Our Subsidized Lives

The sun is shining on Miami Beach, and I wake up in subsidized housing. I throw on a T-shirt made of subsidized cotton, brush my teeth with subsidized water and eat cereal made of subsidized grain. Soon the chaos begins, two hours of pillow forts, dance parties and other craziness with two hyper kids and two hyper Boston terriers, until our subsidized nanny arrives to watch our 2-year-old. My wife Cristina then drives to her subsidized job while listening to the subsidized news on public radio. I bike our 4-year-old to school on public roads, play tennis on a public court and head home for a subsidized shower. Then I turn on my computer with subsidized electricity and start work in my subsidized home office.

It’s just another manic Monday, brought to us by the deep pockets of Big Government. The sunshine is a natural perk, and while our kids are tax-deductible, the fun we have with them is not. The dogs are on our dime too. Otherwise, taxpayers help support just about every aspect of our lives.

We had a good discussion about student loans last week, including how dependent we are on state and federal dollars to subsidize college educations to make them affordable. This week’s Time cover story (subscription required) looks at what else the government subsidizes, which is, well, almost everything, including all the things the U.S. tax code allows us to make deductions on (i.e. our home office). The story also reminds us that the majority of our government’s budget goes to defense spending. As Michael Grunwald, the author of the piece points out, just 12 percent of our budget is dedicated to “nondefense discretionary spending.”

Obviously, not everything should be subsidized. When it comes to cotton, the U.S. doesn’t follow the rules of global trade—the World Trade Organization ruled that the U.S. gives American cotton farmers an unfair advantage over cotton famers in other countries like Brazil because American farmers receive billions of dollars in aid from the government. Because the farm lobby is so strong in Washington, rather than cut the amount of subsidies our cotton farmers receive, the U.S. pays $147 million to Brazilian cotton farmers each year to keep within the WTO rules. Our tax dollars at work—makes a lot of sense, huh? Planet Money had a great podcast about this a little while ago.

Basically, we’re all living off of government dollars—some of us more than others, sure, but there we have it.

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7 Comments / Post A Comment

I’d comment on this article but I’m still waiting for a private company to develop the Internet.

runningpig (#1,244)

@stuffisthings Agreed. Why doesn’t anyone ever break out the military research budgets from “defense spending”? The budgets for the dozen or so government national labs and all the grants to universities have got to be out there somewhere.

@runningpig $12 billion on defense-related research in 2011, out of a $76 billion defense R&D budget (“development” = expensive boondoggles where 35 years later you get a fighter plane that costs 15 times as much as originally quoted), out of a $700 billion total defense budget.

For comparison, the two biggest sources of civilian research funding are the National Institutes of Health ($30 billion) and the National Science Foundation ($7 billion).

I guess you could throw in NASA too — $17.8 billion. The budget for the National Reconnaissance Office, which runs US spy satellites, is rumored to be about $16 billion. And that, in short, is why the defense department was able to secretly develop a new space shuttle without anybody batting an eyelid, while 2012 NASA struggles to keep up with 1960s NASA in terms of technology & capabilities.

ETA: Most of these numbers from a very good rundown of the US R&D apparatus by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/restructuring-defense-rd

highjump (#39)

@stuffisthings Word. I work in research administration and I’ve seen individual Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) solicitations as high as $60 million. Also, have you heard of SBIR/STTR programs that put these tax-payer funded developments into the actual marketplace? http://www.acq.osd.mil/osbp/sbir/about/index.shtml (DoD isn’t the only agency that does SBIR/STTR, for the record)

deepomega (#22)

I think the defense-being-most-expensive only works out if you separate Medicare and Medicaid into separate line items. Medicare/caid, Social Security and Defense are all basically equalish in terms of how much they cost us. (A lot.)

@deepomega Or you can group it as “defense” and “non-defense” in which defense is a mere 20%!

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings Well and so is SS. Medicaid and medicare is not unreasonble to group together, any more than it’d be reasonable to split out “maintaining NATO bases” and “active wars in Afghanistan.”

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