Follow the Money: A Resource Unit for High School Students on Deficits, Taxes, and the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex
A resource unit for high school students on deficits, taxes, and the "military-industrial-Congressional complex"
by Alan Shapiro
Student Reading 1
Deficits: Why should you care about them?
Student Reading 2
Tax Cuts: What difference do they make to you?
Student Reading 3
The Federal Budget: How Do You Want Your Tax Dollars Spent?
- Military and Defense: $362.65
- Interest on Debt (Military): $82.08
- Interest on Debt (Non-military): $230.96
- Veterans Benefits: $46.97
- Health: $262.13
- Education: $43.57
- Nutrition: $34.92
- Natural Resources: $22.22
- Housing: $22.07
- Job Training: $5.52
- Other (science, agriculture, government operations, etc.): $534.79
Student Reading 4
How Do You Want Your Defense Dollars Spent?
- 1 cluster bomb costs $14,000, enough money to enroll two children in Head Start
- l hour of the war on Iraq costs $46 million, enough to improve, repair and modernize 20 schools
- l Stealth bomber costs $2.1 billion, enough to provide annual salaries and benefits for 38,000 teachers
- education (Taxes pay for everything from the chalkboard the teacher is writing on to students' desks and books, the teacher's salary and perhaps subsidized lunches)
- postal service
- public library
- maintenance of roads, highways, city bus and subway services
- garbage collection
- health (Have students ever gone to a government-sponsored clinic or received shots for which they paid nothing?)
- the justice system (courts, prisons)
- unemployment benefits
- natural resources (They include many things—city, state and, national parks as well as the air we breathe, the water we drink)
- housing (subsidized apartment buildings and government-backed mortgages.)
- job training
- agriculture (Various crops are subsidized, making food extraordinarily cheap in this country.)
- military and defense
- retiree's benefits, including Social Security and Medicare
- What happens when taxes are insufficient to pay for programs?
- What choices do government officials have?
- Who influences these choices?
- What differences does it make to taxpayers which ones they choose?
2. The federal government has the most money and spends the most. How much does it spend on major items like the ones listed in the table for Student Reading 3? Before students have had a chance to examine that table, list the items it includes on the chalkboard. Ask students to speculate how the $1,383 in taxes paid by the Smith family of Brooklyn are allocated for each category listed by preparing a table. When students have finished, ask for a sampling of responses. Then compare with the actual figures.
An inquiry-oriented approach
Questions for the readings
- What is a budget deficit?
- Why have there been deficits at every level of government?
- What effects do deficits have?
- What differences of opinion are there about deficits?
- With specifics, define "wasteful and ineffective spending"?
- What is a progressive tax system?
- What are pros and cons about tax cuts?
- Have recent tax cuts been fair? Why or why not?
- Do you think the U.S. military budget is about right? too low? too high? Why?
- How do you define "national security"?
- With specifics, what would you include in a national security budget?
- What evidence do you know of that "money buys political influence"?
- What is a plutocracy?
- What is your view of Phillips' claim that plutocracy is a danger to American democracy?
- Do you agree or disagree with Edelman's statement? Why?
- Why is money "the key word" to understanding the military-industrial-Congressional complex?
- Why isn't the Pentagon held accountable for its accounting failures?
- What is "the revolving door"?
- Why do defense contractors contribute so much money to politicians running for office in Congress?
- Why does Spinney call the complex "a moral sewer"?
- Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
- How would you answer each question that concludes this reading?
For further inquiry
- What has been your state's budget deficit and how has the state dealt with it?
- What evidence is there that past tax cuts have or have not helped with job creation?
- What are the most recent monthly unemployment numbers?
- What, if anything, do they say about the Bush tax-cut policies?
- What are the records of your representatives and senators on issues having to do with the budget deficit, military spending, and tax cuts?
- How do they explain their votes?
- What evidence, if any, is there that money buys political influence in any of the following areas?: U.S. energy policy; legislation affecting drug prices and/or health care programs; contracts for reconstruction in Iraq; defense contracts; agriculture
- Americans for Tax Reform: atr.org
- Brookings Institute: brook.edu
- Cato Institute: cato.org
- Center for Defense Information (cdi.org)
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: cbpp.org
- Citizens for a Sound Economy: cse.org
- Citizens for Tax Justice: ctj.org
- Club for Growth: clubforgrowth.org
- Heritage Foundation: heritage.org
- National Priorities Program: natprior.org (an especially useful site that provides detailed information on budgets and taxes; enables visitors to create their own charts and graphs, to determine how the federal government spent his/her specific tax bill and to work out alternative ways of spending that money)
- Public Broadcasting System: pbs.org (another very useful site; click on NOW for information on budgets and taxes and to have access to many additional sites presenting different perspectives)
- United for a Fair Economy: faireconomy.org
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