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Taxing Reflections: National Priorities Past and Present


It’s tax day. So let’s say you are paying Uncle Sam $1,000. This is how your expenditure will be used:


$299.68 will go the military.

$202.74 goes to health care: all health spending by the federal government, including federal spending on Medicare. [As Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times, US governmental health expenditures are actually (per-capita) higher than those of some nations with national health insurance plans (including France and Germany), thanks to a number of factors: relatively high doctor salaries, skyrocketning drug prices in the US (where there is very little coutnerveiling consumer power against he price-setting capacity of Big Pharma), and out-control paper work and bureaucratic bloat in the American corporate "health" sector].

$186.03 will go to pay interest on the debt (which costs the nation $317.3 billion each year)….to pay off domestic and international bond holders/global finance capital.

$65.82 goes to income security, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Spplementary Security Income, and various programs for families and kids.

$36.70 goes to education: all federal expenduitures on elementary, secondary, higher education and federal research and general education assistance.

$34.38 to benefits for veterans.

$26.89 to nutrition spending: including Food Stamps and all child nutrition programs

$21.44 to housing: all federal housing assistance.

$17.25 to environmental protection.

$9.37 to job training.

$105.15 to all other.

For these breakdowns, please see the web site of the National Priorities Project: www.nationalpriorities.org/taxes/IncomeTaxChart05.html.

“Defense” (empire) outweighs education by more than 8 to 1; income security by more than 4.5 to 1; nutrition by more than 11 to 1; housing by 14 to 1; and job training by 32 to 1.

This is a snapshot of how your tax dollar breaks down in the industrialized world’s most unequal nation, where the top 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth, where black net worth is one tenth of white net worth, and where 40 million persons languished beneath the federal government’s notoriously low poverty level ($14,680 for a family of three in 2003) by 2003 (see www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/income_wealth/002484.html).

In 15 of my home city Chicago’s 77 officially designated Community Areas in 1999 — at the peak of the long Clinton boom —- more than 54 percent of the children lived below that inadequate poverty measure. There were 15 Chicago Community Areas where at least 25 percent of the children lived in what researchers call “deep poverty”: less than half of the poverty level.

Things got considerably worse in these predominantly black neighborhoods after the onset of the Clinton-Bush recession and subsequent weak “recovery,” which increased the number of Americans without health insurance to 45 million by 2003 (see http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty03.html). By 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, less than half of the adult black population in Chicago was attached to the labor market (See Street, Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy, and the State of Black Chicago [Chicago, IL, April 2005]. pp. 37-52).

Nearly 40 years ago, in the midst of his campaign for economic and social justice in Chicago and the nation, Martin Luther King. Jr. called for “a radical reordering of our national priorities,” noting that the cost of the nation’s vicious attack on Southeast Asia was “hurting us in all our programs to end slums and to end segregation in schools and…to end the long night of poverty.” King was starting to make regular and repeated connections between what he called the “triple” and “interrelated” “evils” of militarism/empire, poverty/capitalism, and racism. He called repeatedly for “a radical redistribution of political and economic power” and “a revolution of values and other things” that would seek a society that was “more person-centered than property- and profit-centered.” “Something is wrong with capitalism,” the democratic-socialist King told his colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

“With the resources accruing from the termination of the war, arms race, and excessive space races,” King told the US Senate in late 1966, “the elimination of all poverty could become an immediate national reality. At present, the war on poverty is not even a battle, it is scarcely a skirmish.” See David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (1999), pp. 533-564

The single-party right wing Republican American federal state is not shrinking; the problem is that it’s tilted to the right and that it values war and empire over basic social and human needs even within the imperial homeland.

But then King was talking about the same perversion of national priorities at the height of the New Deal order….the peak of Democratic Party dominance in federal government.

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