On the Other Hand...

by Jim Davies

The Package


This week, I'd like to ask readers of this column to get out pen and paper and do a little homework. I promise: the exercise will be well worth while.

The task is to write down all the things that government does for you, upon which you place some value; and then write down what that value is.

It's worth taking a while over this task - to try to do it right. It could be really important. You'll not work at it constantly, but start out today after lunch, then take half an hour before going to sleep, then add a few more items tomorrow morning, and finish it off on Saturday. So get out some paper, please.

Why? - well, the point is this: I want that all of us shall know whether or not we are getting our money's worth from government.

It's not too hard to figure out what we are SPENDING on government services; this homework task will help us identify what we are GETTING in return. Since so very much money is involved, that's vital, yes? - I mean, we would never buy a house without thinking very long and hard about what features it gave us and whether they were worth its price, right? - yet houses cost MUCH less.


Government is a bit like a nursing home: you pay one big fee, and then almost everything you need is provided, with maybe some pocket money left over. That kind of deal is sometimes called "bundled"; you don't pick and choose as from a menu, you buy the whole package. And for a very elderly person, tired of making his own decisions in detail, that may be a very fine arrangement.

What I'm asking is that for the "government package", we take some time to mentally UNbundle it. Let's really notice what we're getting for our money.

The items you should list (from the tens of thousands that government offers) should only be the ones that YOU value. Never mind Uncle Fred; he can make his own list... and pay his own taxes. Just write down what YOU like to receive.

To help start you off, here are some examples. Perhaps you have kids at school, and think they receive a net benefit; so write down "schooling for my kids".

Then you might drive to and from work, and elsewhere, so write down "roads that I travel on". Possibly the police are equipped to protect you from criminals; if you value that protection, write it down. Maybe you think you would have been attacked by Iraqis, had not the Feds protected you with their laser bombs; if so, write down "protection from Iraqi assassins."

Get the idea? Each list will be different, but each should have a dozen or two items, and don't hurry the job until you're sure there's nothing else that government is doing for you, upon which you place any value.

If after 2 or 3 days there's nothing else you can think of, then you're done. If you can't remember it, it can't be worth remembering.

Finally, compete the task by writing down a dollar figure on each line, to represent the annual value of each item TO YOU, and total up. That total will be what the government package is worth, to you, each year.

For some items, that pricing will be hard. Try to figure what you'd voluntarily pay someone to provide each service item, if government did not. You'll know for example the toll that is charged on self-financing highways, eg 7 cents a mile. Multiply by your annual mileage (12,000?) and you will know what is the value TO YOU of the government road system.  


Having totalled it all up, you're ready to compare what government is worth, to what it's costing you; and its cost is a bit easier to compute.

The Feds cost much more, of course, than the income tax we pay. Check the back page of the 1040 Form you filled out last April: personal income and SS taxes made up only 65% of total revenue, so the Feds took 1.538 times that much altogether with less visible taxes - all of which you and I pay, indirectly.

So your payment to the Feds would be approximately 1.538 times the total of your income and SS taxes, found on 1040, line 53. If your "total" tax was $9,000 then what you really paid the Feds added up to about $13,842 last year.

Then of course there's the State and the Town. Harder to calculate; but you can approximate by taking the total revenues and dividing by the number of people paying them. So if your town has 5,000 households and spends $25 million a year, its average household is paying $5,000 a year. You could adjust that figure according to whether you think you're above or below average. Do the same for the State, whose spend per household averages about $11,000 a year.

Well, add it all up and subtract the total costs from the total benefits. That will tell you whether or not you are coming out ahead, from the Government Package. And, of course, I know that some people will come out ahead.

How about you?

If you're like me, you came out a VERY long way behind: government is costing me many, many times what I found it's worth, to me. It's a thoroughly LOUSY DEAL. So if you're on my side of the fence, you'll want out; instead of being forced to pay for the whole government "package", you'll want to keep all your own tax money and to buy just the services YOU want, from whoever offers them.

"Wanting out" is a whole lot easier that getting it, but watch this space; for you have just taken the first, essential step.


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