Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fiscal Illiteracy: does it matter?

"Tax Day" in the US approaches. Yesterday, The Seattle Times's lead story, Where Do Your Taxes Go? Receipt Could Show you, reported on our local Congressperson's bill for improving taxpayers' fiscal literacy:
The average American family pays more than $7,000 in federal income taxes a year. The average American also mistakenly believes a big chunk of it is spent on foreign aid.

As President Obama prepares Wednesday to unveil his most detailed plan yet for weaning the country off borrowed money — following a House Republican budget-cutting plan released last week — some people say an urgent national debate about the federal deficit and debt is stymied by many Americans' fiscal illiteracy.

Voters, they fear, have but a dim grasp of the nation's finances, including how the government spends their taxes.

Enter the taxpayer receipt.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., is among a band of people from inside and outside Congress who believe Americans should see an itemized receipt for their federal purchases. As early as this week, the Seattle Democrat plans to resurrect his bill to require the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue a detailed annual spending breakdown for each taxpayer.

Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., introduced a similar measure last month. Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington, D.C., is promoting the idea actively.

Beyond educating Americans about income and outlays, taxpayer receipts are meant to help pop the fantasy math where no tax increases and minimal spending cuts equal a balanced budget.
I'd like to think that a heaping helping of facts would create a more constructive, better informed public discourse on government, government spending, and taxation, but the last ten years have shown many, many people in the US to be immune to facts. When facts undercut rhetoric that is repeated again and again, does anyone who wasn't already well-informed pay any attention? I tend to doubt it, especially given what is well known about torture, for instance, and the Obama Administration's determination not only to excuse but also to continue its practice.

Also, I'd like beside a receipt, to include comparisons of the amount of taxes collectively paid by corporations and billionaires to that paid by the poorest 10% of the population.

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