Where our tax dollars go: $20 billion here, $20 billion there

It is strange sometimes how our tax dollars are spent or how the public thinks they are spent. Photo: The money wasted on stamping out marijuana use runs into the billions of dollars.

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., April 25, 2013 – A recent article estimates that the cost of keeping marijuana illegal in the U.S. is about $20 billion per year. The article goes on to compute the income generated from taxing and regulating the weed industry and the savings from law enforcement of our current drug laws associated with this product, if it were made legal.

The amounts, compensating for inflation, are almost identical, give or take a few million. So legislating that marijuana is a legal drug, like liquor and cigarettes, will save us $10 billion dollars in law enforcement costs and will generate $10 billion dollars in taxes. So we are talking a $40 billion turnaround. To most people this is an attractive option. As for the social benefit, most of the 750,000 people arrested for pot related crimes would probably not become wards of the government via our prison system.

Another $20 Billion

A counterpoint to this is the almost viral talk for some time about how much money the U. S. gives other countries. For those of us that read everything we get from the Internet, there has been an increase in chain messages showing the sums we provide to other countries in the world. Typically the message compares these sums to the needs in our own country. The message is for us to stop or curtail the money being given away abroad and use it to help our own citizens instead.

Having worked for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I have some idea how the funds that the government provides other countries are distributed and what the aim is. In fact, most of the funds provided do in fact benefit our corporations. In most cases, there are very thick strings attached to the money.

For example, the products and services provided have to come from American corporations. The idea is that this will help our economy. I would speculate that probably as much as 60% of these “gifts” return to the U.S. in the form of the sale of goods and services. One could think of this “aid” as a subsidy to U.S. providers of goods and services.

In a recent speech, President Obama mentioned how the U.S. will try to be a good neighbor to developing countries, specifically in the areas of food and health. This year the budget for international development has been increased to be around $20 billion. The increases are intended to help projects alleviate hunger and improve health among others. This should sound like a good idea to many.

Still another $20 billion

In 2004, the U.S. shipped up to $20 billion in cash to help in the reconstruction of Iraq. One or more military transport planes were used to move the money. Most of this money came from Iraqi funds that the U.S. had sequestered. For a long time about $6.6 billion of this fund had not been accounted for. It is logical to expect that a significant portion of the $20 billion ended up the pockets of contractors one way or another.

In fact, a significant amount of the taxpayer money that was wasted in Iraq probably ended up in the coffers of contractors like Halliburton. For the cynics, it was nice to have friends in high places in the government like former Vice President Cheney. It is expected that when everything is said and done, the Iraq war will have cost the U.S. taxpayer well over $1 trillion. I don’t think anyone will claim that our invasion and management of Iraq was a good thing economically nor in many other ways.

Everything Is Relative

The 2013 Federal budget is about $3.8 TRILLION. Of that amount, about $1.6 trillion will go to entitlement programs and defense ($940 and $670 billion respectively). Social Security will receive $883 billion, but these funds are computed separately just as the budget for the Corps of Engineers and Veterans Administration are computed separately from the funds for defense.

The U.S. will generate about $2 trillion in taxes and fees. This leaves us with a sizeable deficit. How will we handle this? Most likely in the least painful way. After all, when the government has the authority to print money and the Fed the ability to manipulate its flow, chances that a politician will do the logical or reasonable thing (especially if it is painful) are small. As long as the U.S. can set the pace economically in the world, we will be OK. So no, the world will not end if we don’t stop all foreign aid and fire all government workers.

“A billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you are talking about real money,” or so said a sage politician, but not the late Sen. Everett Dirksen.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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