Friday, September 17, 2010

Calculate Government Costs - a hair-raising experiment

I tried out the calculator. It's sponsored by the non-partisan Independent Institute, which explains itself:

The Independent Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, scholarly research and educational organization that sponsors in-depth studies of critical social and economic issues.

The mission of the Independent Institute is to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity. ... In order to fully understand the nature of public issues and possible solutions, the Institute’s program adheres to the highest standards of independent scholarly inquiry.

The resulting studies are published and widely distributed as books, articles in The Independent Review, Policy Reports, Working Papers, and other publications. Events sponsored by the Institute bring together scholars and policy experts to debate issues and discuss their implications. This work is conducted in conjunction with a series of educational centers ...
They also publish a quarterly newsletter, and an online newsletter, and maintain extensive archives. The website, in fact, looks like it could be a good research site for certain topics. But the Cost calculator is kind of fun, but also heart-stopping. Though, after a bit, you get kind of inured to the big numbers. Late Senator Everett M. Dirksen was famous for saying, "A billion here, a billion there and soon, you're talking about real money."

Any way, the calculator requires you to enter your education level, then your age and finally your income. After that, it tells you how much tax you will pay over the rest of your lifetime. And how much income your could have generated by investing that money instead. They make a lot of assumptions -- that you would have invested at such and such a level and not spent it on a vacation or a better car, for instance. But it's laid out with bar graphs and the amount in bold face numbers. And then, you have the option of finding out how much of that money will be spent on different federal spending: Afghanistan and Iraq Military Operations, Economic Stimulus, Financial System Bailout, Recession Welfare, Agriculture Programs and Subsidies, Disaster Relief and Insurance, Economic Development, Education, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Foreign Aid & International Affairs, Justice & Public Safety, and on and on...and on. Everybody's ox is up for goring, I think. It really does seem to be non-partisan. You can see just how much your taxes in the future will be going to fund each of these operations, again, making assumptions, that you continuing earning at the same rate, and that tax rules remain the same. But it's quite an interesting exercise. A cool tool to get you thinking, and then, maybe to go on to the Independent site and other associated parts of the website to think about what to do if it bothers you. Enjoy noodling! It's interesting to see what differences it makes to change the education level or age in this calculator.

No comments: