Our Tax Burden:
Federal income taxes are instruments of war. Out of $3.3 trillion in total tax revenue secured by the US government, approximately $738 billion is earmarked for current military expenditures, and over $200 billion for past military obligations, according to the Defense Appropriations Bill, 2020.
In other words, roughly 1/3 of total taxes paid annually fund the military. This year’s military budget has been increased $20 billion over 2019. The current military budget is over 15 times the education budget, which was cut by $8 billion to $59.9 billion this year.
Funding for military spills over into arming and training police departments throughout the country. These budget expenditures are difficult to track, as some of the funding is routed through the Department of Agriculture, for example. It’s unclear how the mission of the department of agriculture relates to funding militarization of police departments.
Individuals—you and I pay $2.7 trillion or approximately 80 percent of the government tax through income and payroll tax. US corporations pay approximately 9 percent. Individuals pay the overwhelming majority of taxes to support what’s been referred to as the military- industrial complex, while corporations get a free ride, no matter how patriotic they claim to be.
Our Treasury spends more on military and armaments by far than all top 15 other countries combined. The magnitude of the difference is quite shocking. The pie chart below is in 2017 dollars, and since then we’ve added over $100 billion annually.
Viewed differently, U.S. individual taxpayers pay the military to keep the world “safe” for American corporations to generate high levels of profit and skip out on paying their fair share of income taxes. US corporate tax avoidance schemes are estimated in the range of $1.7 trillion.
Wars Are Elusive & Expensive:
The federal government formally set up the U.S. tax system to pay for the Civil War. It levied the first income tax under the Revenue Act of 1861. This allowed the North to outspend the Confederate States by a ratio of 3 to 1: $68 billion to $23 billion (2019 dollars; USA Today, WSJ, 24/7). Once this war tax was ensconced, it never left the treasury as a category of collection and expenditure.
What has changed is that the U.S. doesn’t need to declare war to collect and spend billions on military and weapons—and faulty campaigns. The U.S. hasn’t, in fact, formally declared war since 1942, when it announced war against Axis-allied Hungry, Bulgaria, and Romania.
The U.S. instead presents itself as a nation of peacekeepers. Congress, under the U.S. Constitution, has the primary authority to declare war. It avoids the label of war by authorizing military expenditures for the President to use at his discretion in countries of conflict. The U.S. Congress is all too willing to cede authority to the Executive Branch to spend our money on war with little accountability, financially or politically. They are essentially myopic and ethically bankrupt—Republicans and Democrats alike.
Wars such as Vietnam—labeled a “skirmish”– cost roughly $900 billion; Iraq, a case of mistaken intelligence—where no weapons of mass destruction were ever found— $1 trillion and the 18-year war in Afghanistan, for which it’s still not clear what the benefits are, cost $2 trillion (NY Times, what did the U.S. get for $2 trillion in Afghanistan, December 9, 2019; 2019 dollars). This amounts to roughly $4 trillion dollars spent on arguably questionable and failed campaigns.
These costs do not include the subsequent bills for human misery, physical and mental suffering including treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome, alcohol and drug abuse. Actual and real costs remain undisclosed, and continue for generations; they may even double or triple the original amounts.
The U.S. spent $10 billion in counter-narcotics efforts in the war in Afghanistan. This was meant to stop farmers from growing poppies to make heroin for sale primarily in the U.S. The only problem is that the money was spent and the heroin trade remains as robust as ever today. Veterans continue to suffer from high rates of drug abuse. The human cost is staggering (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 2020).
The costs of some wars were essentially hidden from taxpayers. The Spanish-American War, between the U.S. and Spain, for example, was fought for roughly eight months in 1898, costing over $10 billion (2019 dollars) and was paid for by a little known 3 percent tax on long- distance phone bills, generating about $6 billion in general excises taxes annually at the point it was stopped in 2006. The Federal government made money off of you to pay for a war that took place over 108 years before payment was stopped.
Julia Butterfly, Saving More Than Trees:
Tax resistance is a civil action with legal merit. It has its roots in the Magna Carta in the 13th century. King John of England doubled and tripled taxes to pay for the war against France. The population experienced these taxes as an extreme burden, and an uprising ensued. The Magna has over 60 chapters devoted to tax limitations and spells out the origins of ‘no taxation without representation’.
The American Revolution, which was more of a revolt than genuine revolution, was triggered not by high taxes, but by arbitrary taxes levied by the British on the Colonies. This resulted in a tax revolt captured in the famous speech given by Patrick Henry against the King of England, the memorable quote of which is “ Give me liberty or give me death”.
In contemporary history, Julia Hill, known as Julia “Butterfly”, an American environmental activist most widely known for having lived in a 180-foot tall roughly 1500-year old California tree for 738 days between December 10, 1997, and December 18, 1999. She was protesting the clear cutting of trees and redwoods by loggers of Pacific Lumber Company. In the end, she and other activists succeed in negotiating a deal that saved many ancient redwood trees.
What’s little known about Ms. Hill is that she is a tax redirection advocate, resisting payment of about $150,00 in federal taxes, donating the money to after-school programs and other social impact causes. According to Ms. Hill, “I’m not refusing to pay my taxes; I’m actually paying them but I’m paying them where they belong because you (federal government) refuse to do so” (Wikipedia.org, 2020).
Redirecting tax dollars is a sound strategy, but may cause the IRS to take action by placing a lien on individual bank accounts. A National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee supports individuals who refuse to pay for war, promoting war tax resistance in the context of nonviolent strategies for social change. In addition, War Resistors’ International helps individuals clarify issues and provides guidelines and suggestions for how to resist paying war taxes.
The next time some politician tries to tell you that we don’t have the money for social programs, tell him or her to stop wasting money on military budgets and spend it where it matters most, here at home.
Take Back The Treasury:
Following are five demands highlighted to reduce military expenditures, repurpose taxes, and get corporations to pay their fair share. You can present these demands—or create your own— to your representatives and companies. Call Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders and tell them to “Take Back The Treasury”.
What my research makes clear is that the problem is not the availability of money derived from taxes, but rather corporations that avoid payments and the use of large amounts of money to fund bloated military budgets and undeclared wars.
1. Triple expenditures for mental health programs by cutting military spending. Direct funding of mental health by the U.S. government in 2017, for example, was $375.3 million, with proposed cuts by President Trump of $42.8 million. Imagine that just 10 percent of what was spent on counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan was applied to the U.S. $1 billion would become available to triple the current budget
2.Reduce military expenditures by 20 percent overall to immediately free up approximately $150 billion annually to put towards education and related programs. This would triple the budget and change the face of education permanently. This is imperative for the future of our country.
3. Increase corporate tax rates to 50 percent, and demand that all corporations must pay a minimum tax on any profit of 15 percent. If this applied to Amazon, for example, it would have generated an additional $5 billion in tax for 2019, instead of paying zero. Corporation, after WWII, for example, paid significantly higher tax rates, 50-80 percent on income, and still made profits to fuel growth. The key is increased productivity and market demand, not tax rates per se.
4. Demand an end to corporations sheltering money overseas. Insist that companies repatriate $1.7 trillion and pay taxes on their earnings to assist with the ‘social good’. No more free rides.
5. Attend a shareholder meeting or call your identified company and demand they start paying their fair share of taxes. Be prepared to tell the company how much tax they have avoided paying. You can calculate this by reviewing the numbers presented in corporate financial documents, 10K or annual report.
You’ll, most likely, finds lots of deductions that should be cancelled and/or money placed in foreign domiciles, like Ireland, Bahamas or Cayman Islands. Apple computer, for example, loved sheltering billions of dollars in Ireland, but then again they’re perceived as “cool.”