A More Infuriating Way to Think About Your Tax Burden


Because we know you need something to get you madder about paying taxes.

On taxes by the way, have you ever noticed that the people who want higher income taxes are often people who don’t pay income taxes? About half of American households don’t pay federal income tax. Then also consider how many people get a check which is paid for by taxpayers on top of not paying any income tax. (People not having to pay income taxes – legally – is a good thing generally it must be noted.)

But you know the people who want to cut taxes are the “greedy” ones.

(From Reason)

When people talk about the burden of government programs that clearly don’t benefit all, most, or even necessarily very many of the taxpayers on the hook for them, you often see their costs calculated in per capita terms across the whole population. Put that way, they seem laughably tiny, not worth even thinking about. Public broadcasting, for example, costs just $1.37 per citizen each year—far less than you pay to avoid getting kicked out of Starbucks every day.

But money is fungible, so you can conceptualize the relationship between what you pay in taxes and any given government program or expenditure in a far more infuriating way. Consider, on this magic day of civic responsibility, that every penny of your federal income tax burden this year (and that of any number of other poor suckers with your same income) is going to some relatively small and insignificant government program. 

Here are 17 recent government expenditures, ranked from smallest to largest, that some of you may resent your taxes going to. (Not all of these programs expend all their money in one calendar year—but again, money is fungible.) Their costs are calculated in terms of how many citizens with a given taxable income (according to this handy 2017 tax table, which you should bookmark if you just started trying to deal with your 1040 this morning) it takes to pay for the expenditure. For those with taxable incomes higher than $100,000, where the tax table cuts off, the average tax burden for folk within a given range of adjusted gross income is derived from this IRS data (from 2015, the most recent year they offer).

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