Follow the tax money

It’s tax time, which is always a good occasion to ask ourselves: Where are our income tax dollars going? And where would we like them to go?

Right now the biggest chunk of federal taxes—$558 billion, nearly 40 percent of the total—is going to past and present military spending, according to the policy research group National Priorities Project. America spends more on its military than all the other nations of the world combined. As the histories of fallen empires vividly inform us, such addiction to weapons and war is not healthy.

The amount is certain to rise as the deficit spending on the war in Iraq comes due, along with hundreds of billions of dollars in interest costs added on. In addition, the tens of thousands of Iraq war veterans returning with injuries are going to cost further hundreds of billions of dollars over the years.

Remember how the Bush administration initially said Iraq was going to cost only $50 billion to $60 billion? Well, if current requisitions are approved, the cost through 2007 will be nearly $500 billion, and the administration wants another $142 billion for 2008.

Meanwhile, we are spending a pittance on non-military tools of national security, such as diplomacy, economic-development assistance and locking down nuclear materials—just three-fourths of a penny of that tax dollar.

And what about global warming, perhaps the biggest threat of all? Investing in renewable energy and conservation amounts to only hundredths of a penny of the federal income-tax dollar. Indeed, all of our national parks, natural resources, pollution abatement and other environmental spending come to only a penny and a half.

Americans like to think of themselves as peace-loving people, but the truth is this country projects itself into the world as the most fearsome military power in history—and one that is more than willing to use that power. The irony, of course, is that this hugely muscular military is designed to fight the wars of the past and is largely useless in dealing with the asymmetrical, decentralized fighting of an insurgency or an international terrorism network such as al-Qaeda.

Don’t expect anything to change, however, unless we the taxpayers start insisting that our tax dollars be used for better purposes.