Every April, I experience a terrible sense of dread when I pay my taxes; it's not due to the pure fact of money leaving my bank account for good (though that's certainly not fun), but what the money pays for. That's because I am morally opposed to using physical force in any way to solve problems. So the hard, incontrovertible fact that a chunk of the money I have worked for goes to something I deeply morally oppose — the killing, maiming, torturing, and psychological destruction of foreign troops and civilians — cuts me deeply. I come from a long line of pacifists (nobody in my family has faught in a war in at least four generations), and it's something that we just don't believe in. But I am still paying for it.
I try to focus on the good that my tax dollars do — national parks, important scientific research, health care for the elderly and those who can't afford it, higher-education programs and even fixing potholes and the national debt. I am 100 percent OK with paying for those needed things. And that's why I have almost no bad feelings about paying my state and local taxes; overall, I very much approve of what my legislators do with my money in the state of Connecticut, and while it certainly could be improved, and mistakes are made, nothing has come up, for me, that makes me as angry and frustrated as putting so much money (the U.S. spends more than the next 10 countries), towards military operations. Again, this is, for me, a moral issue.
So, every year, I wish that I could vote — really vote — with my dollars. Allocate my money where I would like to see it spent. I immediately know where I would put huge chunks of my taxes were I allowed to make that decision with the almost $3,000 I just paid to the IRS today. And none of it would go to the military. (I realize that not everyone will agree with me on this, and that's OK. But in the scenario below, we would ALL get to put our money where we think it should go.)
I'm not alone: the team at the New IRS has created a simple tool that allows you to virtually designate where you'd like to see your tax dollars spent on their site. (My chart is the main graphic for this story, with my figures on what I would spend on what in the graphic below.) The idea for the site came from the Sundance Film Festival's hackathon, and once you've filled in your info, you can include your name and contact info — your own spending chart will then be combined with other users and released on April 17 for a "compare and contrast" between what the people want, and where money actually goes.
The chart below is what is currently the reality of where our tax dollars go, from whitehouse.gov. There is quite a big difference between the two.
“We present to you a simulation, that you may peruse and develop a taste for a new paradigm of citizen power,” said New IRS founder Alex Ebert. “Through your participation, we will be able to collect national data that will serve to reflect our ethics as a nation, as well as to illuminate disparities between our will and the actual expenditures of the current political powers.”
With ever-greater distance between the people and their representatives in Congress (did you know that over 50 percent of the members of Congress are millionaires? Not really a truly 'representative' sample of the people), this project gets us all to think of putting our money where our beliefs are.
It's an intriguing idea. I know I would feel much better (and might even pay more taxes) if the money were going to parts of the government I support. Where would you put your money if you could vote for its distribution?
Related on MNN:
- What happens if you file your taxes late?
- 10 things you need to know before you do your taxes this year