Thursday, July 21, 2011

If You're Going to B*tch About Taxes

      I grew up in a fairly rural, backwoods area of Michigan.  I lived 5 miles outside of one of the small villages that made up the local school district.  The median household income (according to the 2000 census) was $31,875.  When the economy took a hit even before the rest of the country, things got even worse.

       My point is, it is not a wealthy area.  Growing up, I knew many families who had to utilize public assistance at various times.  Since the economy collapsed, some of my own family members have found themselves living off government funds at different points.  These are not lazy people.  They are not leeches.  And they damn sure aren't living in the lap of luxury on the tax payer's dollar.  They struggle to make ends meet.  They apply for job after job after job.  Some are losing their homes.  I've been heartbroken to find out that things have gotten so bad for some that they've fallen into depression and other mental illnesses.

      I had good friends growing up, good people from good families with hard working parents who still needed a little help to make ends meet because, let's face it, it's difficult to impossible to feed a family of 4 or 5 working minimum wage.  And what if you're a single parent?  And these friends were constantly embarrassed, even outright ashamed that their families ever used assistance.  Even something like reduced lunch was a stigma.

      So forgive me if I have a little bit of a short temper when you gripe about your tax dollars going to "lazy" people on Welfare.

      Now, I'm not ABOUT to day that there aren't people who take advantage of the system.  There so very clearly are.  There are plenty of them.  But, honestly?  I'd rather see 100 people "gaming" the system and collecting the whopping $346/month (for a family of 4 - varies by state) than to see one single person go hungry.  I'd rather let all those people "take advantage" than risk knowing that there are mothers out there who just don't eat because they can't afford food for both their kids and themselves.

      Those who take advantage will get theirs in the end, but no one should have to struggle just to have a home and food when it is so easily preventable.

       If you still want to make blanket statements on the "evils" of Welfare, bitching about the unconscionable "waste" of your tax dollars, fine.  That's your prerogative.

      But if you're going to bitch about where your tax dollars are going, then you damn well better be paying attention to a hell of a lot more than just the easy scapegoats who are unfortunate enough to need welfare.  You better not be taking the easy way out and listening to these idiots.

      You want to be pissed about where your tax dollars go?  Let me tell you, if you're focusing on Welfare, you're not looking nearly hard enough. 

      Do you have any idea how much of your tax money goes to farm subsidies? 

       Farm subsidies?

       Surely farm subsidies are a good thing.  I mean, it's the government providing money to poor farmers to keep them from going out of business or protect them from economic tradgedy in cases of drought, floods, and so, on, right?

       Wrong.  Dead wrong.

      Farm subsidies may have been a good idea once (though I'm still on the fence about even saying that), but today they are a massive, destructive monster that seems to go completely unnoticed by the general public while people bitch and moan about their tax dollars going to welfare.

      Every year billions of dollars ($12 billion in 2008) are handed out, largely to corporate farms - part of a chain of events that has global consequences - and no one seems to bat an eyelash.

      If you think this is where those tax dollars are going:
. . . you are sorely, and sadly, mistaken.

      Small family farms - the ones that use sustainable, beneficial farming methods and produce the most nutritious and ethical variety of vegetables - are NOT the ones who benefit from these subsidies.

      The average household income of farms that received $30,000 or more in government payments was above $210,000 in 2008. Farming operations that received between $10,000 and $29,999 in subsidies earned $110,368 in total household income, and the household income of farms that got between $1,000 and $9,999 in subsidies was $70,117, still above U.S. average household income. [1]

      But people would rather bitch about the government giving welfare money to families whose incomes are around or below $10,000.  [1]

      What makes these farm subsidies even more maddening is the fact that the top recipients of subsidies are corn, soybeans, and wheat – exactly those crops that are already benefiting from high prices due in part to federal mandates to use more corn to produce ethanol (which also has awful global and environmental implications). Rather than providing a safety net to help farmers in a time of need as its portrayed, the government is sending money to people who were already pretty well off.

      And what's wrong with subsidizing corn, soybeans, and wheat?  Oh, so very much.  So much that I should really write an entire separate post for it.  More than 800 million people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition right now, yet the majority of corn and soy grown in the world go to feed cattle, pigs, and chickens.  Two to five times more grain (up to 10x in beef) is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock, with fewer health benefits than direct consumption. [2]

       Not only is all this food going to feed livestock instead of people, and therefore reducing the actual amount (and affordability) of food produced, but the subsidies provided to lower the cost of meat actually drive up the price of grain for those who actually depend on it for food.  While this can be a pain for the average US consumer, it is a potentially devastating tragedy to poorer nations, particularly when combined with production being further diverted away from food by ethanol production.  [2]

      Then there are the environmental implications - another vast impact that I could go on about for pages and pages.  In case I didn't make it clear above, subsidizing grain is basically subsidizing meat.  US Americans eat at least two times more protein per day, on average, than recommended.  The farming methods used to produce all this meat are dependent on chemicals and stripping the land - not on rotating crops and preserving nutrients, the only truly sustainable (and much more nutritious, by the way) method of farming.  The erosion and runoff from these method are already causing catastrophic environmental damage.  It is has been calculated out that if US Americans ate just 20 percent less meat (that's only about 6 totally meat free days a month), it would be as if every single one of us switched to driving an ultra-efficient Prius. [2]  Think about how huge an impact that is.  What does that say for the meat industry and for the farm subsidies the government hands out every year?

      That is all just the very tip of this iceberg of destruction and sludge.  I haven't touched on the pollution, the vast myriad of health issues, the oil tie in, the waste products, and the fact that these subsidies are actually contributing directly to the demise of true small, sustainable family farms.

      You want to bitch about your tax dollars going to the undeserving?  Please do.  But please dig a little deeper and don't just go after the easy marks.

      I, for one, would be thrilled to have all the money dumped into these destructive farm subsidies given to programs to help the poorest among us - EVEN if some of those receiving it abuse it.

      Of course, if we're asking for things, I'd really rather see the Welfare system overhauled and a whole lot more money going to Education.  But no one's asking me . . .
[1]  The majority, if not all, the figures about farm subsidies I cited came from this compilation of data by the Environmental Working Group.  If you are AT ALL interested in this topic, I strongly, strongly recommend reading the article.  It is straightforward and pretty short.
[2]  Most of the meat industry information came from an awesome article I came across in the book Menu for the Future by the Northwest Earth Institute.  If anything of my ranting about Ethical Eating piques your interest at all, you MUST check out this book.  It's a compilation of articles from many sources and in many formats, from literature to factual to poetry, exploring how what we eat affects the world today.  It's a wonderful resource, set up to be part of a discussion group.  And it's only around 100 pages long.  Please have a look.  The article I reference here is called Rethinking the Meat Guzzler (I know, ew.  It's not as graphic as it sounds) by Mark Bittman, first published in the NY Times in 2008.  Click the link and read away.  It will really open your eyes to the effed up way our diet is structured in these here United States.

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