A Playful Flashback on Shafting Taxpayers

Tax Day has always been special for me.    The following is a piece I wrote back in the waning days fo the Reagan administration  to spur positive thinking on the IRS and Uncle Sam.   

The New York Times April 13, 1988

HEADLINE: Your Tax Dollars At Work And Play

BYLINE: By James Bovard


 Congratulations. You probably are about to make your largest ”purchases” of the year. According to the Tax Foundation, a private research organization, the median family of four paid $4,722 in Federal taxes last year.

So when you sign the check to the Internal Revenue Service before midnight Friday, your share of Federal revenues will allow Uncle Sam to subsidize one of the following by an amount roughly equal to $4,722.

* One advertisement by the United States Postal Service praising itself for providing the best mail service in the world.

* Payment to one farmer to forego planting 38 acres of corn or 48 acres of wheat for one growing season.

* Twenty minutes of air time during which your local public television station beseeches its viewers for contributions.

* The cost of a new curtain for the Secretary of Commerce’s office.

* A 4 percent share in a loan from the Small Business Administration that was arranged by a Congressman for a bankrupt friend who wanted to open a video store.

* Seven weeks of the salary of one United States Customs official who is assigned to keep low-priced, high-quality foreign television sets from entering the United States.

* Up to three month’s pension for a Navy captain who retired at the age of 42 after 20 years of desk duty.

* Three meetings of a committee of Agriculture Department bureaucrats to draft a decree on the permissible market size of nectarines.

* One weekend’s expenses in Jamaica for a Congressman to attend an hour-long lecture on the problem of marijuana production in the third world.

* Drug tests for 524 Federal employees.

* Fifty ornate china place settings for the World Bank’s dining room.

* Some 215 audits of taxpayer returns conducted by the Internal Revenue Service.

* Postage for 21,472 ”informational” newsletters from Congressmen that were mailed two weeks before elections.

* Two hundred free tickets for Congressional staff members to attend an opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

* Some 827 personal long-distance telephone calls made by Federal employees.

* Selling 6,000 bushels of wheat to the Soviet Union at prices below production cost.

* The cost for the Environmental Protection Agency to move two tons of contaminated dirt from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.

* Three months’ salary for a part-time elevator operator who works in automatic elevators on Capitol Hill.

* Matching funds for one Presidential campaign to pay for 8,000 bumper stickers or 25,000 buttons.

* Constructing 50 feet of a new two-lane highway in the Idaho outback, where nobody lives or visits.

* The cost of 94 empty seats on a Federal Government-owned Amtrak train traveling 500 miles from one city to another within Montana.

* A three-day rental of a wrecking crane used to raze a dilapidated public housing tenement in New Jersey.

* An Urban Development Action Grant used to put in a marble bathroom in a new Hilton hotel.

* Three hammers, four bolts or half of a mechanical coffeemaker for the Pentagon.

Why worry about the future when, as these examples of typical expenditures show, the Government is carefully safeguarding America’s prosperity?

Citizens can sleep well knowing that, however they might have chosen to spend their own money, politicians have found a better way.


9 Responses to A Playful Flashback on Shafting Taxpayers

  1. MarkN April 17, 2007 at 11:33 am #

    But if you were a wise shopper, for that same $4,722, you could have purchased about 9 pounds of government certified peanut butter from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It comes in little jars. The "unit of issue" is 3 x 170 grams for $573, and the government swears it is non-toxic. Taxes and shipping may be extra.

    And from now on, when you bring home peanut butter from the local grocery, you can whip out your Kitchen Aid Spectrophotometer or Kenmore Mass Spectrometer and compare its quality with that of government-made peanut butter to determine whether your store-bought peanut butter is up to government standards.

  2. Jim April 17, 2007 at 12:35 pm #

    Call me cynical, call me prejudiced, but I have always been down on government-issued peanut butter.

    Also, not to quibble, but I have had troubles recently with my Kenmore model Spectrometer.

    It has not proven able to reliably determine which cigars are from the Dominican Republic and which are from Honduras.

  3. Lawhobbit April 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm #

    Army issue five hundred dollar brace and sockets! They were issued to manually raise the missile launching head on the ITVs that used to be in the inventory (if your hydraulics went out). So spendy they weren’t issued – they were kept under lock and key in the supply room. But thirty bucks at Sears, plus two minutes’ of a welder’s time, would have produced the same thing.

    That said, USGov cheese and canned chicken, issued to us after the Flood of ’72, was pretty darned tasty.

  4. Jim April 17, 2007 at 2:23 pm #

    I could make a joke about the jerry-rigged missile launching equipment but I don’t want to say anything that would spur the local police to get a search warrant to check if I have an ICBM hidden under my trash can.

    On the ’72 cuisine – severe hunger can make even GI-issued stuff satisfying.

  5. Ray April 18, 2007 at 3:54 pm #

    Jim, you should update that article. Considering that other government shafting program called inflation,$4,722 or whatever the taxes paid by the median family is these days is, a buck doesn’t go quite a far as it did in 1988.

  6. Jim April 18, 2007 at 9:37 pm #

    Ray, a good idea – but it would not be realistic.

    Like Tom DeLay says – the REpublican Congress squeezed all the fat out of the federal budget back in the late 1990s, so there is nothing left to satirize.

  7. Ray April 18, 2007 at 10:38 pm #

    Jim, you know as well as I do that when they move their lips they’re lying.
    Which is good for you, since you have a endless bumper crop of material to write about.

    I’m still trying to get over my depression from yesterday, since Marxist Tax Day fell on my birthday this year.
    I think I’ll go and have another beer or two and try to drown out the memory.

  8. Jim April 18, 2007 at 10:41 pm #

    Ya, Tom DeLay does seem to have some credibility trouble. Have not seen an exterminator dressed all in orange for a long time.

    On Tax Day relief – Beer got the monks through Lent in the Middle Ages, so if you started yesterday, you can hit the brew for another 38 days.

    Not quite sure of the above logic, but it makes more sense than the IRS code.

  9. Windy April 19, 2007 at 10:30 am #

    You can find what your taxes pay for at this url:
    We REALLY need to downsize the federal government (state and local governments, too).

    Off topic, WA state’s governor just signed a law that says WA will not go along with the REAL ID Act unless the federal government foots the whole bill (among other requirements).