You Expect Me to Pay for That?

As consumers, we generally only purchase the things we want:  PC or Mac; private or public college; pizza or salad.  The concept of choice is a powerful motivator for many Americans, whether it means the right to spend our money a particular way, control our bodies, buy health insurance (or not), or elect our representatives. When it comes to government services and subsidies, however, we do not directly choose how our money is spent; almost all of us pay taxes (sales, income, real estate, or payroll) and our money goes into a common pool to be spent on a variety of things that we might or might not want, use, or agree with.  Child-free people pay for public schools through property taxes.  Pacifists pay for our military. People in New York City pay for ethanol subsidies in Iowa. A crime victim’s family pays for health care and services for prisoners.  Religious literalists pay for schools that teach evolution. The wealthy pay a disproportionate share of their income, often for services they don’t use.  This creates complex problems for governments at the federal, state, and local levels and sets up fights and tensions between groups.  Our tax code and budget are thus not dry, lifeless documents; they tell a story of our national values and priorities. In them, we can find the winners and losers in ideological battles over issues from abortion to military engagement to incarceration. In this course, we will learn to read, challenge, and analyze this story, and tackle the problem of how to run our governments using everyone’s money when we are so divided about what matters.