Monday is tax day. We got a three-day reprieve from the usual April 15 filing deadline, and I will need every minute of it to compute my taxes. It is really sort of depressing to think about how much money the government takes away from us each month. Then you throw in sales tax and other hidden government fees and you almost think you’d be better off swapping portions with Uncle Sam. As it is, just about half of what you and I make we keep and half we pay to Uncle Sam and his cousins who are in charge of collecting state and local fees.
And still the government needs more. All that money we pay in taxes and it is not enough. And it’s not, you know. We spend way more than we take in.
I found a neat little website this week at usdebtclock.org. Remember the sign on Peachtree Street near Buckhead that calculates Atlanta’s population? It works like that. This site claims to report real time figures that reflect our nation’s debt, each citizen’s part of the debt and each taxpayer’s part of the debt. Yes, there is a vast difference between what each citizen owes and what each taxpayer owes because millions of citizens don’t pay taxes — at least not on income.
When I started this column, the United States of America owed $14.3 trillion. That’s rounded up, by the way. My mind cannot conceive how much that is and, truth be known, neither can yours. We need a point of reference. Let me give you one. Each American — that’s man, woman and child — owes $45,945 as his or her portion of the nation’s debt. If I gave the government every penny of my take-home pay for a year, I could almost cover my share.
But there is a bigger problem. The majority of Americans don’t pay the aforementioned income taxes. Let that sink in for a moment or two. More people do not pay taxes than do pay taxes. How is that fair? It’s not — but remember that old adage; nobody ever said life was fair.
Since the government doesn’t hold bake sales or yard sales, the only way it can pay off the debt is by taking the money from her citizens by force — in the form of taxes. If you divide the $14.3 trillion that we are in debt by the number of Americans who actually pay taxes, each of us owes $128,578 — or at least we did when I started writing this column.
Do you know how many years of taxes I will have to pay in order to cover $128,578? Probably more years than I have left. But here is the kicker. Undaunted by the massive amount of debt that we, as a nation, have incurred, the Congress continues to spend way more money than we take in.
Last week Congress reached a much ballyhooed compromise that was supposed to make us believe that that body was serious about reducing our deficit spending. It turns out that the whole agreement was done with smoke and mirrors and there was very little decrease at all — and what decrease there was didn’t reduce the deficit one penny, but merely slowed the rate at which we increase the deficit.
Confused yet? That’s what Congress was hoping for. And for the record, it took us 220 years as a nation to accumulate $7 trillion in debt and two years to double that amount.
It is a simple proposition to balance a budget. You simply spend less than you take in. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. You can take in more or you can spend less. Of course a third option would be a combination of the two.
Taking in more would mean raising taxes. That’s a tricky thing to do during a recession. Most of us have already cut about as many notches in our belts as we can cut and are squeezing things about as tight as we can squeeze them. We could, of course, tax those evil rich people — which is what the president wants to do. But it is those evil rich people who provide the jobs for the rest of us and jobs are in short supply as it is. The top 2 percent of income earners already pay more than 50 percent of the taxes that are paid? How much more can we extract from those people without costing more of the jobs these people provide?
That leaves spending less money. What a novel idea! We could cut spending. But if we did that the politicians might lose the ability to buy the votes of the 50 percent of the working class who don’t actually pay taxes. What to do? What to do?
Well, we’d better do something because while I have been writing this column those red numbers on the debtclock.org site have been steadily climbing and now I owe more than I did.
April 18 is Tax Day. April 18 is also the night that Paul Revere rode out to warn the New England countryside that the British regulars were out and about. It’s time somebody else saddled up to spread the alarm. Our grandchildren cannot afford anymore debt.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.