Would You Like a Receipt With Your Taxes?

Yesterday, Ezra Klein flagged an excellent idea from progressive think tank The Third Way: why don’t we give taxpayers a receipt for their taxes?


As The Third Way’s David Kendall and Jim Kessler point out, many Americans pay more in taxes than on any other single thing. But for the most part they have no idea what their tax money actually buys. As Klein notes, Ethan Porter made a similar proposal earlier this year. Kendall and Kessler point to a 2005 Washington Post survey that found half of Americans thought foreign aid—which actually accounts for just around 1% of our spending—was one of the two largest areas of the federal budget. The federal budget is massive and complicated, after all, and politicians tend to inflate the importance of things like foreign aid rather than face up to the need to make cuts in social security or military spending.

So Kendall and Kessler propose that each taxpayer get a receipt saying roughly what their taxes bought. It actually wouldn’t be that hard to figure out, although few taxpayers are going to do the math themselves. Kendall and Kessler offer an example of what this might look like, breaking down the taxes of someone who pays $5400 in federal taxes. Inspired by their idea, Kareem Shaya has already mocked up a calculator so you can see where your taxes went. Producing receipts for everyone would probably add a few pennies to the bottom of our tax bill, but many of us would happily pay a few cents for a receipt showing where our tax dollars went.

It would be worth it in any case. Kendall and Kessler think it would help their progressive cause by showing that most of the programs they support don’t cost very much money at all. But of course it’s possible that taxpayers will still think that the small amount they pay for the Environmental Protection Agency is too much. The main thing is that they would be able to see for themselves how much they are spending to fund different government programs.

That would make it harder for politicians to distract Americans from the real issues. Everyone would be able to see that most of their taxes are spent on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the defense budget. They would know just how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually cost them, as well as how much money they spend every year servicing the national debt. They could ask themselves whether they really want to spend $30 of their own money on NASA. Even though they might think we spend pay members of Congress too much, they might worry less about it when they know how little Congressional salaries actually cost them. Above all, it would make us as a people better able to figure out how to reduce our tax bill and demand our politicians focus on what really matters to us.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less