Survey results: Americans insist on government benefits but don't want to pay for them


The Economist asked Americans: "What is the best way to cut the deficit?"

5% said, "increase taxes."

62% said, "reduce government spending."

OK, said The Economist. "Here is a list of things the federal government spends money on. Which things should the government spend less on?"

As you can see in the chart above, over two-thirds of Americans don't want to reduce spending on anything single category, except foreign aid. And as Mother Jones points out, foreign aid represents less than 1% of America's total spending.

Beyond that, there were only four areas that even a quarter of the population was willing to cut: mass transit, agriculture, housing, and the environment. At a rough guess, these areas account for about 3% of the federal budget. You could slash their budgets by a third and still barely make a dent in federal spending.

Party on!


    1. Anon #2,

      Actually, United States war spending is in excess of $1 trillion, see #40 above, and it is at least 6% of GDP and to least 25% of total government spending.

      A lot of the stats reveal an “I got mine” attitude: 78% want to continue spending on killing foreigners, 88% want to continue subsidizing their cars, but at least 17% of them want to cut the buses and subway systems, etc.

      1. “Actually, United States war spending is in excess of $1 trillion, see #40 above, and it is at least 6% of GDP and to least 25% of total government spending.”

        This is prime evidence that we have virtually no real power to control our government – the overwhelming majority of citizens oppose our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and soon enough a bit of Iran and Pakistan.

        When an overwhelming majority of citizens are unable to stop their government from spending 25% of its budget on something that we vehemently oppose, what are the chances we can enact any kind of real change on less contentious issues?

        This is, in part, why I’m opposed to compulsory taxation – it makes tax protest virtually impossible, the money is in their hands before it’s in mine.

  1. I’ve never understood why people don’t get this. Sh*t is expensive & sh*t costs money. They want their Police and teachers to get paid what they deserve!!!…bt then where do they think the money comes from? Taxes!! They want their terrorists to be killed??!! Wait, that takes money too!!

    1. You are right! I call them “war taxes.” “Defense,” ha! Welfare to the military industrial complex, is more like it.

  2. The interpretation of this data is a little off. The table does not show that “over two-thirds of Americans don’t want to reduce spending on anything, except foreign aid” – it shows that the only single service which has over two-thirds agreement on cuts is foreign aid. It also shows that 12% of the sample don’t want any of the services cut. It would be more accurate to say “88% of the sample wanted cuts in at least one area, with the most popular area to cut being foreign aid, with 71% support”.

    1. re: apoxia. You also seem to be a little off with your criticism. The data clearly say that the reduction of spending on any specific area (other than foreign aid) is not supported by more than 1/3 of the population. The error is only the implication that the 2/3 that are against each thing are the same 2/3 across the board, e.g. 2/3 don’t support cutting any single category. A little bit of a semantic slip up but the point is still solid.

    2. You are correct it’s not saying the majority don’t want cuts. But the reality is that unless 60-70% of people are behind any given cut it will not happen.

      Any one of those line items you pick with only 20% of people behind them end up in a bill and you as a senator votes for it…congratulations, you lost your seat. Why? Well 80% of people don’t want that and will hate you and may vote you out.

      This is why the numbers as represented are entirely valid. Without the majority agreeing on a place to cut no law maker is going to propose said cut. It would be suicide.

  3. “Americans insist on government benefits but don’t want to pay for them.”

    Not sure what that means. I’ve paid taxes my entire working life, on everything I’ve earned and everything I’ve purchased. Who exactly are you talking about? Or am I way off base here?

    1. Teller, I think you’re missing the point. Given that US government spending is in excess of tax revenues at this time, there are really only two choices: Cut spending or increase revenues. US voters, whether directly or indirectly, have approved of and accepted increased spending on government services. At the same time, they do *not* want their taxes to increase.

      Your paying taxes for your entire working life doesn’t really say anything about the level of taxation. You could have made the exact same claim if you were paying $1 a year in taxes. The simple truth is: The current tax revenue is not sustainable at the current spending levels. There’s room for debate as to how the situation can be rectified, but you certainly *aren’t* paying enough taxes at the moment. No one in the US is.

      1. “US voters, whether directly or indirectly, have approved of and accepted increased spending on government services”

        No, closed door sessions and unreviewed legislation stuffed with pork blindly passed by our ‘representatives’ are what causes gov’t spending to go up.

        Stop pretending we have a say in anything that actually matters.

      2. Appreciate your patient explanation. My needs are simple: I only want back what I’ve put in. And the person “making the exact same claim” can get back the $1 a year they’ve been putting in. Voila. (teller slaps hands together)

        1. @Teller

          I want back more than I put in. Right now, when I am in a low tax bracket and don’t make very much money (so don’t pay that much in taxes). Then I want to make a lot more money and pay in more than I get out. I think that’s how it should work. From each according to his abilities….

          1. “I am in a low tax bracket and don’t make very much money (so don’t pay that much in taxes).”

            lets see, last year i made $31k gross, and ultimately got to keep ~$24k. Then that all got shoved through sales tax, gas tax, alcohol tax, cigarette tax, food service tax etc, bringing my total take home down another $2400 (if we just assume 10% ish)

            So, here i am in San Jose, and of my measly $31k i really got to have about $21k.

            and that’s ‘not that much’? i’m not sure what bracket im in but it’s can’t be very high. and yet at the end of the say, ~1/3 of my money goes to gov’t.

          2. right. by your estimates, you paid in about $10K. All I’m saying is that, if I were you, I’d want more than $10K out from the gov’t. They get that money by taxing the plenty of folks in the greater San Jose area who make a shit ton more than you do at a very high rate. And those people get less out than they put in. It costs a lot to build a highway, maintain a fire department, etc. All I’m saying is that the solution, in my opinion, should come more from raising taxes on the wealthy than cutting services that serve everyone, especially the less wealthy.

          3. “It costs a lot to build a highway, maintain a fire department, etc. All I’m saying is that the solution, in my opinion, should come more from raising taxes on the wealthy than cutting services that serve everyone, especially the less wealthy.”


            “the top 10 percent of earners — households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 — paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.”

            The rich are taxed too much already. I’m on the low end and i’m paying around 30%. EVERYONE is being taxed too much already. Taxes and spending both need to come down.

            I seem to recall our beloved President saying something about ‘living with our means’?

            I say we make huge tax cuts, and believe me, the services that need to survive, will survive.

            As for expecting back more than one puts in, that’s silly. I’m not against all taxation. But surely my country isn’t providing me with services costing $10k a year. Roads, Police, Firemen. I have no need nor use for any other public services, and thus far, haven’t needed #2 or #3 – however i am happy to pay into a system that supports them, because they do help people all the time.

          4. “the top 10 percent of earners — households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 — paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.”

            yes, but the burden on them for paying this is minuscule compared to the burden on the poor. They should pay more. The top 10% make tons of money. They should pay tons.

          5. “the top 10 percent of earners — households making an average of $366,400 in 2006”

            With a handful of these households making billions, it pulls the average far far away from the 90% percentile, which is only $104,700. Be careful with sweeping generalizations about this group making a ton and needing to pay a ton. Imagine supporting a family of 4 in SF, Chicago, San Jose, anywhere near NYC, etc. on $104k. You can certainly do it, but you are by no means rich.

            You have to get all the way to the 99% percentile to hit $382,600 (near the quoted average figure of the top decile). You’re mistakenly thinking that this 1% of the population can pay for the other 99%. Ask California how that worked for them.

          6. Wow, so a family of four making more than $100,000 in SF just scrapes by, huh? I’ll have to let my mother know that after she supported our family of four on half that. Both my brother and I went to college too, though we did have to earn scholarships as well.

            I wish more people in the US could admit when they aren’t middle class. I’m sick of poor people I know insisting they’re not poor to feel better (and scapegoat other poor people), and I’m sick of rich people I know poormouthing to feel less guilty. It’s hard to make reasonable financial decisions when you can’t honestly compare yourself to other people.

          7. oh, and if you don’t think you get $10K worth of value out of the government, I think you should look quality of life in countries without high levels of spending. Open sewers, crappy roads, no infrastructure, no safety. Enjoy.

          8. I think your trolling is showing:
            “Roads, Police, Firemen. I have no need nor use for any other public services…”

          9. Saying government doesn’t provide you with services costing $10K per year is hopelessly naive. No use for other government services? How much would you be making if you were not taking advantage of the benefits conferred to you by earlier generations, through government and taxation? What are the chances you would have even have survived past infancy without clean water or protections form disease? If you live in this country and put in only $10K to the system, you are coming out FAR ahead of the game.

            Anyone maintaining they don’t get much value from the taxes they pay is saying that only because they have lived their life in a place with good government. The ability to call for police, fire, or medical help is far from a universal experience. The existence of a generally reliable legal system, reasonable sanitation and public health, a stable currency, the expectation that contracts can be enforced (a prerequisite for business beyond the most basic and local types), a banking system that allows us to make investments and safeguards our money, legal property rights, the ability to use equity in property to start a business, and the expectation that laws will be applied with reasonable fairness and justice are all things we owe to and that are maintained by our government. Americans today take these things for granted, but they are hard won features of good government, they had to be paid for, and most people in this world don’t have them.

            Government programs resulted in the creation of the microprocessor, started the internet, and put up the GPS satellites (which never would have worked as a private undertaking), resulting in endless opportunities for private enterprise. Private enterprises that increased the size of the economy, improved our standard of living, made us safer- and increased the tax base. The government policies that created those results have returned far more than their cost, and they all had opponents at the time. The government has funded medical research and maintains public safety (FAA, FDA, CDC, EPA), helps deliver cleaner air and water, and has largely eliminated the sources of the infectious diseases that ended many of our forefather’s lives. Imperfect as those agencies might be, do you really want to live without the benefits they confer? If so, there are plenty of countries in the world to chose from.

            Our government has built up an unequaled higher education system and, through government programs after WWII, began providing higher education to almost everyone who wanted it, rather than just to the children of the wealthy. Those were investments in the future. Your standard of living and possibly even your survival is built on such investments.

            You may be willing to cash in on the sacrifice, sweat, blood, and yes, taxes, of pervious generations and be unwilling to contribute anything for the public good yourself. Like a petulant adolescent who thinks food and shelter just appear magically, you may think you’re “making it on you own”, failing to understand how this country’s prosperity is profoundly dependent on investments made by previous generations. Fortunately we still have some responsible adults around.

            Our government is, and will probably always be, far from perfect. But these notions of some libertarian paradise if it all falls apart are just utopian nonsense.

          10. I want to give you an award. And hugs. So many hugs and awards. Hugs made of award statues. This is the best way of saying the simplest, most profoundly, unavoidably true facts of governing that somehow people (like nutbastard) somehow manage to miss.

          11. RE: #86

            Thank you for a well reasoned and intelligently written argument. It should be required reading for every teabagger and libertarian.

            Unfortunately, understanding it is probably beyond the comprehension skills of those who need to hear it most.

          12. Very well said! Sadly many people in the U.S. seem to think that they are innately entitled to their high standard of living. For the majority of human beings wealth is owning more than one pair of shoes, and security is sleeping without fear of armed men dragging you from your bed. Most Americans don’t really know what an open sewer is, and can’t imagine what it would be like to live without electricity or running water, and how long it’s taken to build the infrastructure we enjoy.

          13. “last year i made $31k gross, and ultimately got to keep ~$24k”

            Did you just count health insurance as a tax?

          14. No. I am very fortunate and health insurance runs me around $17 a week. I count that as cost of living, a voluntary expenditure that I feel is wise. That comes out of the remaining $21k.

          15. Then that all got shoved through sales tax, gas tax, alcohol tax, cigarette tax, food service tax etc, bringing my total take home down

            So stop buying crap you really don’t need, take mass transit, cut down the boozing, quit smoking and make a sandwich instead of feeding your face at the food court. Then when you complain about government spending, blaming Democrats (and continuing to ignore the fact that it was the GOP who pissed away a titanic surplus and dismissed concerns by saying “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”), maybe you’ll get some sympathy. Your fingerpointing at the left will still be silly, but at least some folks may feel sorry for you.

          16. I believe, then, that you fall into one of two categories:

            1) You are making a lot of money and paying a lot in taxes. I bet you still have a lot left over. Enjoy your quality of life and helping pay for a civilized society.

            2) You are making no a lot of money (still could be quite a decent living, but you’re not super rich). Please stop driving on federally funded roads, and when your house is on fire, please make sure that no one calls the FD. Because what you are paying does not equal the proportional cost of what you are using.

            The only way is to tax the rich at a higher percent. They’ll still be rich. The poor need more help than the rich.

      3. There are actually three. The third is doing both. It really isn’t and shouldn’t be one or the other.

  4. It’s somewhat encouraging to see 22% willing to cut defense spending, given that’s a ludicrously large portion of the discretionary budget.

  5. I’m not an economist, but what if you took a few percent from everything? When I’m looking for ways to save, I don’t cut FOOD from the budget entirely, but I’ll do a little less of everything, including less dining out and less Trader Joe’s/more Wal-Mart groceries. Does cutting 2% from all of the above make any difference? Can education or the environment survive on 2% less?

    1. Based on my experience working in a government department, you could sack 50% of the government workforce and nothing would change.

  6. *Cough*democrats*Cough*

    Howabout this:

    We cut military spending by 50%
    We abolish the fractional reserve banking system
    We legalize drugs, guns, and prostitution
    We fire all chickenshit ticket-nanny traffic cops
    We increase import duties and lower export costs
    We make large public investments in developing a domestic energy supply
    We release all nonviolent drug offenders from prison
    We then abolish property and income tax
    and fire all the bureaucratic fat that cannot convincingly and rationally justify their positions.

    1. I think I’m cluing in to why your name is “nutbastard” and not “economist.”

      1. “I think I’m cluing in to why your name is “nutbastard” and not “economist.””

        ‘economist’ was taken when i signed up.

    2. Fractional reserve banking has no bearing on government spending, and makes more credit available to everyone, thus stimulating the economy. Eliminating it would be disastrous because an economy the size of the United States needs large amounts of credit. You’re arguing that we try to run a 21st Century economy with an 18th Century banking system. It simply doesn’t work.

      Abolishing the property and income taxes would be disastrous. There simply isn’t enough money to make up the missing funds, or any reasonable percentage of the missing funds from tariffs. All imposing tariffs would do is to increase the costs of almost every good sold in the US (remember we have huge trade deficit), and result in counter tariffs being imposed on all our exports, thus killing our export markets. It’s a recipe for sinking the entire economy in on fell swoop.

      Even your screed illustrates the Economist’s point because you want to cripple the economy, eliminate all government revenue, but then at the same time “make large public investments.” Where the hell do you think that money is going to come from? “Bureaucratic fat?” Funny how everyone only finds fat in the things they don’t like.

      Your post illustrates exactly why the Ron-Paul-esuqe “libertarian” (but really Anarcho-capitalisits) don’t have any serious practical ideas.

      1. “It’s a recipe for sinking the entire economy in on fell swoop.”

        you’re damn right it is – no amount of incremental modifications to our existing system will ever result in anything positive. actually, all the excessive government spending is a good thing in my eyes – i welcome anything that will accelerate the eventual collapse, and thus provide an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. The current system is a cancerous hydra, and lopping off one or two heads isn’t going to cut it. So you feed it til it’s stomach ruptures.

    3. Your point would probably have come across better if you’d left off the pointless trollery about Democrats.

      As it is, it just kinda makes your post seem very Glenn Beckish.

    4. You forgot to ask for a pony.

      How about this:

      1. The government should inform the people of how revenue is spent.

      2. The people should avail themselves of this information.

      3. The people should elect candidates whose policy proposals are at least consistent with this information, meaning, for example, not based on trimming some unspecified quantity of “bureaucratic fat”.

      1. taxes are taxes – it’s just a particularly frustrating example of what i consider a frivolous use of revenue.

        also, i thought states did get pretty hefty chunks of federal money for law enforcement. could be wrong. *shrugs*

      2. Actually, a couple of years ago, I got caught speeding on the George Washington Parkway by a park ranger speed trap. So, yes, traffic cops are Federal employees where I come from — and probably where you come from as well.

  7. That’s not a very good way to phrase the question. Raising the top tax bracket back up to 90%, as it was during America’s prosperous fifties and sixties, may be a far more popular step towards a solution.

  8. I’m not sure that you’re reading those results properly. They don’t say that “over two-thirds of Americans don’t want to reduce spending on anything, except foreign aid”. It could also mean that folks surveyed didn’t agree on precisely which categories should be reduced.

    For the same reason you can have 100% election turnout yet have no single candidate gain a majority, you can have plenty of people expressing individual preferences without a single collective preference leaping to the fore.

  9. I think death panels would be a great way to reduce federal deficits. Social Security, Medicare, and Veteran’s Benefits are all significant sources of spending and eliminating retired people would reduce them quite a bit. Eliminating retired people (if done after 1/1/11, when the estate tax holiday ends) would also trigger an increase in tax revenue as the estates of said people is taxed.
    I suppose a similar approach could be taken with unemployed people, since they’re not generating any tax revenue either.
    Sure- it’s a callous policy, but anything is better than raising taxes and becoming a socialist dystopia like, say, The Netherlands.

  10. Clearly, someone needs to create an interactive graphic or game based around real US budget numbers, so people can see where the money is going, and how little the unpopular stuff costs.

    I fear the (appointed? elected?) tribunals that @nutbastard seems to be proposing to fire “all the bureaucratic fat”. There’s no justice like mob justice, eh?

    1. Brianary, back in the mid-’90s I worked on just such a game. Called Reinventing America, it was sponsored by the Mary and John R Markle Foundation as an exploration of using the web to educate people. Our results were pretty much what The Economist found: Taken as a group, Americans want their taxes cut, but they don’t want cuts in the things those taxes pay for, except for a handful of minor programs that don’t add up to a significant piece of the deficit.

      Me, I’d reduce military spending first, then cut agricultural subsidies, then I’d reduce military spending some more.

    2. @brianary: There are at least a couple of online budget simulation games:

      This one’s a fancy flash game with lots of bells and whistles. I haven’t tried it out yet, so I have no idea how good, or how up-to-date it is; but it might be worth a try:

      This one’s a much simpler HTML game. It’s a bit outdated; but I do recall playing it a couple of years ago and found it interesting:

  11. It would be nice if the accurately portrayed war spending instead of calling it defense, because seriously, what does our military defend other than the profits of huge corporations?

  12. Taxation is theft. Public services are what we deserve.

    It’s the same thing in the UK, where the two main parties can’t even be honest that they’ll be making huge cuts or increasing taxes.

  13. Not to mention that foreign aid programs spread goodwill and therefore that > 1% of our spending probably does more to keep Americans safe from angry foreigners than our entire military budget.

  14. Yeah, survey results reading fail. As far as I can see, 100% of people who want services cut want some service cut, they just don’t agree on which services.

    1. “As far as I can see, 100% of people who want services cut want some service cut, they just don’t agree on which services.”

      I’m not sure about that. I think that with the data provided in the chart, you can’t infer that. I think you could infer that 71% of people who want services cut want at least one service cut.

  15. This is timely…
    Next week, Tax Day ’10, the various versions of the Tea Party (what do we call them? Earl Grey? Chai?) will be holding rallies all across this great land of ours, complaining about the way they are being taxed, the way it is being spent, ad nauseum (still to this wonder where they were when we went to war in Iraq; talk about a tax drain). Locally, there is a big bash planned for downtown.
    As I was driving from downtown today, along a Kennedy-era expressway, I couldn’t help but notice how the tax reductions have helped our fair city. The edges of the expressway are crumbling, the right of way becoming choked with weeds. It connects to a bridge that is now under near constant repair as the city nickel and dimes the work. Farther afield, our school system is a complete wreck, hemorrhaging talent and students. Infrastructure and education aside, there are so many other big problems here as well.
    We want these things fixed, but try, just try, to even suggest taxes.
    We’re a spoiled lot, you know.

  16. It’s all how you phrase it. I wonder what percentage would have selected to eliminate “Illegal, ineffective, and counterproductive international intervention which gives the opposite of the desired results” if it said that instead of “defense”. Dumping that one item would probably set the budget straight.

  17. Roads and bridges are for pussies. Don’t even get me started on that damn alphabet.

  18. Defense spending is the major issue. Always will be. The 2011 Budget Request for Military spending is 1 to 1.2 trillion. That’s right for you playing the home game over an ocean, that’s 654.8 Billion British Pounds or 748.5 Billion Euros.

    $721.3 billion of that is the Department of defense.
    This doesn’t take into account the around $253 Billion we owe in interest on debt we’ve accrued in previous wars every year.

    This year:
    Operations and maintenance – $283.3 billion
    Military Personnel – $154.2 billion
    Procurement – $140.1 billion

    I’m leaving out R&D, family housing, and construction to just stick with warm bodies and cold steel.

    But that’s $577.6 billion…

    It needs a little trim. That way we can cut down on cold bodies and warm steel in addition to saving a nice chunk of change. Withdraw troops that have been held past standard active duty, phase out and sell off some installations overseas, and shift that money into the military debt and family services for the troops. That way we don’t shaft those who entered for an education in by letting them finish out their duties, and get them back to productive society with some of the skills they learned in service to pay taxes.

  19. I recommend folks read through this article:
    While on the surface this article is about debunking “The myth of the Clinton-era budget surplus”, (and thus it is a bit slanted to the right) it does do a *great* job explaining the kind of trickery that *every* administration/congress uses to talk about the US budget / deficit numbers in order to make their various political points (instead of making financial ones). Recommended as educational reading. Sigh.

    1. “…and thus it is a bit slanted to the right.”
      A bit? A 45 degree angle has less slant…

    2. it does do a *great* job explaining the kind of trickery that *every* administration/congress uses

      The author’s assertion that the surplus was a “myth” is itself trickery.

      For a few years, the government took in more money than it spent; by definition, that is a surplus.

      The author, however, has decided that Social Security revenue cannot be counted as revenue – arguable, at least – and without that revenue, the government ran a deficit.

      Well, yeah, if you pretend that enough revenue isn’t revenue, you can make any surplus a “myth.”

  20. Not to mention that foreign aid programs spread goodwill and therefore that > 1% of our spending probably does more to keep Americans safe from angry foreigners than our entire military budget.

    I’m mostly opposed to foreign aid because it seems to go to prop up pro-US regimes rather than benefit real people. I have no problem with giving aid to earthquake victims or helping during a famine, but cutting a monthly check to the local puppet government is just another crypto-military strategy for maintaining our dominance.

    1. No duh. For example, aid to Pakistan is basically a bribe to have their government favor policies that are against the Taliban. I suppose you would like to have a resurgent Taliban lead a movement to take over a nuclear power like Pakistan? Really? I’m sorry, realpolitik is how the world works.

      1. If you say so.

        No, really. Only if you say so.

        Realpolitik exists solely because you allow it.

    2. @ Antinous:

      “… but cutting a monthly check to the local puppet government is just another crypto-military strategy for maintaining our dominance

      Agreed. BTW, ever look at the *shocking* amounts of filthy lucre that the USA shovels annually into Israel’s coffers?

      Just saying.

    1. actually, i was just invited to be on the grand jury for my county.

      wish i had the time/money to do it.

  21. Many individual Americans have conducted their personal finances in the same way over the past decade: they wanted everything but didn’t want to pay for it. People went bankrupt and walked away from a jillion dollars of debt that they had no intention of ever paying.

    Now you expect us to be -surprised- when you say that Americans want things without paying for them?

  22. Alright, scratch my over the top method.

    I’ll keep it simple. I can compromise.

    Cut military spending by 50%
    Legalize drugs / release NVDO’s
    Abolish the Federal Reserve

    despite the ensuing mayhem during the readjustment period, when things settled down nobody could argue that things were better before.

    1. Abolish the Federal Reserve. Great idea. Independent central banks are bad. Countries without them usually do very well.

  23. re Foreign Aid: Peter Singer in One World nicely summarizes survey research showing that americans systematically overestimate how much the US spends on foreign aid (truth: < 1%, media estimate: 15%). So if someone who mis-estimates it to 15% boldly claims that they want to cut away half of that, then they are actually advocating a great increase in foreign aid. sworm: taxation is not theft. Taxation is rent for use of the natural resources of the world which all humans, being born of equal worth, have equal moral claim to. If you do not want to pay taxes or be a part of community just stop using natural commonly owned resources like air and water. I wish your life in space the best!

  24. It seems natural that nobody wants an income tax increase. 47% of US households either essentially don’t pay federal income taxes (due to credits, exemptions, etc) or actually MAKE money off the government through income taxes. People want something for nothing. They want the government to get its financial act together, but they don’t want to lose the benefits they currently get or have to pay more (or anything) for them.

    How do you balance the budget? No idea. Maybe you start by cutting government programs running at a loss or that aren’t doing their jobs properly. Hand them over to the states or make us do without. It’s not like they can run forever anyway, and the eventual crash will be all the more difficult when it’s finally forced on us. There’s only so much blood you can siphon from yourself and your neighbors before you’re left with no choice but to cauterize with fire.

    Maybe you find a way to tax your citizens properly. Extensively reform or abolish the IRS, discontinue the federal income tax and implement a fair sales tax? Could work.

    Of course, none of that will never happen. Government doesn’t willingly contract. We’ll just get more “reform” until there’s literally nothing and no one left to bleed.

    1. A sales tax is grossly regressive. It hits the poor much harder than the rich. This country already does too much to criminalize poverty, and lock out ways of escaping poverty, without increasing sales taxes, imposing poll taxes, etc.

      1. A sales tax is grossly regressive.

        Only if it is a flat-rate tax.

        If you arrange the rate in bands and assign those bands to goods and services you can be as regressive or progressive (what I like to call ‘fair’) as you like.

        For example, assign Band 0 – 0% – to items essential to life. Yes, what those are is a very interesting debate but let’s try to not get totally distracted, eh?
        For slightly less important things – I dunno, latte instead of drip coffee, super-soft toilet paper instead of basic 2-ply, high-speed broadband instead of basic, stuff like that, maybe charge 5%.
        Getting flashier, maybe 12% for chocolate covered bacon, ice cream, cheap computers, small cars that get better than 6L/100km, simple clothes
        For modest luxury items -iPads, bigger cars, steak, video rentals, hookers – 20%.
        For *real* luxury stuff – major artworks, Bentleys, those stupid expensive watches Cory is always getting lubricious about, courtesans, copies of National Enquirer and other stuff, 100%.

        That way if you’re living a simple life – by choice or need – you pay negligible taxes. If you’re a Wall St. W… banker, you pay probably 50-80% since all your drugs, booze, cars, food, clothes etc is likely to be in the 100% band and you probably spend it all to look flash.

        And yes, I understand that this is probably never going to happen.

    2. Maybe you start by cutting government programs running at a loss

      Well, basically the entire government runs at a loss because it’s a non-profit. There are exceptions–I think the Post Office is still a revenue plus department, and then of course there’s the IRS. But the military, FDA, CDC, FAA etc. don’t make money. They aren’t supposed to.

      And it’s fantasy to think the government of a nation of more than 300 million people can be run on little more than a consumption tax.

  25. Yes, people seem to believe that governments just gives us stuff that someone else pays for or no one has to pay for at all. Quite a few commenter are pleased that 22% of Americans want military cuts. Understandable, unimaginable amounts of money went into weapons that were never fired and eventually tossed aside. But what I’m wondering is, how many people noticed that science and technology also got a 22%? When you sort the list numerically you get a very different perspective:

    71 Foreign Aid
    29 The Environment
    27 Agriculture
    27 Mass Transit
    27 Housing
    22 Science and Technology
    22 National Defense
    19 Unemployment Benefits
    17 Aid to the Poor
    13 Health Research
    12 Non of the Above
    12 Education
    12 Highways
    11 Medicaid
    07 Medicare
    07 Social Security
    06 Vetrans’ Benefits

  26. You can’t hand things over to the states because the states don’t have any money. They never did. Foisting more unfunded mandates on them just makes the problem worse.

    The simple fact is that the American public are children. They want everything, but they won’t pay for any of it, and woe to anyone that tells them otherwise. As Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett said, major cuts in government spending “simply is not realistic.”

    You can’t only cut your way to a balanced budget and have anything like a modern working society. It simply can’t be done. You have to both cut and increase revenue. Even St. Ronnie raised taxes.

  27. Never understood why we couldn’t have a balanced budget law. If that was in place the wars would have been paid for, Medicare Part D would have been paid for. Americans could really see what things cost when their taxes reflect their government’s true spending.

  28. As of the last time I saw the figures, they could cut the military spending by 1/2, and still have a much larger military budget than any other country on the planet.

  29. Hell, I personally want more *private* goods, like a new car or whatever, but I don’t want to pay for that either.

    I’m reliably informed that what can’t go on forever will not go on forever. This spending all out of proportion to receipts at the local and state and federal level can’t go on forever. I don’t see it ending gracefully…but it will end.

  30. This is also the reason for California’s problems with their budget — voter referenda sounds like a great idea, but in practice, you get exactly this sort of pattern.

  31. Americans want to cut government, of course. Especially those parts of government that do not directly benefit them personally. The parts they do benefit from, not so much.

    And no one can honestly assert that they pay their full way in this society. No one. Build your own roads? Dig your own sewer lines? Forget it – that’s a pure nonstarter.

    If people would just be honest and admit they want to take everything away from anyone else and have it all to themselves, maybe we’d really be able to start doing something about the messes around us. Once the “poor, abused taxpayers” stopped crying, that is.

    How many of you can, without looking it up, place the US relative to other nations for tax burden as a percentage of GDP? Especially you whiners?

  32. Interesting. Social Security and Medicare are among the least popular programs people feel should be cut, are some of the largest government outlays, and have trust funds supporting them that will be delinquent (Medicare supposedly as soon as 2017).

    And soon, baby boomers will retire and start receiving benefits. Congress doesn’t vote to take stuff away from old people, neither.

  33. Maybe if we could eliminate all the fraud there would be plenty of money for all of these services. Fraud exists on every level from Big Business to the individual welfare cheat.
    Maybe we could focus on something other than cutting services or increasing taxes as the solution to our problems. Buckminster Fuller did a pretty good job of trailblazing the way here. He spent his life coming up with ways to support his concept of a world where everyone could be equally rich. Where are all the Fullerists out there and why aren’t we asking them what they think?

  34. Well sure, we’re Americans here. Years of advertising and marketing have shown us that we CAN have it both ways!!! We’re just doing what we’ve been trained to think.

    Yes I’m being sarcastic but I will say in general everyone here seems to think they can have it both ways – low taxes and high services.

  35. The survey, the post, and many of the comments miss an obvious problem: the terms are so general they slant the survey. If you ask people if they want to “cut education,” most will think of the wonderfulness of education and say “no.” But if you ask them if NYC should cut the $65 million a year it spends on “Temporary Reassignment Centers” (a.k.a. “rubber rooms”) for teachers accused of crimes up to and including molesting students, where they are paid full salaries for years to watch DVDs and play cards and sleep, I think you’d get 90% “yes” and 9% “Hell, yes!”

    Similarly, ask about “highways” and people think of maintaining freeways. But ask them what they think of the fact that 1,690 people at the Department of Transportation now make $170,000/year or more, plus benefits and pension and job security us peons can only dream about, and I’ll bet you get a very different answer. (Oh, and before the recession started, only one person at DoT made over $170K.)

  36. For years I’ve maintained that Americans are more socialist than they would ever care to admit. As a Canadian, I get tired of the coverage our country sometimes gets in the American press, as though providing a social safety net is a crime. Americans have their entitlements, and many of them are clearly not willing to give them up, or acknowledge just how much they want the government to take care of them.

  37. Just a thought: if you need to save on defense spending, you could remove some of those foreign bases (UK, Okinawa, etc). I’m sure if we want/need them, we’ll ask you to put them back & maybe even contribute to your costs.

  38. #16 – You have clearly never lived in the Netherlands, nor do you understand the difference between social and socialist (in fact, NL is consociationalist society – but clearly this is a phrase too far removed from your vocabulary or understanding), nor do you understand what a dystopia is. Yes, it is crowded but the overall quality of life is high.

  39. where’s the part about politicians salary, retirement , and benefits? It’s not even on the list to be reduced.

  40. what’s needed is an interactive game called “balance the Budget” where you can adjust tax income and spending to balance the budget – then submit the results, which would be analysed and tabulated. The very act of fbeing forced to balance it would oblige people to get wise about how much get spent where and on what.
    Of course the interesting thing about this ridiculous poll is that spending cuts are differentiated whereas tax income is just “Increase taxes? Y/N”. If the question was “increase income tax for earners over $200k? Y/N”, “Increase business tax on profits over $1B?Y/N”, tax on bankers bonusses, import duties, VAT on luxury goods – you would find that 5% unwinding pretty quickly. Sounds to me that the poll is designed to get the result it got.

    Yours respectfully,


  41. You’ve made a big arithmetical error. Consider just the two categories of ‘Science and Technology’ and ‘National Defense’, for both of which 22% of the population wants to cut spending.

    To mean 78% of people want no cuts to either category, you must assume the two groups of 22% are the same. Not likely. With no overlap, 56% (100 – 22 – 22) people want no cuts to either. In reality, you can only say that between 56% and 78% want no cuts.

  42. Also, this chart doesn’t indicate how deeply the polled would cut these categories. The man who wishes to abolish the U.S. Dept. of Education (cutting the funding to zero) is lumped in with the man who wishes to trim 0.5% each from several different categories, including education.

  43. Why all of a sudden is spending an issue? No one on Fox news had a word to say about the deficit during the last administration.

  44. Part of the problem is that the questionnaire presents a set of options, all displayed with equal prominence even though some categories consume vastly more tax dollars than others. It’s well known that the wording of survey questions can influence the outcome, but maybe it’s time to think beyond words and language. Mabye the problem is not with the specific wording but with the medium iteslf. Words alone are not adequate to communicate the question in a quantitative way, yet it’s impossible to give a sensible answer without some quantitative awareness. How about presenting questions in a more graphical format that will prompt people to think more quantitatively about their responses. The technology needed to do this is widely accessible. It’s time to try it.

  45. I think quite a lot of people would be very okay with raising taxes on top income earners (say incomes over $250,000) to 40%.

    Civilization costs money. People pay less, they get less. Americans pay less taxes than almost every other developed country, with the result that they get crappy government. It’s like trying to buy a Mercedes at the Hyundai dealer, for a Hyundai price.

  46. I want to know what you guys think about this question.

    Suppose the economy is in recession and the government increases its spending by $10 billion but will not allow a deficit so at the same time it increases taxes by $10 billion. As a result of this the level of income will rise, stay the same or decrease.

    This is what i figure:

    First off, when an increase of government spending is financed by raising taxes, this multiplier is called the balanced budget multiplier. However, an increase in government spending of 10 billion increases aggregate demand by 10 billion, but an increase of taxes by 10 billion decreases aggregate demand by less than 10 billion, because the extra 10 billion for taxes comes partly from reduced saving. Also, consumers decrease consumption spending to be able to pay the higher taxes. Basically the decrease in consumption demand partially offsets the increase in government spending, reducing the size of the multiplier. In the end the equilibrium level of income rises.

    Sorry to bug you all. I just want to know if im on the right track! hahah

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