by Glen Wallace
After the resignation of US Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price, once again I’m hearing people on the television tell how he misused ‘taxpayer dollars’. I’ve written about this before, but apparently the message didn’t get around that well. So once again I repeat, once the government has received the dollars paid by a taxpayer, those dollars no longer belong to the taxpayer. It seems like a simple and clear enough concept, but the widespread misuse of the term ‘taxpayer’ continues. So, if the money spent by the government does not belong to the taxpayer at the point of transaction between someone in the government spending some of that money, why do so many politicians, writers and news reporters insist on continuing to imply that the taxpayer’s have ownership of those dollars spent? Some better terms to use would be ‘public dollars’ or the ‘people’s funds’ or the ‘citizen’s dollars’.
The payment of income taxes is just one form of revenue that the federal government relies upon to pay its expenses. To my knowledge, however, there is no quid pro quo legal relationship between paying of those taxes and having that revenue be spent either in the interests of the taxpayer or at the direction of the taxpayer. The taxpayer has no special standing compared with a citizen who, whether due to a tax loophole or deduction or low income, pays no income taxes.
I sometimes wonder if the misuse of the term ‘taxpayer’ is a deliberate attempt to maintain the illusion of a contractual understanding between paying taxes and how those revenue dollars are spent. Maintaining the illusion could benefit those in power who are able to avoid contributing more to the government’s revenue than they currently are. Once the common citizen realizes that income tax is merely one of many potential sources of revenue and not a payment for services for themselves or for the country, they may start to creatively look for those other potential sources of revenue — especially revenue derived from taxing wealthy individuals, corporations and institutions. After all, if the ordinary workaday citizen starts thinking that maybe this country could be run with little or no money coming from the hourly and salaried worker, then they might start searching in earnest for those other revenue sources.
And those other potential sources of revenue are many: tariffs are one — we could really leverage our trade deficit by increasing tariffs. There would be a double benefit since not only would we be getting all that new revenue, but an incentive would also be created to bring back more manufacturing and the associated jobs to America — since a company that makes stuff here wouldn’t have to pay the tariff. A high frequency trading machine tax could also be implemented that would directly tax Wall Street while leaving Main Street largely alone.
Additionally, a federal asset tax on billionaire individuals and corporations could be implemented that would act much like local property taxes, only this new property tax on billionaires would apply to all their assets, not just real estate.
And I think there are many more potential revenue sources outside of ordinary income tax, but for now I’ll list just one more: While I’m a strong proponent of conserving our nation’s natural lands in as close to a natural state as possible and protect those lands from exploitation for natural resources, but if all those efforts at conservation on federally owned lands fails and the decision to exploit a parcel of land has been made, then I think we should at least act to maximize the fiduciary benefit to the country of that resource extraction on those lands. But I think there has been and continues to be a long history of acting in a fiscally irresponsible manner when it comes to deriving revenue from natural resource extraction by privately owned companies on federally owned lands. That needs to stop.
We, the citizens of this country should look at ourselves as an ownership group of a vast real estate empire. As owners we have to decide on three main categories of use for that land: recreation, conservation, and income revenue. Of course there can be a lot of overlap between those three categories, but we should always strive to do the best job we can in whatever direction for land use we decide on.
Given that we have representatives in Congress that are supposed to be managing the affairs of our ownership group, we should hold them responsible when they mishandle our real estate portfolio. While those representatives will maybe get a passing grade when it comes to the first two; conservation and recreation, I think I’ll have to give a failing grade when it comes to income revenue when the land we own is primarily used for that purpose. From my understanding, when a lumber company or a mining company wants to extract a natural resource from federal lands all they have to do is bid on the mineral rights or timber rights for that land in a no reserve auction, and the winning bidder gets to extract all they want and keep the entire bounty from that extraction, no matter how low the bid is. There is a reason private landowners do not use a similar process when they decide to open their lands for resource extraction: it is a fiscally irresponsible way to do things. We the people should be using the same methods to derive income from natural resource extractions that any private landowner would use who is acting in their own fiduciary best interest.
Edit to add: After completing the above essay I started to think about Puerto Rico and all the hardships they are facing in the aftermath of hurricanes. Well, we should see ownership as not just in the business sense of the term, but also in the responsibility sense of the term. That is, we as a country need to take ownership of the responsibility to take care of those citizens in our country when they are in dire need. Puerto Ricans are US citizens living in a territory owned by the United States. We as a country need to take responsibility for doing what it takes to help our fellow citizens out whether they are on an island in the Atlantic or our next door neighbors. There are currently just over 2 million combined active and reserve military personnel in the United States armed forces. The last I heard there have been only about 7 thousand US troops sent to aid Puerto Rico. I realize it might not be practical to send a large proportion of those 2 million members to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, but I’m confident we could, without that much difficulty, send over ten times the number of troops currently there. It seems like conditions there are extreme enough to warrant a large scale deployment to rescue, rebuild and provide food, water, generators and medicine and medical care to our fellow citizens over there in need.