Saturday, April 18, 2009

Your Tax Money at Work

Tax day (April 15th) is over, and we have been once again reminded that we Americans pay taxes, that we would rather not have to pay taxes, and that we would rather keep our own to look after our own—assuming our own is enough to do so.

I wish there were some way to have government services without paying government taxes—but my guess is that privateers in charge of police work and the monitoring of food and drug safety would be (though perhaps more efficient than the government) more expensive—and perhaps more susceptible to bribes and serving the interests of the wealthy over the common good. I say “more susceptible” because, obviously, there is some corruption already among law enforcement officers and government inspectors, though invariably bribes come from somewhere, usually from (surprise!) the private sector.

And the government has not usually been a good steward of our tax dollars or our trust. Unlike those who blame “special interests” such as welfare moms, tree-hugging environmentalists, and warm and fuzzy-thinking liberals everywhere, I tend to blame special interests like the corporate world, Wall Street, and, most especially, the war profiteers.

To be sure, World War II, the good war against fascism and genocide, made America the rich and powerful nation that it was for the remainder of the twentieth century. But unlike the present wars, started by Bush and his Republican and Democratic supporters, the Second World War was a war of cooperation between the people and the government. For instance, during the war 85 million Americans bought $185.7 billion in war bonds. Women and men unable to serve in uniform relocated to parts of the country they had never seen before in order to do office and factory work vacated by enlistees—my mother was one such person—and my father (of German heritage, who didn’t even speak English until the first grade) was quick to enlist in the U.S. Army. (Don't even start the "real Americans" bullshit around me.)

(On the other hand, some American firms, even those active in building the “Arsenal of Democracy,” such as Ford Motors, General Motors, and Chase Manhattan Bank, had worked with the Nazis before the war and maintained operations in Germany even during the war.)

When the war ended, President Truman’s late 1946 executive order transferred the Manhattan Project’s research and facilities to private ownership—all to maintain the principle (I would say “fetish”) of free enterprise in the United States—while the U.S. federal government has continued sponsoring research in the private sectors ever since, and then buying back products for use in the military and other government sectors, often paying many times what such products would usually garner in the free market alone.

Nuclear energy has spawned growth in virtually every area of technology and science in the six decades since Truman. The profits of this one technology alone—had the American taxpayers been allowed to hold on to its patent, after huge wartime sacrifices by the people to fund this research—could perhaps reduce if not entirely erase the need for income taxes today.

Apart from the apocalyptic discoveries of the Manhattan Project, research in NASA, the U.S. military, and state university systems has contributed much to the prosperity of the nation. Costs of research failures have been swallowed by the government—and its taxpayers ("pork"). The successes, however, have been divvied out to private corporations—who, on top of receiving the fruits of research paid for by the taxpayers, pay a substantially lower tax rate than ordinary citizens, sometimes reduced to zero through tax loopholes and charitable deductions and the like.

In 1958, the federal creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created, through the Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO), the computer networking design that became, after it was commercialized in 1988, the World-Wide Web or the Internet. Only recently Time-Warner Cable planned to charge Internet users based on the amount of use—American Internet users, the ones who paid for the goddamned thing’s invention. Due to public and political outcry, Time-Warner backed down just this week.

NASA has financed the creation of new metal and glass alloys and spawned such spin-off merchandise as scratch-resistant lenses, wireless communications, freeze-dried foods, athletic shoes, virtual reality, microcomputers, laser technology, sports bras, hang gliders, quartz crystal timing, solar energy, digital imaging, the electric car, and a wide array of other useful and high-profit items.

Imagine if the American people, who financed this research through their taxes, also received at least some of the benefits of the worldwide marketing of the products stemming from this government-funded research.

Entertainment and organized crime have been the most profitable aspects of the free market not to be propped up with taxpayers’ money. And if I decided to be extra-cynical, I could add that one could make a pretty good argument that the obscenely profitable drug trade owes a debt to us taxpayers as well, through CIA operations in South America, the Vietnam war, and, most recently, Afghanistan, regaining its lead as the top producer of heroin just one year after the U.S. military deposed the Taliban.

So it seems to me that nationalization of industries directly indebted to government research and tax funding in the first place could be one way, along with more prudent budgeting by government leaders and more oversight by aware citizens, to reduce and perhaps even eliminate income taxes altogether.

Un-American. I know.

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