When it comes to charitable acts, it’s not always enough to personally help those in need, so we enlist the aid of others. If I come upon someone with serious injuries, I could give emergency first aid, but then I would most likely call for medical professionals. The same could be said for any service that others can do more effectively than I, although there’s still tremendous benefit for personally doing as much as possible because of the resulting deepened relationships.
It may be necessary to work with others in order to make a noticeable or sustainable difference, especially when going beyond a local community. For nationwide efforts, one might assume that the federal government is the best tool for the job simply because of its size and scope. Who can argue that any other organization can match the reach and resources of Uncle Sam?
On the contrary, government is so wasteful that it is never the best tool for any job. I remember being told as a child that I should clean my plate because of all the starving children somewhere. Throwing good food away was more than merely wasteful; it was disrespectful to the many people who labored to provide it. It was downright immoral.
“Government waste” is such a cliché that searching the Internet yields 644 million results. Near the top of the list is this item from Reader’s Digest: “11 Bizarre Things the U.S. Government Actually Spent Money On.” For example, $518,000 in your taxes went to study how cocaine affects the sexual behavior of Japanese quail. The National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York (birthplace of Lucille Ball), received $1.7 million in federal grants to create an immersive museum, including holograms of classic comedians in their heyday – and that’s in addition to $3.5 million in state funds. Northwestern University was given over $3 million in taxpayer dollars to inject steroids into hamsters and watch them fight.
But those examples are just drops in the bucket. As of 2016, there were 770,000 unused and underused government buildings nationwide, including old schools, firehouses, offices, and more. Maybe an empty government building doesn’t bother you, but even vacant buildings require maintenance such as basic power and making sure pipes don’t freeze. Total cost: $1.7 billion.
You could spend $1000 on a charitable project in your own community where every penny is used for that project and you can even meet the people you help. Or you could pay that same $1000 in federal taxes in the hope that it goes for something you care about and not steroid-induced hamster fights. Even if your money was somehow set aside for “your” cause, you’re helping to pay for the salaries of the politicians and bureaucrats you trusted with your money – plus all of the staff, their health care, the buildings they work in, the utilities to keep those buildings running, the property taxes on the buildings, and so on. How much of your $1000 actually goes to the people you want to help?
But that’s not all. A hidden cost of government is the little gem known as tax compliance. First, we pay for the salaries of everyone involved with creating the tax codes and forms. Then we pay to distribute all those forms from sea to shining sea. You can avoid certain forms by doing your taxes online. You might save some trees but you will actually pay even more for the computers, programmers, and support staff. If you pay a tax preparation service, add whatever that might cost. Now go back and add health care, maintenance and utilities on the buildings, and so on.
And that’s just for personal taxes. Corporations hire teams of lawyers in order to be in compliance with tax laws, and those lawyers don’t come cheap. You pay for their expensive suits every time you purchase a product or service from that company. You also pay for the corporation’s lobbyists, who wine and dine politicians in exchange for favorable legislation.
Oh, and if you make a mistake on your taxes, you could go to jail. Guess who pays for the police, courts, etc. You do.
In 2017, in addition to the $2.74 trillion paid in payroll taxes and individual income taxes, Americans paid another $409 billion in tax compliance alone, with $11.6 billion of that just to run the IRS. Now, how much of your $1000 in taxes do you think is actually going to the people you want to help?
You might argue that the incredible waste of government is justified because of its reach, but that argument implies there are no other viable options, and that is simply not true. Hundreds if not thousands of private charities operate nationwide and beyond. You can go to the websites of charity watchdogs such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or BBB Wise Giving Allianceto see how each charity stacks up in terms of effectiveness, financial strength, accountability and transparency, including executive salaries. If climate change gets you hot under the collar, check out the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Or fight racial and economic disparities in the legal system with the Equal Justice Initiative. These groups and many others will do a lot more with your donations than the government does with your taxes.
Anything done by government can be done more effectively and more efficiently by the private sector. Healing Our World by former biomedical research scientist Mary Ruwart provides a comprehensive look at how to privatize even “public” services such as roads, police, and the courts, all at a fraction of the cost and with more accountability and transparency than government. Whether or not government is immoral simply because it is so wasteful may be a matter of debate, but using government programs rather than more efficient private organizations is certainly not good financial stewardship.
The bigger reason government is immoral is that it is funded through theft. A more accurate word would be extortion. Government may provide needed services, but those services come at an inflated cost, and you are forced to pay for them whether you want them or not. Maybe you don’t mind paying your taxes, but doing something willingly is not the same as doing it voluntarily. The difference is that with taxes you don’t have a choice. If you don’t pay your taxes, you will be arrested. If you resist arrest, law enforcement can legally use lethal force. All government actions are ultimately enforced with violence or the threat of violence. That is the very definition of theft by extortion.
Personally helping your neighbor is an act of compassion. Stealing from others in order to help your neighbor is not, and that is essentially what happens when using the government. It’s stealing, even if the majority votes for it and calls it taxes. If you support government programs, you are condoning theft. Using the private sector is better stewardship and the only moral option.