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A $21 Trillion Tax Cut

March 20, 2001

Tags Big GovernmentTaxes and SpendingU.S. EconomyFiscal Theory

President Bush has proposed a $1.6 trillion tax cut. I would like to suggest that the president modify his tax proposal. He should increase the size of his tax cut to $21 trillion.

Well, it’s not really a $21 trillion tax cut. It’s a $2.1 trillion tax cut. I got the $21 trillion figure by projecting it for ten years, just as Bush does with his. I don’t know why Washington projects these tax cuts for ten years, since federal budgets are only good for one year and can be changed any time thereafter.

But, you say, isn’t $2.1 trillion the entire federal budget for one year? Right you are. Let me explain my proposal, using fourth-grade math. [Note: If the following figures are off by a couple billion bucks, blame the OMB press office for not returning my phone call.]

The feds are going to extort $2,084 billion from us this year. But they are only going to spend $1,868 billion. If we eliminate all overpayments, you have a $216 billion tax cut. Now, let me give you back $210 billion more, which is what we pay in interest to those who were silly enough to lend money to the government. This has a side benefit of discouraging anyone from lending to the government again, as well as encouraging sound fiscal policy in the future. 

Total tax cut so far—$426 billion.

Let’s do some more easy tax cuts. Let’s eliminate a bunch of departments we could do without. In the name of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, I hereby abolish:

Agriculture  Grows no crops.

$19 billion

Commerce Neither makes nor sells merchandise. 

$6 billion


Know anyone educated by the Department of Education?

$34  billion


Jimmy Carter’s idea—need I say more? 

$17 billion

HHS Dump the FDA, our most lethal agency. Whatever
else HHS does, it’s bad. 

$54 billion


Inventor of "the projects"; destroyer of cities.

$37 billion

InteriorAn independent nation larger than France.

$9 billion

LaborEngages in no actual labor.

$12 billion

TransportationCapitol of pork. (Keep the Coast Guard.)

$48 billion

Corps of Eng

Causes floods. See FEMA.

$4 billion


This agency’s a disaster (in dealing with the floods caused
by the Corps of Engineers).

$3 billion

EPAIf you want an important job done badly,
give it to a federal bureaucracy.

$7 billion

Foreign Aid

Retirement fund for corrupt dictators/ bribing
Egypt and Israel to pretend to like each other.

$11 billion

NASAChallenger. Need I say more?

$14 billion

SBAThey only waste a billion dollars each year,
but they waste it magnificently.

$1 billion

By eliminating these useless and destructive agencies, we save an additional $276 billion, all of which goes into our tax cut. I still can’t believe the gigantic size of the budgets of HUD, HHS, Education, and Transportation. I’d love to spend time detailing how useless and destructive these agencies are. Instead, just see any book by James Bovard. 

Total tax cut so far—$702 billion.

The Justice Department/INS spends $20 billion. Cut out all the make-believe crimes like drug possession and failure to file form 57(e), and abolish the DEA, and we can cut their budget down to, say, $7 billion.

Net savings—$13 billion

Total tax cut so far—$715 billion.

The Treasury Department spends $14 billion. First, since we’re eliminating all federal taxes, bye, bye, IRS ($8 billion!). Next, abolish the ATF and strip U. S. Customs of its tax-collecting and strip-search functions and save 3 billion. That leaves the Treasury with about $3 billion to do goodness-knows-what.

Net savings—$11 billion

Total tax cut so far—$726 billion

Veteran’s Affairs spends $22 billion. They do important work, but they waste a lot of money too. They can get by with $14 billion. If not, we’ll raid the huge defense budget—but more about that later.

Net savings—$8 billion.

Total tax cut so far—$734 billion

Medicare and Medicaid (socialized medicine) have greatly harmed the health-care industry. They have caused a tremendous increase in the price of health-care services by artificially inflating demand; they have raised costs by separating consumption from payment; and they have led to the bureaucratization of this vital industry. Like all government programs, they deliver less for more. Scrap them, and we save $342 billion.

Total tax cut so far—$1,076 billion.

Socialism Security impoverishes working people, prevents them from investing in real wealth creation, funds the welfare-warfare state, and makes our parents and grandparents political pawns of the federal government. Scrap this scheme, and we save $438 billion. As Harry Browne suggests, we can sell off government assets and buy annuities for those dependent on Socialism Security and federal pensions (another $80 billion).

Total tax cut so far—$1,594 billion.

Bill Clinton ended welfare as he and Newt knew it, but they did not end welfare as we know it. The federal budget is loaded with redistributionist schemes that don’t work for anybody, except for the middle-class bureaucrats who make large salaries staffing them and the politicians who buy votes with them. When you keep your own money, it’s called criminal tax evasion; when others want to own your money, they call it an "entitlement." 

By providing incentives for people not to work or get married, the welfare state has greatly reinforced the social foundation of the permanent underclass—single-parent families headed mostly by women. It also directly impoverishes people by taxing them and every commodity, good, or service they buy. The poor can no longer afford to have the federal government look after them. True poverty, being that poverty not caused by misguided government programs, is a problem best dealt with at the local level. 

There is no space here to prove that government welfare doesn’t work. May I suggest a midsummer night’s stroll through the South Bronx? For those who would prefer a more abstract lesson, let me just say that the failure of government to solve problems can be explained by just four interrelated ideas that are so simple, you don’t have to go to college to learn them. In fact, odds are, you wouldn’t learn them in college anyway. I didn’t. 

First, the private sector is superior to government as a problem-solver because private transactions require the consent of all parties to them. When government interacts with people, there is always at least one party that is forced to participate and that is, therefore, abused and exploited. 

Second, private decisions are made by individuals and firms that know more about their particular circumstances than anyone else could possibly know. In contrast, governments cannot know as much about the persons and institutions they deal with and thus are forced to make and enforce arbitrary general rules that apply the same to different people and different circumstances, regardless of the absurd or unjust consequences.

Third, because, in the words of Frederic Bastiat, people are not clay, they always react and respond to the state’s use of power against them in ways that result in unintended and negative consequences from the state’s point of view, now fashionably called "blowback." 

Fourth, the widespread use of state power erodes private morality, as people learn from the state’s actions and rationalizations that it is acceptable to use force against others to achieve your goals. Unfortunately, the state and its politicians—corrupt, mendacious, rapacious, lascivious, and ruthless—have become the great moral teachers of our time.

Thus, the government’s vaunted power to do good is an illusion. The power that liberals wish to apply to social problems destroys the natural harmony among people that leads to peace and prosperity. People are on their best behavior when they can achieve their goals only by coordinating their plans and goals with willing others. People are at their worst when they can use power to achieve their goals while trampling on the plans, goals, and values of others. 

Statists believe that people are too stupid and irresponsible to run their own lives but, paradoxically, are smart enough and intelligent enough to vote for politicians who will appoint the bureaucrats who will tell them how to live. This is the conundrum that underlies our democracy today. 

The opposite is true: People in general are capable of managing their own affairs but are utterly incapable of managing the affairs of millions of their fellow citizens and are even less capable of running a global empire. For example, the war on poverty institutionalizes poverty, the war on drugs leads to the use of more dangerous drugs, urban "renewal" causes homelessness, the FDA kills people by depriving them of medicine, the war on racism increases racial tensions, the minimum wage causes unemployment, and on and on and on. Globally, our frequent wars and interventions have led only to more war, the expansion of communism, and, more recently, to the scourge of terrorism. Because the government is not and cannot be a force for good, even liberals should cheer, not fear, the dismantling of the regulatory and welfare state.

Scrap the federal welfare state, and we save $173 billion.

Total tax cut so far—$1,767 billion.

The 2001 budget proposes to spend $288 billion on national "defense." This is a misnomer. Virtually all of this money is spent on our national offense. It is spent to provide us with the wherewithal to fight one and one-half foreign wars and to police the world and intervene in the affairs of countries and regions far, far away, whose ancient antagonisms we do not understand and cannot suppress.

The true nature of our national defense posture has been obfuscated for many years. As for nuclear attack, we have no defense whatsoever. We have no way to stop the bombs from falling, and no reasonable person who doesn’t own stock in defense industries believes that we will have such a defense in the near future. Query: Which is easier, (1) figuring out how to shoot nuclear missiles out of the air, or (2) minding our own business so other countries don’t want to fire missiles at us? Only a Ph.D. in political science would not be able to answer that question.

The actual risk of a conventional military invasion of the United States has been exaggerated for many decades. The last time a hostile military force invaded one of the United States was 1861 when the Union army invaded Virginia. (Pearl Harbor was an air raid on a colony stolen from the natives.) The United States was never at risk of an invasion from Nazi Germany, and the United States is not now, nor will it be in the near or far future, in danger of an invasion from Communist China. Think about it. Five million Chinese troops—a number not adequate to subdue us—would need five thousand troop ships to convey them six thousand miles to our shores, escorted by the U. S. Air Force, where they would be six thousand miles from the nearest supply depot. 

What does threaten our security is our huge stockpile of nuclear weapons. Our strange love of nuclear weapons tempts us into pushing other countries around. These countries put two and two together and conclude that if they had nukes like we do, they could push other countries around as well. The world becomes one big nuclear coming-out party, courtesy of the United States, the only country ever to explode these ghastly weapons with people around.

We can drastically reduce our "defense" spending if we limit spending to our actual defense needs: deterring invasion by a foreign power. We can deter such an invasion and cut defense spending by relying on a militia rather than a standing army. The problem with standing armies is that they don’t stand; they march—usually into other countries. Also, since they are supported and controlled by the government, they can be used to suppress and control the people in times of crisis.

Here’s my idea. Scrap the million-man army—keeping a small number of technicians to care for the high-tech stuff—and replace it with a fifty million-man militia, as in Switzerland. If you take the number of able-bodied men in America between the ages of eighteen and fifty, and subtract the crazies and wimps, you could have about fifty million men ready to defend the United States from that imaginary, non-existent invasion from the Chinese that will never happen. With each militiaman armed with an assault rifle, pistol, and shotgun (for old times’ sake), they should be able to handle that five million-man Chinese army (which would already have been blown out of the water by our streamlined Air Force and Navy somewhere around the Philippine Sea.)

Not only is a militia fully capable of defending the nation from attack—and, therefore, of deterring such a futile attack in the first place—but militias enhance security in other ways as well. Since militias, unlike standing armies, do actually stand and defend, and do not march and invade, they are no threat to the security of other nations. They therefore encourage other nations to de-escalate their own military machines and concerns and reduce the prospect of conventional or nuclear "preemptive strikes." 

The other beauty of militias is that they just happen to solve a fundamental political problem. We give the government military power to deter foreign invasion. How do we prevent the evil that characterized the twentieth century, a state’s use of the military to tyrannize, exploit, draft, overtax, conscript, and massly murder its own people? The militia system reduces such risk to an absolute minimum by giving the bulk of the military power—grunts on the ground with guns—to the people themselves. I guess the framers of the Second Amendment may have known a thing or two about history and political science after all.

We’ll still need a much smaller high-tech professional navy and air force—practice blowing up troop ships, boys—but, with a vastly reduced mission, we can drastically cut the offense budget. I think the military can get by with $70 billion, which is five times as much as China spends. But no more thousand-dollar toilet seats.

Net Savings—$218 billion.

Total tax cut so far—$1,985 billion

Finally, we get to the three branches of government actually authorized by the Constitution. Congress’s budget is $3 billion. I’ve been to the Russell Office building. These people live like kings. No wonder they never leave to go back to the old hometown. How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen D. C.? Give each congressman a $2 million budget—more than they deserve. Round it off to an even billion.

Net Savings—$2 billion

Total tax cut so far—$1,987 billion

The judiciary’s budget is $4 billion. Even though resolving disputes is the main rationale for government, their budget is still too high. Since we’re getting rid of much of the federal court workload—drug and other imaginary crimes and administrative suits for or against the alphabet-soup agencies—they should be able to get by with $2 billion.

Net Savings—$2 billion

Total tax cut so far—$1,989 billion

The president’s own office expense is less than a billion. I know we could gut it with no ill effects. After all, Lincoln ran a military dictatorship with two secretaries. But, it’s less than a billion, and if you think I am going to start figuring out fractions of a billion, you’re crazy. Round it up to $1 billion.

So, we have whittled the federal budget down to about $100 billion. That amounts to a $2 trillion tax cut. Not bad for one short article. But I promised a 2.1 trillion tax cut; I still owe you another $100 billion.

My idea for achieving that is so simple that no Ph.D. in public administration would ever think of it. A tax is the forcible seizure of private wealth by the state. Taxation violates the Eighth Commandment’s ban on theft and violates the individual’s natural moral right to own himself and own the products of his own labor. Thus, taxation—contrary to that overrated jurist in a perpetually bad mood, Oliver Wendell Holmes—is incompatible with civilization. What is civilization, after all, but that state of affairs in which human beings deal with one another, not by brute force, but by reason, resulting in a flowering of all the products of reason: culture, science, art, community, economy, and philosophy? 

The twentieth century proved, if you were paying any attention, that taxation is the great enemy of civilization. How do you think Hitler paid for that army? With voluntary contributions? How did Stalin pay for the Gulag Archipelago? With bake sales? Ultimately, all the hot, warm, and cold wars and genocides and classicides and nuclearicides of the dismal twentieth century were paid for by taxation. Barbarism is the price we pay for taxation.

Without taxation, how do we raise that $100 billion to fund the restoration of freedom? Here’s my plan. All 200 million Americans of voting age would get a statement from the government suggesting that they pay their fair share of the budget. With a budget of $100 billion, that would amount to a mere $500 per person. 

I truly believe that the vast majority would send in their money. Some would send in more; some would send in less; some would send in nothing at all. That’s OK. That would mean merely that they believe their funds would be better spent elsewhere. If the federal government is unable to convince those people that its good works deserve their support, the government will have to either get the money elsewhere or cut its budget—just like everyone else does. And don’t tell me about "free riders." It’s my plan that eliminates the free riders: people who live at the expense of unwilling others. Besides, I’d rather have a few "free riders" than have a whole nation of tax slaves (unfree carriers).

The federal government would have a few carrots and sticks to use, however. Though no one would be denied protection of the law for their failure to contribute, there are certain peripheral rights and benefits that could be denied to recalcitrant citizens. First, no pay, no vote. The fairness of that is obvious. We’ll exempt people who are absolutely disabled from working and unable to pay. Able-bodied people who are unable to contribute could contribute in-kind services instead of money to fulfill their moral obligation. So, no one can complain that my proposal involves any sort of poll tax. 

Second, no pay, no jury trial in civil cases. If you have a civil suit, tell it to the judge! Frankly, I would send my money in. Nonpayers would be charged slightly higher user fees for various services, passports, court filing fees, and so on. Nonpayers would be barred from government employment. These and other gentle inducements could be used to persuade people to contribute. No fundamental rights would be taken away, however, and, if you did not contribute, no IRS agents could have you arrested, seize your assets, or shoot you dead. There would be no taxes!

All in all, though, I think the vast majority will contribute. Remember, most people will be saving thousands of dollars with my $2.1 trillion tax cut. Also, the economy—unburdened by enormous taxes and the numerous bureaucracies we have eliminated—will soar, providing us with far greater resources to pay the measly 500 bucks, the cost of two days’ vacation.

So there you have it: a $2.1 trillion tax cut that restores the constitutional republic and dismantles our 140-country, global military empire—the fountain of terrorism, the main stimulus to an insane global nuclear arms race, and the greatest threat to our national security in the twenty-first century. 

On April 15th, give your congressmen a taxing experience: E-mail them a copy of this article.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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