in my SSN and get a real report.

Which would have to show me where the money Uncle Sam gave me came from, since I'm a student that got more than he pays this year. I love taxes!
posted by floam at 9:01 PM on April 15, 2011


Which would have to show me where the money Uncle Sam gave me came from, since I'm a student that got more than he pays this year. I love taxes!

That money "Uncle Sam gave you" came from you. If you get a tax refund check, that's because you paid in more taxes in payroll withholdings than you ended up owing at the end of the year. You must have done at least a little paid work that was taxed at some point in the year.

As for entering your SSN to get a personal report, it doesn't matter. Your money goes to the same place everyone else's does because money is fungible. If you know the right amounts to input, the report is as custom to you as any similar report could get (with the exception that line-item deductions aren't factored in, which most people don't use anyway).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:20 PM on April 15, 2011


When you look at what is called "discretionary spending," the military takes a HUGE chunk of what we paid in taxes today. It is called "discretionary" because we take for granted that Social Security and Medicare are part of our budget. Few of us on Metafilter, I'm guessing, remember the days when it was taken for granted that old people were poor, period, tough luck bub.

Oh, how I wish I could vote on how my tax dollars are spent! They sometimes let us vote on whether or not we should pay people to pave our streets, put out our fires, and educate our children. But we are NEVER allowed to vote on whether we should continue to expand our doomed military empire. Given the fact that our planet's health is deteriorating so rapidly, I wish I could check a box on my tax form that allowed me to choose between A) More war (with 90% civilian casualties) or B) more science and art (saving our planet and elevating our spirits).
posted by kozad at 9:22 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know if there is something similar for the Australian budget? I am particularly interested in a yearly comparison, breaking down the numbers since WWII, but also projections for the future.

A democracy's success depends on the government providing clear and transparent information to the public in a way they can understand. This could be a great tool for understanding what one's government is doing. It's a pity the full numbers aren't listed (only percentages?) and it isn't broken down further within each portfolio - or have I just not found them yet?

I'm sure this kind of information is available for Australia, but I've never seen it collated in this way.
posted by bigZLiLk at 9:23 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


That money "Uncle Sam gave you" came from you. If you get a tax refund check, that's because you paid in more taxes in payroll withholdings than you ended up owing at the end of the year. You must have done at least a little paid work that was taxed at some point in the year.

Nope. I'm self employed and nothing is withheld. The American Opportunity Grant is partially refundable, I got a check for hundreds of dollars and didn't pay a cent in federal taxes.
posted by floam at 9:28 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


American Opportunity credit, that is.
posted by floam at 9:29 PM on April 15, 2011


floam - "This isn't a receipt, this is a quickly cobbled together calculator that can take quite different inputs depending on how you want to interpret it. They should let me put in my SSN and get a real report."

How would a real accounting differ from what this calculator shows? You put a dollar in taxes, I put in a dollar. How do we determine whether my dollar pays for something and yours doesn't if it all gets pooled together?
posted by mnemonic at 9:33 PM on April 15, 2011


Oh, well then that probably came from here:

Student financial aid for college... 0.8%

I know it was funded under the stimulus package. But normally, you don't get tax refunds if you have no tax liability--only in special cases where money has been added to the pot as a credit for low income folks.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 PM on April 15, 2011


mnemonic: The inputs are ambiguous, garbage in, garbage out. For starters, it's asking for information from line 55 of your 1040 as mentioned above, not accounting for credits. It's also not clear at all what I'd enter as someone doing a Schedule C instead of a W2 and paying SE tax towards social security and medicare. It would be kind of complicated to list out all the rules and calculations to get an absolute, accurate result. It would be much more reliable if they just used the information they already got and applied the rules systematically for the results. Also, there's a semantic issue. A receipt ought to be an official acknowledgement of reception of your taxes with indubitable numbers. This is a (half-assed, in my opinion) calculator.
posted by floam at 9:42 PM on April 15, 2011


Here's a different chart, that shows different numbers. It suggests we spend more than half of every tax dollar on military spending.
posted by danny the boy at 9:44 PM on April 15, 2011


I bought red Solo cups for a huge investment banker kegger.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:52 PM on April 15, 2011


Medicare and Social Security are not discretionary tax spending. Spending on these programs is mandated by law. That's why they account for so much more of the overall budget: they are not government spending. When you look at government spending, you still find that national defense (military spending) is the biggest ticket item, as other analyses show.

The chart danny boy linked is combining the categories of national defense and veteran spending, for one thing. So it's not using the standard Federal budget reporting categories the chart is indexed to.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:59 PM on April 15, 2011


...SS and Medicare are not gov't spending I mean because theoretically every dime in returns to the person who paid in and then some. At least in theory. But of course, in practice, some people die without collecting a dime.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:01 PM on April 15, 2011


We bankrupted the Soviet Union through our military expenditures, and now ...

Alternately, the Soviet Union bankrupted itself, and now it's happening to us.

Maybe this is a natural life path for a superpower. Reach the top, then spend yourself silly trying to stay there.
posted by zippy at 10:03 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Military fans can see how they helped by 1/10000 of a missile, and peaceniks can help fund a new levy in New Orleans or something.

drezdn: The levees are projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
posted by raysmj at 10:08 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


imagine how far we could go with renewable energy tech if the military started funding and carrying out renewable energy R&D on strategic interest/national security grounds. even a sliver of that budget, and we'd be getting all our energy from solar, hydrogen and algae-derived bio-fuels in no time.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:28 PM on April 15, 2011


Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too.

I guran-fucking-tee that if we stopped spending money on "defense," which first of all let's distinguish "national defense" from "Global strategic coercive actions in interest of US and partner nation policies", disparate majorities would complain when we didn't respond to humanitarian crises in Indonesia, Haiti, Libya, Chad, Albania/Kosovo etc... via UN/NATO resolutions. The difference between those "good interventions" and Iraq/Afghanistan is scale.

We really only have a few options:

1. Absolutely no military use outside of protecting US persons within our borders.
2. Ability to respond to global threats to the US population that are not invading land wars
3. Military intervention only if vetted through a global council (What we have now)

Cases 2 and 3 require massive indigenous military efforts *if* you want to eliminate vulnerabilities to your capability - which would be illogical not to.

In case you didn't know it, the U.S. Military is the biggest baddest military on earth. Undisputed. We have the best equipment and most professional soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines - despite issues with our prisons and some other outlying sociopaths. Organizations that large will inevitably have large problems on a regular basis. Notice that nations in crises ask for U.S. intervention, consistently. That is all due to all that shit loads of your spending on our MIC.

Oh and by the way a ton of those USA Jerbs that people are clamoring for are in defense - so many so that reducing the MIC significantly would kill dozens of cities across the nation and in some places the world (Keiserslauten).

If you think your pocket is being picked for military spending now please look at the rationing and massive state suction of the economy that occurred during WWII. The average american can be completely disinterested in the wars and there will be no need for them to pay attention to it today...

I am in favor of significantly shutting the MIC down and taking option #1 - but people need to realize what you get with it. To think people (US citizen and otherwise) would stop asking the military to intervene is naiive at best.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 10:33 PM on April 15, 2011


A country needs both good schools and an effective army. The either/or philosophy demonstrated here, and its converse on sites of a different political hue, does no-one any good. As Thucydides observed "The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools".
posted by joannemullen at 10:38 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you get a tax refund check, that's because you paid in more taxes in payroll withholdings than you ended up owing at the end of the year.

Refundable credits mean that you can send Uncle Sam $100 in taxes over a year, and get a check back for $1000.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a pity the full numbers aren't listed (only percentages?) and it isn't broken down further within each portfolio

You can peruse the entire US federal budget at WhatWePayFor.com, down to the level of budget accounts. I'm not sure how up-to-date it is. You can also do a sort of personal tax calculator, but the input is just taxable income and filing status (i.e., not so personal).

Here's a different chart, that shows different numbers.

[I]t's not using the standard Federal budget reporting categories the chart is indexed to.

Anyone interested in charts about the federal budget might want to check out DataVizChallenge.org. The challenge here is to visualize the budget info from WhatWePayFor.com. The previous link shows the contest finalists. Here's a link to all of the entries. I haven't looked at all of them, but I think some are more whimsical than others, and some will be more or less appealing depending on your tastes.
posted by -jf- at 10:42 PM on April 15, 2011


Also see: Goodies and Baddies for more on this and the rise of the humanitarian intervention model.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 10:44 PM on April 15, 2011


It's not fair or practical to pretend there are no Americans making more than $100,000 or so just when it comes to how we finance SS. Our entire tax system should be progressive, not just parts of it.

plus actuarially, those with the cushy upper class lifestyles tend to draw longer than the poor.

I reject the idea that SS/Medicare have to be "progressive" taxation vehicles. They should be just pay-for-play, mandatory, background elements of the state that handle old-age issues of pensions and elderly health care.

We bankrupted the Soviet Union through our military expenditures, and now ...

That's one version of the 1980s, but . . .

Alternately, the Soviet Union bankrupted itself

. . . I think oil prices falling from over $30 to under $20 a bbl in the late 80s had more to do with the SU's collapse.

and now it's happening to us. Maybe this is a natural life path for a superpower. Reach the top, then spend yourself silly trying to stay there.

Somebody wrote a book on that:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_and_Fall_of_the_Great_Powers
posted by mokuba at 10:56 PM on April 15, 2011


For SS, yes, it's a whole separate thing, funded by separate payroll taxes. Has nothing to do with budgets or deficits.

That's how it's SUPPOSED to work. Social Security was supposed to generate a huge surplus for many years, which would then be invested in the stock market and banks and so on and so forth, and then cashed in when it was time to pay retirements. Under that scheme, SS was going to go cashflow-negative in about 2030, and some fairly minor adjustments would have fixed it right up.

But what actually happened was that we took all that money in, and just dumped it into the general pool of funds, through a fig leaf called 'the trust fund'. In essence, we wasted it on hookers and blow, instead of saving for retirement.

They took all the real cash out of SS, and replaced it with 'the lockbox', which is just a bunch of IOUs from Congress. They're kind of like bonds, but they're not even as good as real bonds, because Social Security isn't allowed to buy anything else, and can't sell the bonds to any entity but Congress. In just a few more years, they're going to need to start pulling against the assets they're supposed to have, which means they'll have to start sucking money out of the general fund. They go cashflow-negative soon, by about 2017 I think, and it turns into a monstrous problem by 2027 or so. This is the other side of the Clinton-years 'balanced budget'. We were taking in and spending retiree money in the present, accumulating a future liability in exchange. But we didn't invest the money into things that would pay those liabilities; we wasted it on consumption.

If you doubt that the trust fund has any real validity, walk through the money flows for two different scenarios: one where the trust fund exists, and one where it doesn't.

In the current setup:
  1. Social Security takes in X dollars each month. It has Y liabilities to pay, which are greater than X.
  2. It tells Congress that it needs Y-X dollars that month. It trades in bonds from the trust fund. Congress appropriates the money from that year's general tax receipts, and gives them the cash, retiring the bonds.
  3. Social Security sends the money out to retirees.
If the trust fund didn't exist:
  1. Social Security takes in X dollars each month. It has Y liabilities to pay, which are greater than X.
  2. It tells Congress that it needs Y-X dollars that month. Congress appropriates the money from that year's general tax receipts, and gives them the cash.
  3. Social Security sends the money out to retirees.
Note that the trust doesn't actually DO anything. The money comes from and goes to the exact same places in the exact same ways. It's not like Congress is ever NOT going to send out checks, trust fund or no. If the outflows are higher than they want to pay, they'll pass laws reducing payments, and they can do that whether the bonds exist or not.

The trust fund is not an asset, it's a measure of how much money Congress owes retirees after blowing THEIR assets on useless bullshit like wars and bailouts.

You can get a pretty good picture on whether someone has any kind of sense of the government's true fiscal picture based on whether they argue that the trust fund has substantial meaning. It may change the methods Congress would have to use to weasel out of its commitments, but it doesn't change the flow of funds in any way. If they don't understand this, ignore them.

Again: if you doubt this, just walk through the money flows. Trace where the money comes in and goes out. Trust fund or no, it comes from and goes to the exact same places, with the exact same revenue available to cover liabilities. The trust fund changes nothing about the Social Security equation. It merely puts a hard dollar figure on how much money Congress wasted instead of investing.
posted by Malor at 10:57 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


A country needs both good schools and an effective army.

We do not need an army at all, actually.

We need an air force and navy to some extent, but you have to go back to IIRC 1814 to when the US Army was effectively employed to defend the nation.

What has grown now is a quite a draw on the national fisc.

DOD spending is up $300B from 2007 levels! That is $3000 per household -- total military spending is $9000 per household.

Clinton left office with the ~$350B/yr military sector he found it, while Bush managed to triple our spending.

We could get along fine on a $350B current-dollar military, Thucydides be damned.
posted by mokuba at 11:03 PM on April 15, 2011


They took all the real cash out of SS, and replaced it with 'the lockbox', which is just a bunch of IOUs from Congress.

Malor, you're just totally full of shit on this.

These IOUs are backed by the taxation power of Congress. Effectively, SSA was buying US TREASURIES in the baby boomers name, 1989-2008.

The current brouhaha about the debt limit includes SSA's $2.5T in bonds, so they are real obligations.

In just a few more years, they're going to need to start pulling against the assets they're supposed to have, which means they'll have to start sucking money out of the general fund. They go cashflow-negative soon, by about 2017

No, its happening now, thanks to the recession.

Cash-flow negative is NOT A BIG DEAL. The $2.5T trust fund was built up by OVERTAXING the baby boom from 1984-now, to force them to "SAVE" for their retirement.

This ovepayment was $1.5T (the other $1T is accrued interest) so that's $2.5T that is NOW in the economy doing all that great "investment" stuff you thing SSA should have invested in directly.

Drawing down the trust fund is not fiscal irresponsibility, IT IS WHAT IS THERE FOR, to cover the actuarial baby boom retirement, which is just hitting now and will run for the next 20-odd years.

Trace where the money comes in and goes out. Trust fund or no, it comes from and goes to the exact same places, with the exact same revenue available to cover liabilities.

This is partially true, in that eg. Congress just credits the interest the trust fund is generating, with more bonds -- and is also directly crediting the 2% tax cut this year, which does cloudy up the picture a bit.

But the bottom line is that the Greenspan commission OVERTAXED the baby boom and Generation X by $1.5T, and that's what the trust fund *is*.

The flows aspect is complicated because the payees 1985-now are different than the payees 2020-2040, when the system will have to be re-jiggered to maintain actuarial balance one the baby boom passes on.
posted by mokuba at 11:11 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can peruse the entire US federal budget at WhatWePayFor.com

I'm a big fan of http://www.usgovernmentspending.com.

It lacks the CSS slickness of whitehouse.gov but has more numbers and stuff.

I also like how they breakdown the fed -> state transfer payments.

I think it's by anti-tax jihadis so it's totally legit, too : )
posted by mokuba at 11:14 PM on April 15, 2011


We do not need an army at all, actually

Oh come on. Even the most pacifist among us has to admit that the main reason the US Army hasn't had to defend America is precisely because America spends so much on defense, including on the US Army. Whether we spend too much is an extremely valid question, but don't pretend that nations decline to attack us because of goodwill alone, or that the Navy and Air Force can as effectively destroy a ground-based or urban threat. They can't even seem to control Libyan ground forces.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:17 PM on April 15, 2011


Whether we spend too much is an extremely valid question, but don't pretend that nations decline to attack us because of goodwill alone

Neither Japan nor Germany at the height of WW2 had the ability to land more than a dozen men on our shores.

Any land-based threat has to go through Canada and Mexico, and a National Guard-type establishment is sufficient for defending ourselves from the Canucks and Latinos.

Note I do think we need to maintain adequate investment in navy and aerospace capability.

Libya is neither here nor there to this discussion since armed adventurism is not defense.
posted by mokuba at 11:31 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


The $2.5T trust fund was built up by OVERTAXING the baby boom from 1984-now, to force them to "SAVE" for their retirement.

Nothing was built up. NOTHING.

If you evaporated that trust fund instantly, right this very second, nothing changes. The money to pay retirees still comes from the same place. Social Security can meet its obligations in exactly the same way, coming from the same source.

What was SUPPOSED to happen was that we would put the money to work in the worldwide economy, and then the worldwide economy would pay those retirements. Instead, we blew the cash, got no cashflow in exchange, and now we have to pay those liabilities with tax receipts instead.

Do you even understand the difference here? Social Security was SUPPOSED to be able to sell stocks and commodities to pay for those retirements. They were supposed to be able to fund old people using surplus assets for another twenty years before needing to dip into the general fund. The retirements were SUPPOSED TO BE SELF-FUNDING, and with minor adjustments, they could have been.

I really, really, want to grab you by the shoulders and shake you a little. Don't you GET it? Those retirements were already paid for. They were paid for in the 1980s and 1990s with taxes that were already surrendered to the government.

But now, suddenly, we've got a huge hole in the budget that we have to raise taxes to cover. WE ARE BEING TAXED TWICE TO PAY THE MONEY OUT ONCE.

Goddamn it's hard to get this through to people.

Walk through the money flows. Trust me on this. It's absolutely obvious if you just walk through the flow of payments. Go through with and without the trust fund: nothing is different.
posted by Malor at 11:33 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nothing was built up. NOTHING.

People who hold US Treasury debt think they have "something".

To put it in terms you might be able to understand not disagree with, SSA is running the world's largest sovereign wealth fund that is 100% invested in US Treasuries.

Last I checked, Alaska's permanent fund had $2.5B in treasuries, sucks to be them!

If you evaporated that trust fund instantly, right this very second, nothing changes. The money to pay retirees still comes from the same place. Social Security can meet its obligations in exactly the same way, coming from the same source.

The Thing you're eliding here is that FICA payers and US Taxpayers are largely TWO DIFFERENT entities, even in the same time period.

Above there was a guy wondering why so much of his income was going to FICA and not defense. This was because he was po' and 12% of his income off the top goes to FICA taxes while po' people don't pay much other income taxes.

Rich people, on the other hand, don't pay much FICA but have an immense income tax liability.

Remove the general fund obligation to the SSA trust fund, and you've just stolen $1.5 TRILLION (plus accrued interest) from the laboring masses who were made to OVERPAY into the system 1985-2008.

Goddamn it's hard to get this through to people.

Mirror time, pal.

You've beena making your arguments countless times since 2004 so I wonder if you are really this dense or are "paid" to not understand it, notionally speaking.

What was SUPPOSED to happen was that we would put the money to work in the worldwide economy, and then the worldwide economy would pay those retirements. Instead, we blew the cash, got no cashflow in exchange, and now we have to pay those liabilities with tax receipts instead.

Congress has the power to tax, so instead of having SSA try to manage a complicated SWF on the model of Norway ($500B+) or Alaska ($40B) the PTB decided to let the free market have the money to invest wisely. Tax rates were raised on

Do you even understand the difference here? Social Security was SUPPOSED to be able to sell stocks

"Continued bear market conditions decrease the Fund’s value from its $40 billion peak in 2007 to $26 billion shortly after the start of the year; however the Fund turns upward with a spring market rally."

http://www.apfc.org/home/Content/aboutFund/fundHistory.cfm

Equity purchases aren't all they're cracked up to be, ya know? California's pension fund is over-exposed to global equity, and it's going to be a crowded trade to get out of them IMO. As a fellow permabear you should agree with this.

SSA bought the SAFEST investment -- US Treasury debt, and is now selling it. No. Big. Deal. If it DOESN'T sell this debt, it's will be theft FROM the FICA payers who forced to buy it.

Nobody was telling us our Treasuries were worthless when we were having the FICA taxes taken OUT of our paychecks 1985-now.

Walk through the money flows. Trust me on this. It's absolutely obvious if you just walk through the flow of payments. Go through with and without the trust fund: nothing is different.


Now that it's time for the rich to honor the back-end of the Greenspan deal -- higher taxes -- they are paying people to promote the Big Lie that the SS trust fund doesn't matter any more.

Blow away $2.5T in treasury obligations and you just saved the wealthy of this country ~$1.75T, since those who hit the FICA cap 70% of the income taxes of this country.

WE ARE BEING TAXED TWICE TO PAY THE MONEY OUT ONCE.<>

Utterly Incorrect.

FICA payees are capped at $100,000 real incomes. Income taxes hit people most ABOVE the FICA cap. Very few people are being taxed twice here, even ignoring the generational effects that the $2.5T was built up 1985-2008 and will, hopefully, be drawn down gradually over the next three decades.

posted by mokuba at 11:57 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ok, explain to me this, in very clear and simple language. Pretend the trust fund bonds disappear at 9:01 AM tomorrow morning. They never existed in the first place. No taxes were ever levied to create them.

What changes about Social Security? Describe to me, extremely precisely, the actual functional difference in payouts to seniors. Where does the money come from, and how does it differ?

If you are honest, and if you ACTUALLY think about it, you will realize that nothing changes. The funds continue to flow in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time.

So why did we even pay tax for the last fifty years? It's all gone. Government bonds are not worth anything when the government is both the payer and payee, in precisely the same way that an IOU you write to yourself and stick in a jar on your refrigerator is meaningless. Debt is a transitive function, from one entity to another.

And note that, if we held stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities..... even if the amount we were able to cash in was depressed from what we expected, it would still be something. What we have is literally zero.

Those bonds are FICTIONAL. Again: walk me through the money flows between the bonds existing and the bonds not existing. PROVE to me that those bonds mean something, and do it with the money flow.

And while you're at it, explain to me again how we can pay taxes twice for money that's only paid out once.

posted by Malor at 2:14 AM on April 16, 2011


I'm betting, by the way, that you're not willing to do this. You will not walk through the actual payment process, determining where the money comes from and goes to, because you desperately, desperately want to believe those bonds mean something. For whatever reason, you have a big emotional connection to them, and just can't believe our politicians would commit a theft on that scale.

They did. They robbed us fucking blind. And now they're having to charge us taxes a second time in order to pay them out just once.
posted by Malor at 2:17 AM on April 16, 2011


Utterly Incorrect.


This is NOT TRUE. Not ONE DOLLAR should be coming out of the general fund until about 2030. Social Security is supposed to have assets to draw on. We sunk trillions of dollars into that system. It should be as wealthy as fucking Croesus at the moment, sitting on a couple trillion dollars in assets that it can use to repay the people it borrowed money from, the seniors.

Instead, all it has is Congress' promise to tax us and send them money, and it fucking has that anyway. It's not like we WOULDN'T pay them if there were no bonds, and the money comes from the same place whether they exist or not.

The government took a vast amount of money from the working public, incurring an even larger liability in exchange. It did not spend the money wisely, setting up income flows that would cover the liability. Instead, it was wasted, and the money that the seniors chipped in all their lives is GONE. Now we have to pay it back, and it gets taken out of our pockets directly, reducing our standard of living.

We couldn't invest the money when it was taken the first time and used for consumption, and now that it's being taken a SECOND time to pay back the FIRST people, that money ALSO can't be used for investment, to grow the real economy. It's the double whammy.

We've been paying tax for SIXTY YEARS into that system. It should have MOUNTAINS of assets. Instead, it's so broke that the instant flows go negative, the government is back in our pockets again to cover the loans.

The trust fund is just a measure of liability from the government to old people. It SHOULD be measure of liability from the world economy, which would have been using that money to grow like crazy so that it could repay the loan. But the government just wasted it, and now it's time to pay it back, and we US taxpayers are on the hook, instead of the entire world.
posted by Malor at 2:30 AM on April 16, 2011


Another way of putting it: why have we been sending them money for sixty years? Where did the money go? Why isn't it there now that we need it?

It's because the trust fund isn't real.
posted by Malor at 2:33 AM on April 16, 2011


Malor, I get your point, but saying the trust fund isn't real is saying that treasury bonds aren't real.

We aren't being taxed twice, because without the excess social security money that they spent, we would have had to be taxed more at the time. Or they would have had to borrow it via treasury bonds.
posted by gjc at 6:19 AM on April 16, 2011


Also, this "tax receipt" idea is silly and redundant. Look on page 97 of the 1040 instructions.
posted by gjc at 6:22 AM on April 16, 2011


It's a combination of the old you owe the bank $1 million and can't pay you have a problem whereas if you owe the bank $1 trillion the bank has a problem and borrowing money from your parents and paying it back with your allowance.
posted by Skorgu at 6:37 AM on April 16, 2011


Where are the "adjust quantity" and the "vote" buttons? This shopping cart sucks.
posted by pashdown at 9:22 AM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


What changes about Social Security? Describe to me, extremely precisely, the actual functional difference in payouts to seniors. Where does the money come from, and how does it differ?

It's the political argument about social security "being broke" that offends.

Social Security as a program is not broke, it has $2.5T in assets, $1.5T of which represent the actual CASH contributions of FICA payers.

The shell game going on here with the right is saying we have to "save" social security "from going bankrupt". An entity with TWO POINT FIVE TRILLION DOLLARS is pretty F'IN FAR from going BK!

So let's try to agree that it's not SSA that is in notional trouble, it is the USG.

And the USG isn't really in trouble, we're just not taxing people enough. This could easily be fixed if we had the political will.

Krugman had an excellent post on this yesterday, specifically this chart showing the declining tax burden of the wealthy.

To address your point, as long a SS is not monkeyed with -- contributions raised or benefits lowered, you are correct that the trust fund is a fiction, in that we could move it on-budget and nothing would change -- change FICA taxes into income taxes, they are the same thing.

However, SSA was designed to be a self-contained system, not subject to Congressional cutting, a simple pay-as-you-go pension & insurance plan of forced savings of the middle class funding their retirements for when they are old.

SSA is perfectly fine now, running as designed. It should look to raising its payroll taxes gradually over the coming years to ensure actuarial balance given expected post-retirement lifetimes, but that is a future battle.

And now they're having to charge us taxes a second time in order to pay them out just once.

It is you that have the confusion with this. Raising taxes back to pre-Reagan levels to pay on SSA's treasury holdings would not taxing be anybody twice as long as this burden falls on non-FICA payers (and their descendants).

You continually avoid the understanding that there are two classes of people in this country, FICA payers -- wage slaves -- people earning under the FICA cap, well under it given the income distribution in this country.

And then there is the non-FICA payers, the top 1% of which FIFTY PERCENT of the wealth of this country, and the rest of them own another FORTY PERCENT.

Leaving FICA payers with 10%. Table from above link

From 1985-2009 FICA payers were over-taxed by $1.5T, which allowed the Richie Riches here to be undertaxed. That was the Greenspan Commission deal of 1983.

You say SSA should have bought equity with their cash, like stocks. Perhaps (the Norwegians' oil fund now owns 1-2% of global equity and are OK by it) but I say it didn't need to, for one: $2.5T is a lot of money for one entity to control, and 2) it owns all these assets indirectly, via the USG government debt it holds, since USG debt has the power of the USG itself to seize wealth from the economy.

why have we been sending them money for sixty years?

It was a forced savings plan. Most people would have saved anything if social security hadn't been taken out of their paychecks. The money would have gone into higher rents and land values AFAICT.

Where did the money go?

Per the Greenspan Commission, and particularly per this chart, it is clear FICA taxes displaced taxes on wealth, 1985-now.

Now it's time to reverse this. The wealthy are screaming about stuck pigs about this, and you are repeating their propaganda, thus your arguments here thus far are largely bullshit.
posted by mokuba at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2011


^ fix link "and particularly per this chart"
posted by mokuba at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2011


The government took a vast amount of money from the working public, incurring an even larger liability in exchange. It did not spend the money wisely, setting up income flows that would cover the liability. Instead, it was wasted, and the money that the seniors chipped in all their lives is GONE. Now we have to pay it back, and it gets taken out of our pockets directly, reducing our standard of living.

What you are also not really understanding is that ALL "income flows" come from the working/middle class, since the working/middle class does the actual wealth-creation in this country.

It should have MOUNTAINS of assets

The $1.5T taken from the middle class via excess FICA payments displaced $1.5T that would have been taken from the rich. Per my above charts, the rich have benefitted greatly by this arrangement -- they're the ones who've invested in all that gee-whiz "income flows" and have the "MOUNTAINS of assets" now.

Now it comes time for SSA to cash in some of these bonds. Hopefully we can agree that as long as this cash comes from increased taxation on the rich's MOUNTAINS of assets, no great injustice will have been done.

For SSA to have these MOUNTAINS of assets would require it own 5% or so of every public company in the world. While this does have its attractions, that would be socialism, and we can't have that.
posted by mokuba at 11:14 AM on April 16, 2011


Social Security as a program is not broke, it has $2.5T in assets, $1.5T of which represent the actual CASH contributions of FICA payers

THIS IS A LIE.

And, sure enough, you didn't walk through what happens if there was no trust fund. That's because if you do that, you'll realize that the trust fund is simple accounting fiction that has absolutely no impact on anything. Social Security HAS NO ASSETS.

Nothing.

Zero.

If those supposed 'assets' evaporated tomorrow, nothing would change AT ALL.
posted by Malor at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2011


If those supposed 'assets' evaporated tomorrow, nothing would change AT ALL.

Actually, what would happen -- the argument you continually ignore -- is that social security benefits would be reduced and payroll taxes increased, because "social security is broke!".

This is the lie the rich want the middle class to believe, because they don't want to pay on the bonds the SSA holds.

This is obvious, no?

Plus, like I said above, if the $2.5T disappeared, we would then be $2.5T away from the statutory debt limit. The conservatives can't have it both ways on this.
posted by mokuba at 12:07 PM on April 16, 2011


That's because if you do that, you'll realize that the trust fund is simple accounting fiction that has absolutely no impact on anything. Social Security HAS NO ASSETS.

Again, this is the other lie the rich are telling everyone.

The SSTF is simply the marker of how much the middle class has been over-taxed. Fiscally, you are correct that it has to be made good with increased income taxes.

And since money is fungible it's impossible to say that the money paying on these bonds when they are cashed in isn't coming from the middle class and thus the whole thing was just a big con.

However, if you want me to trace an actual pay-out that is not a con, I will.

Social Security needs to sell $100B of bonds this year. Congress returns the 39.6% tax rate on incomes over $500,000 to pay these bonds.

No "double taxation", no cons, no theft, just the Greenspan Deal working as originally intended.

These bonds NOT being cashed in would be the true theft -- $1.5T of the middle class' money just hand-waved away. This might in fact be the greatest theft in history, and is something the rich really are trying hard to effect.

I've only got $60,000 paid into the system so nobody will clap louder than I should they succeed.
posted by mokuba at 12:15 PM on April 16, 2011


THIS IS A LIE.

btw, please break down where my statement:

Social Security as a program is not broke, it has $2.5T in assets, $1.5T of which represent the actual CASH contributions of FICA payers

is factually incorrect.
posted by mokuba at 12:18 PM on April 16, 2011


mokuba: "THIS IS A LIE.

btw, please break down where my statement:

Social Security as a program is not broke, it has $2.5T in assets, $1.5T of which represent the actual CASH contributions of FICA payers

is factually incorrect
"

Malor is odd. He things Treasuries are worthless. Thankfully, most of the financial world disagrees. Granted, what the finance guys think isn't worth much, but that's what it is.
posted by wierdo at 3:09 PM on April 16, 2011


Thinks even. He thinks. He does not thing, as far as I know. ;)
posted by wierdo at 3:10 PM on April 16, 2011


Malor's analysis of the SSTF bond holdings is correct if we compress the time scales and/or have the taxes that pay off these bonds come from the same people that paid the FICA taxes that bought them, 1985-2009.

But the time scale is *not* compressed, the people paying income taxes 2010-2030 (when the SSTF bonds will cashed and thus be an additional burden on the taxpayer) are different to a great degree than those who paid taxes 1985-2010.

One must look at the inter-generational effects to trace the money flows as Malor demands. Luckily, US income mobility is relatively low compared to other first-world countries, so this eliminates some complexity.

Anyhoo, the bottom line is that since the Greenspan commission deal, the top 5% income earners have seen their incomes rise dramatically more than everyone else.

The Greenspan Commission's deal worked great! The US taxpayer base is much richer now than it was in the 1980s, but the . . . complication . . . is that these richer people own all the media and thus can bullshit people into thinking the country is "broke" and that we "don't have the money".

This is only partially true, "we" don't have the money, "they" -- the top 5% -- do. And they're not going to part with their loot without one helluva fight. They've got the entire Republican establishment in their pocket (not much of a change here), some of the Democrats, and much if not all of the glibertarian right and their noise machines (Cato, etc) on the internet.

The poor schlubs of the middle class have . . . Krugman, maybe Obama, the House Dems, some of the Senate Dems (we lost a few like Feingold last election), and a few lefty policy orgs.

Not really a fair fight, LOL.
posted by mokuba at 3:29 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the tax receipt generated by ThirdWay.org a bit better -- it provides a little more detail.
posted by gruchall at 5:55 PM on April 16, 2011


Also, according to this story there are a couple bi-partisan bills in the congressional bowels that aim to provide every taxpayer with a receipt.
posted by gruchall at 6:04 PM on April 16, 2011


National Defense 26.3%

Aren't OBL, Mullah Omar, et alia still running around? and did they catch guy who dusted the mail system with anthrax? who does all that loot protect us from?
posted by specialk420 at 1:19 AM on April 17, 2011


The idea of a very small, very highly trained, very well equipped army (basically just the special forces bits) backed up by a sizable air force/navy is an intriguing one.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2011


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