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USA Facts – Federal, state, and local data from government sources (usafacts.org)
1044 points by neuralFatigue 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 340 comments



Here is a NYT article that explains what USAFacts.org is:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/business/dealbook/steve-b...

> On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.



I'm seeing many things (if this data is accurate, which assuming it is as it's from all government sources) and trends that go against a large percentage of what the media on both sides are perpetuating. That is my first takeaway at a glance.

My second takeaway at a glance is the giant problem that is Social Security. It's been said over and over, and the aggregation of more data into charts comes to the same conclusion. The way Social Security works is not sustainable. Period. Something has to give. A $405 B shortfall on SS in 2015. If that was at least half, we would actually not be running a deficit. We would have a budget surplus if we actually made Social Security/other Gov. retirement program replacement actually sustain itself perpetually. What. A. Concept.

A quick third take away seems to be the unprecedented rise in non-cash government aid (food stamps) during the Obama administration. The data is there, needs more analyzing of course.

Lastly, it seems that Government revenue for Federal and State/Local has actually increased pretty linearly with the population. Despite all the different changes in the income tax rate/other progressive taxes. This supports an overhaul to the tax code to a more simple, flat tax system. From another data source outside this report, I'd have to find it, but historically, no matter the top bracket tax rate, the Federal government collects about 15-17 % income tax. Including when the top rate was 90%+.

As far as the presentation, my favorite part is each piece of government data is tied to 4 distinct duties of government outlined in the Constitution. That's pretty brilliant.


> Lastly, it seems that Government revenue for Federal and State/Local has actually increased pretty linearly with the population. Despite all the different changes in the income tax rate/other progressive taxes. This supports an overhaul to the tax code to a more simple, flat tax system. From another data source outside this report, I'd have to find it, but historically, no matter the top bracket tax rate, the Federal government collects about 15-17 % income tax. Including when the top rate was 90%+.

This seems like a pretty poor argument for a flat tax and in fact could be seen as an argument against it. If raising top end bracket taxes didn't increase overall income, then it must be the case that it reduced the tax burden on lower incomes -- which is the entire point of progressive taxes. So progressive taxes work, let's keep them!

I view this as mostly orthogonal to the issue of tax simplification, however, which I think is probably a good idea.


I think you would have to look at the reasons why the government tax revenue did not increase when rates were higher. The rich are have mobility. They can move money around the world and at high tax rate levels, they'd be content on neither earning nor bringing back any of the money they make elsewhere. Let's take an example of Apple's $200 B sitting offshore. I know that's a corporate tax, but same principal.

I don't believe the tax burden on the lower classes in the US has ever been lessened by increased rates at the top levels.


> I don't believe the tax burden on the lower classes in the US has ever been lessened by increased rates at the top levels.

I'll be frank. I have no reason to believe anyone is honest (not even myself). While we like to say that we are not savage animals, we are. CGP Grey made a video https://youtu.be/rStL7niR7gs?t=1072 based on The Dictator's Handbook

I read an article on some online magazine which argued that the 0.01% is not the problem but rather the upper middle class as they like to call themselves. I imagine it is the same way all over the world.

> “Take the mortgage deduction,” he continued. “This is to stimulate homeownership amongst people who are already going to own homes. That is worth, to a middle-income family, a hundred bucks a year. I was a little surprised by that. You can have your own reaction; I was a little surprised by that.”

from https://archive.fo/UgQDd (NY times link, used to be the title link of this discussion)

I'm sure you know this but I didn't think about this for the longest time. Pretty much everybody is a hypocrite. Sorry but if someone advocates for less taxes on the wealthy, the first thing I will look for is whether I think the change will be good for me. Sorry for being selfish but then if I conclude the change is not in my favor, the first thing I will do is not the merits of their ideas but rather follow the money and see what they gain from this change.

Life is short. In the bigger scheme of things, we are just trying to find a locally optimal choice. When people say they want to lower taxes, they usually mean they want lower taxes for themselves. When people say they want fewer government services, the idea is usually they want fewer government services that they do not use.

> Let's take an example of Apple's $200 B sitting offshore.

Just to put things in simple terms, this $200B does not include money Apple made by selling iPhones in the US, right? It only includes money Apple made by selling iPhones in other countries? I don't get why we obsess so much over it. US economy is large enough. If they want to bring this money back to the US or they want to give money to their owners/stock holders, they can pay the tax at that time? I don't have a horse in this race. I am just trying to understand the premise as an outsider.


> Just to put things in simple terms, this $200B does not include money Apple made by selling iPhones in the US, right? It only includes money Apple made by selling iPhones in other countries? I don't get why we obsess so much over it. US economy is large enough. If they want to bring this money back to the US or they want to give money to their owners/stock holders, they can pay the tax at that time? I don't have a horse in this race. I am just trying to understand the premise as an outsider.

As an American citizen, I'm still subject to federal income tax, even on income earned while I'm residing outside the country, for work done entirely outside the country, for a non-American employer. That being the case, I see no reason why similar rules shouldn't apply to American corporations. If we say an individual still derives services and value from their citizenship even when outside the country, and thus needs to pay in to support that, why not also American businesses?

I don't know enough about business structures and tax code to say _how_ to make it happen, but from a sense of fairness, I think that roughly equitable rules for business and individual entities is a good thing.


You guys should get out moore, no other country does this. If i work a year in say Australia I pay Australian taxes that year, and nothing in my home country (Denmark). Thats how the rest of the world works.



> As an American citizen, I'm still subject to federal income tax, even on income earned while I'm residing outside the country, for work done entirely outside the country, for a non-American employer.

This is a really unusual part of the US tax code.


ICBW but I believe this applies only to income earned over a certain dollar amount - 80K USD, last I looked, and only at the rate of the delta, if that makes sense.

Oh hey, it's over $100K now:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_earned_income_exclusio...


Please note that number is in USD.

I personally have no problem staying under $100k; I live in Germany and work at a university. But imagine if you lived in Switzerland or Norway. Somewhere with a high cost of living and with a currency that is very strong vs the USD. Then it doesn't take much to go over that 100k.

And even though I don't have to pay US federal taxes (being under that $100k), I still have have the file state taxes, federal taxes, and an FBAR. Every single year. The time and effort is an annoyance, but what bothers me most is the principal. I don't live in the US; I don't use its services; and still, every year, I have to allocate a weekend to provide them with every single detail of my financial life.

---Alex


yes. It is very strange that the anti-tax zealots have focussed on this one weird issue, when 99% of them will never, and probably COULD never be affected by it.


>As an American citizen, I'm still subject to federal income tax, even on income earned while I'm residing outside the country, for work done entirely outside the country, for a non-American employer. That being the case, I see no reason why similar rules shouldn't apply to American corporations. If we say an individual still derives services and value from their citizenship even when outside the country, and thus needs to pay in to support that, why not also American businesses?

Wrong question and answer. Assuming what you say is correct (I'm not a tax expert), the question is why is that the law and how can we fix it? The situation you describe is morally wrong. You are getting no protection, use of infrastructure, or other aspects of the services that our taxes provide. Therefore, you should not have to pay tax. Rather than propagate an unfair situation to other entities, the situation should be fixed. A paraphrase of your comment is: I'm getting treated unfairly, so others should also be treated unfairly.


I'm not necessarily convinced that it's unfair. There are still benefits you derive like consular support abroad, and rights you retain regardless of where you're located, and guaranteeing those does have costs.

Perhaps it would be more fair if there was some intermediate tax rate that accounted for services that you aren't able to take advantage of...but at the same time, I think additional rules and exceptions are the last thing the tax code needs.

But you're right that I'm not necessarily so much insistent that business should be subject to that kind of taxation as that I think it should be consistent.


"I don't believe the tax burden on the lower classes in the US has ever been lessened by increased rates at the top levels."

Every dollar of extra tax paid by the wealthy is a dollar of tax that doesn't need to be paid by the non-wealthy. Your belief notwithstanding.


You missed what I said. I said tax rates, not what was actually paid, as you stated. The people at the top have the ability to move. Or when the tax rates were 90%+ on the top brackets, those people simply reported they made $249,999 that year as they have the ability to find other places for their money.

Sorry if that wasn't clear enough. What I originally said is very different than how you understood it. Even in your case though, you assume government spending stays the same. But it doesn't. As government rev. increases, you can bet they will spend their new money as fast as they can. No matter if the additional revenue is coming from lower or upper brackets.


You presuppose governments just spend what they get, no-one benefits in any way, and tax rates have no impact at the margins. You're so completely off the mark I don't know where to start.

It's fine to be cynical about rich people avoiding tax and the benefit of government programs, but you need to understand what you're being cynical about. The fact is that tax cuts do reduce revenue so having higher taxes clearly did something.


In practice; we currently have a very UN-progressive system. Where the very wealthy get excessive tax breaks, and pay even less than the middle and upper-middle class (who are getting fucking murdered: at least that's my experience).

Would a flat-tax fix this? In theory: but if we set that "flat tax" to 15-17%; (and simply pocket the cost savings from simplification of tax code) - that seems like a win. But the very poorest quintile can't pay that. (and are equipped to dodge that, by simply not working and collecting aid or taking black-market work - cash-basis labor, or selling drugs, etc.) - the top quintile will also have the means to avoid paying their fair share. As always.

It's those in the middle, who have to work REAL jobs, and can't hide their income though either black-market means, or tax-shelters: which still work in a flat-tax system.

The government will need to raise overall rates to compensate for this, and the middle gets screwed even more.

That's an IDEAL system.

In the REAL world: the wealthy will still lobby for special deductions.

Personally, I'd like to see the mortgage deduction go away for non-primary residences.

Stuff like "dancing-horses" deductions and the absolute murder "small businesses" get away with, (like; taking their personal Truck as a deduction, by calling it a "work truck") - that can be horse-traded around. But I think there is the most to be gained from the mortgage deduction on non-primary residences. This is probably America's most sacred cow. And therefore, is most likely politically impossible. This is why we've been at a stalemate over tax-reform since 1980.


>In practice; we currently have a very UN-progressive system. Where the very wealthy get excessive tax breaks, and pay even less than the middle and upper-middle class (who are getting fucking murdered: at least that's my experience).

That's not really true. 99.9% of the tax system is progressive[1] and the middle (14% effective tax rate on 59k annual) and upper middle (17.5% on 95k) classes pay less than the highest quintile (27% on 260k). Even the top 1% (35% on 1,570k) pays fairly reasonably, although capital gains eats into that- it would be closer to 45% if it was taxed at the same rate.

The real problem is the .1%, the people who's annual income is in the hundreds of millions. These are athletes/actors and "businessmen" who are really just investors in their own company, and they form two distinct taxpayers. The athletes/actors pay rates ranging from 20% to 35%. The ultrarich businessmen are heavily clustered around 10-20%. So heavily that both groups together paid an average rate of 16.62%[2] in 2007. That's just... incredibly insane.

I think part of the opposition to fixing this problem comes from framing it as a middle class issue. It's not even a middle class + rich issue, it's an issue for even the extremely rich. It's not an "us vs. CEOs" issue. It's "everybody vs a subset of the richest thousand people". There isn't an income level above which you are the enemy, the enemy is all of the people who skirt by paying taxes. Long term capital gains taxes are too low and ultrarich tax loopholes are abused liberally.

[1]: see page 35 of this CBO report- https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-...

[2]: page 10 of this IRS report: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/07intop400.pdf


While most of what you said is spot on, people often misunderstand what constitutes the super rich group with big tax breaks. It's way less than one percent, because it's the big investment money that's getting out of so much taxation. People who earn high salaries are actually paying quite substantial taxes.

For some perspective, "the 1%" starts at about $350k annual salary (think middle-of-the-pack surgeon.) At that level, you're paying a lot of taxes.

There's an excellent recent Econtalk on taxation in the US.


Smart money finds ways to reduce that income as much as possible and lives instead off capital gains. I find that there's a lot of smart money once you get above 350 or so annual.


For these purposes, income includes everything, down to and including appreciation of assets. Capital gains make up the majority of income only for people making 2 million+ annually.


Upper middle class taxes are INSANE. It's so weird to be taxed at 50% or more (state + fed) and then see others around you taxed at 15% or less. And let's not even get started on corporate taxes.

How does any of this make sense?


> taking their personal Truck as a deduction, by calling it a "work truck"

That's simply tax fraud, it's completely different from the other examples you're calling out..


> the absolute murder "small businesses" get away with, (like; taking their personal Truck as a deduction, by calling it a "work truck")

How about "work computer"?


Progressive taxes only work because the poor get steamrolled by embedded taxes, local fees, and other taxes. Hence the politicians can tell them they have low taxes while eating them from the other end.

The primary reason to simplify the tax system is to remove as much influence special interest groups have in regards to carving out special exemptions. Making the system a simply sign and forget return type. A complex burdensome system only provides power to the political class.

The real reason to cap tax rates is because it has been proven time and time again, the more they have to spend they will and thereby pay a much higher over all tax rate.


> This seems like a pretty poor argument for a flat tax and in fact could be seen as an argument against it. If raising top end bracket taxes didn't increase overall income, then it must be the case that it reduced the tax burden on lower incomes -- which is the entire point of progressive taxes. So progressive taxes work, let's keep them!

Not necessarily. That would be true if the absolute $$$ collected were the same, but that's not what is asserted.

Consider the following: 10 people earn $10 and pay $1 in tax. 10 people earn $20 and pay $5 tax.

The total tax collected is 20% of all income.

Suppose the government raises tax rates such that the $20 earners will now pay $8 tax.

Say 4 of the high earners stop working as much (since their marginal rates are so high).

Now you've got: 14 people earn $10 and pay $1. 6 people earn $20 and pay $8 tax.

The government now collects 24% of all income. It also collects a higher proportion from the lower income people than it did before. It has lower revenues and people are, on average, poorer. In other words, everyone loses.

So you can't just look at effective tax rates to determine whether raising top end tax brackets was good or not.


> Say 4 of the high earners stop working as much (since their marginal rates are so high).

I know you're just using this as an example, but it begs a question I've struggled with: is there any actual proof that marginal tax rates reduce productivity in high earners?

On its face it makes perfect micro-economic sense, but that's like saying a cache will never miss or a cow is perfectly spherical. It just doesn't match up with real life experience. I've never once heard someone say "well, I'd ask for that raise, but they're going to take so much in taxes it's just not worth the effort".

Anecdotally it hasn't changed my motivations one lick as I've moved up tax brackets, to the point that I recently joked with my dad "I guess I'm done trying now!" when I stopped qualifying for a certain tax credit after I'd negotiated hard for a nice raise.

Not-so-anecdotally there's plenty of research that has shown that money (in and of itself) is a terrible motivating factor[0].

[0] https://hbr.org/2013/04/does-money-really-affect-motiv


Woah there! You've basically just claimed that the laws of supply and demand don't have an impact in the labour market. That requires more evidence than finding a link between pay and intrinsic motivation/job security.

Nobody is going to turn down a flat wage hike - but the damage of government tax policy is it shrinks the window of "what the company will pay for" and "what the worker will work for". Now we can't measure this for sure, but theory tells us it is a very likely, if not practically certain, outcome. The issue is you won't see it, because companies will just not be offering some jobs because they experimented and couldn't offer them at a wage that interested workers.

As a bonus, raises are a bit of an illusion. There is a huge amount of new money entering the system from somewhere (see https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/h6/20170406/, about 5% p.a. increase). Most wage rises in theory are to balance that out so that you have enough dollars to call on the same real resources for hours of your labour.


If your basic economic principle argument held much water, every investment banker would have moved to a lower tax locale decades ago.

The reality is that people weigh these costs against many factors and locales, clusters of business, family and institutions have powerful effects that add friction.

From a practical standpoint, the investment banker pulling in a $500k bonus in NYC with its 11.5% marginal tax rate doesn't move to New Hampshire because he'd take a 50% or more compensation haircut.


> I've never once heard someone say "well, I'd ask for that raise, but they're going to take so much in taxes it's just not worth the effort".

In a similar vein, nearly 10 years ago in Australia, a Mineral Rent Resource Tax (MRRT)[1] was proposed, wherein mining companies making a net profit of over 5% were taxed a bit extra on the amount over 5%. Of course the miners and their fans screamed bloody murder, and threatened to move offshore. Yeah, sure you guys are. You're going to move your profitable-by-definition business in a stable first-world country and away from working mines and supply chains.

Besides, miners mine where the minerals are; they don't move to Ireland and mine there because the taxes are low.

[1] One of the earlier names for the MRRT was the stonkingly-bad-PR move of calling it "Super Tax". It was meant to be a tax on 'super profits', but a) it sounds like an extra-powerful tax, and b) sounds like a tax on your superannuation.


> I recently joked with my dad "I guess I'm done trying now!" when I stopped qualifying for a certain tax credit after I'd negotiated hard for a nice raise.

If you are still talking about tax credits, you are no where near the top tax brackets. Note that income brackets extend to more than just your reported W-2s...


Agreed, at a certain point money becomes less important. The amount of extra money the rich could make by continuing to work hard or by working harder is less of a motivational factor than it is for people in the lower and middle classes.


In scenario 1, government collects $60 from $300 earned (20%). In scenario 2, government collects $62 from $260 earned (~24%).

In scenario 2, government has higher revenue, not lower.

If high earners had to exert themselves twice as much or otherwise expend twice the resources to earn $20 instead of $10, maybe ending up with $9 instead of $12 would be rational. Of course in the real world it rarely works that way, only a few are in a position to work less to earn fewer commissions or work less overtime to avoid entering a higher tax bracket. The brackets are also a lot more graduated, it's not like you could earn $19 and pay $1 tax.


Except in scenario 1 the person earning $300 has $40 extra to spend or invest somewhere which is good for the economy. Eventually someone else will wind up paying $8 tax on that $40 (20%)...


> Consider the following: 10 people earn $10 and pay $1 in tax. 10 people earn $20 and pay $5 tax.

This is way out of proportion to real-life values, and the semantics of this equation change quite a bit with even minor changes.

For example, after your high-earner tax hike, the low earners are left with $9 and the high earners are left with $12. This is absurdist nonsense that does not match up with what happens in the real world. A person on $40k and a person on $80k have vastly different spending capacity after tax.

A person on $80k (~66k after tax) doesn't pay eight times the absolute amount of tax the $40k (~36k after tax) person does, and they retain their approximately two-times spending capacity.


I'm only demonstrating that the assertion that increasing marginal rates always means a larger share of the tax burden is put on the rich -- this is not true.

The example is given to be demonstrative, not to represent a real world scenario.

Everything depends on the specific numbers, clearly. That's the point I'm trying to make as well.


> Say 4 of the high earners stop working as much (since their marginal rates are so high).

I have literally never once heard or even heard of someone deciding to work less because they don't want to pay as much in taxes.


Only if they have another income source. For example: my ex said that she wanted to go down to part time work (to reduce our tax liability). I suggested maybe I should go down to part-time instead, since that would reduce our income more. (hell, I'd actually like to go down to FULL time. . . . ).

Anyway, she didn't like the sound of THAT idea. One of the many reasons she is my ex.


Of course it happens.

I knew a surgeon who chose to work half days because the marginal gains were not as good as working half days (in Ontario, so his marginal rate was ~50%).


> If raising top end bracket taxes didn't increase overall income, then it must be the case that it reduced the tax burden on lower incomes [...]

This logic is not sound. Another option is that the wealthy hire accountants in order to avoid paying 90%+ tax on anything. Paying an accountant $1000/hr is almost nothing if it can save you millions of dollars in taxes.

So rather than reduce the tax burden on lower-income families, it's possible it just increased the income of accountants.


I think this is a case of seeing what you want to see. According to the Trustees Report, SS is only in deficit if you don't factor in interest income. [1] It's projected to deplete its trust fund in 2034. Please resist the urge to argue that the trust fund doesn't exist. That 2034 date can easily be extended through minor tweaks, check out any of the ideas from the late Robert M. Ball.

The flat tax is regressive. Regressive is bad because the value of money is roughly logarithmic as it increases. Any plans to make the flat tax "less regressive" is an argument against a flat tax. A simplified tax code is a good idea. It is quite possible to have a simpler tax code that is more progressive. Yet I find that flat tax proponents tend not to be in favor of that.

[1] https://www.ssa.gov/oact/trsum/


> The flat tax is regressive.

Strictly speaking, a flat tax is the border between progressive and regressive taxation and is neither progressive nor regressive.


I think that's only true in a very academic sense.

Ideally you would want to exclude the expenses incurred to sustain a reasonable minimum quality of life and only consider taxation on income in excess of that. A truly flat tax rate is still regressive in the sense that it is a significantly higher burden on that expendable income at the lower end of the scale.


Even ignoring the disposal income question, it's regressive in utilitarian terms because money, like most commodities, has declining marginal utility, so taking 20% of $1,000,000 takes a lower percentage of the utility of that $1,000,000 than taking 20% of $100,000 does of the $100,000.

(A lot of analysis gets based on the misuse of $ as a flat measure of utility, which is deeply flawed.)

EDIT: more accurately, this subsumes and generalizes the disposable income issue, rather than ignoring it, since the concept of "necessities" that come out before income is "disposable" is really a simplification of the "low hanging fruit" of high-utility spending to a binary category, rather than a continuum.


> Ideally you would want to exclude the expenses incurred to sustain a reasonable minimum quality of life and only consider taxation on income in excess of that

I don't agree that is ideal. Ideally, everyone makes an equal sacrifice. What is an equal sacrifice?

* Everyone could pay the exact same amount of tax, let's say $15K. But that is not equal sacrifice; some people can afford $15K much more easily than others (especially those who don't have $15K).

* Everyone could pay the same percentage of their income, let's say 17%. That also is not equal sacrifice: If you earn $1 million, you can afford to give up 17% of it much more easily than if you earn $10,000.

* Tiered progressive tax rates: These can be equal, if calibrated effectively. It will never be perfect and always up for debate, but it can be done pretty well.


It's generally accepted that the value of money is roughly logarithmic as it increases. A logarithmic flat tax could look something like this:

1) Figure how many times poverty rate you make in revenue (2x, 3x, whatever)

2) Take the log base 10

3) Multiply by some flat constant that is the same for everyone, so that the total national amount taxed is how much the US needs. Last I checked, that flat constant would be around 9.

4) The result is what percentage of your revenue you should pay in taxes.

Currently, we are far from logarithmic. Under this scheme, pretty much everyone reading this board would pay less taxes. Bill Gates pays about the right amount. Exxon would pay more.

Useful as a thought experiment to explore how far away we are from a fair level of progressive taxation.


Thanks.

> It's generally accepted that the value of money is roughly logarithmic as it increases

I assume that is economic theory; do you remember whose or have any pointers to where I can read more?


I think it was Bernoulli that first talked about the logarithmic relationship of utility and value. That was back in the 1700's. I believe there have also been empirical studies that suggest that it holds up in experiments, etc.


It is regressive when compared to the idea that the value of money is roughly logarithmic as it increases.

$5000 means more to a working class person than a billionaire. If taxation should take an equal amount of value from each, then a flat percentage is comparatively regressive.


While you ARE technically correct, the alternative in the wild is progressive taxation. That makes flat taxation a de facto regressive tax, as it will be more regressive than the current taxation regime.


I think this whole tax debate misses an important point. Taxes are viewed as revenue in terms of budget and there is a business tendency to make more revenue to cover expenses. If you stop seeing Tax as a major source of revenue and start having Govt invest money in different ways to make money other than just taxes, we can start actually having a real debate around what is a fair tax rate for govt to cover their expenses and figure out a way to make it progressive.


>Please resist the urge to argue that the trust fund doesn't exist.

Except it doesn't. The only way to for SS to collect from the trust fund is from the general fund. That means that in order for SS to get $1 from the general fund:

A) Raise non-SS taxes $1 to go into the general fund.

B) Cut $1 of other spending from the general fund.

C) Increase the deficit by $1


For the benefit of those who actually don't know, the reason this doesn't hold water is because:

A) The trust fund is in surplus from payroll (FICA) taxes.

B) The general fund is in deficit from income tax cuts.

C) Most income tax cut benefits go to richer people.

So if someone argues that trust fund doesn't exist, they are arguing that revenue from payroll taxes should finance tax cuts for those richer than them. Effectively transferring money from poor to rich.

Keep this in mind as the Social Security caterwauling starts to increase around 2019 (when SS is expected to start needing money from the trust fund). People will argue that Social Security needs to be cut because of that deficit. Most of those people know better and are being intellectually dishonest.

2034 is the actual challenge, but again, there are reasonable fixes to that - for instance, gradually raising the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security, or creating a new residual estate tax and dedicating it to Social Security. Democrats also like the idea of raising the upper limit, which will also work and is an easier sell but less defensible philosophically.


A) That surplus money was already been spent in the 1990s.

B) Not true or relevant.

B) Not true or relevant.

>So if someone argues that trust fund doesn't exist, they are arguing that revenue from payroll taxes should finance tax cuts for those richer than them. Effectively transferring money from poor to rich.

Again, not true at all. Notice how you can't actually answer the question I posed about how SS can actually get the money out of the trust "fund." The fund is empty and is quite literally only made of a IOUs from the general fund.


Again, for the benefit of others, since this commenter has an agenda and won't be convinced - commenter also can't answer the question about how he can actually get money out of his own savings account. That account is empty and is quite literally only made of IOUs from the bank it is held at.

It's actually a lousy question because it proves nothing. Money is held in different accounts not because they are actually stored in physically different places, but because they are conceptually different, and because the concepts are not fungible. I do not (and in some cases cannot) transfer money between some of my different accounts at my brokerage even though all that money is ultimately in the same pool somewhere.

In the case of the general fund and the trust fund, the trust fund surplus money was not spend in the 90s or at any other time since the surplus started growing again; it remained in surplus, and - counting its interest income - it remains in growing surplus until about 2019, at which point that surplus starts being dipped into until 2034.

(Also note that historically, this has already happened. [1] There was a social security surplus, and then it got spent down partially in the late 70s, and then started growing again in the early 80s. Everyone got their checks.)

Why is this distinction necessary? Again, because the general fund has gone into deficit. People like mason240 try to pretend that it hasn't gone into deficit as much as it has, because the people that are advantaged by the general fund deficit have a higher tax base than the people that have paid into payroll tax (on average). So why do we make this distinction? To protect against the transfer of money from the poor to the rich. Why do people like mason240 insist otherwise? For not other reason than to keep that money, and to weaken social security.

[1]: https://www.ssa.gov/history/tftable.html


>Again, for the benefit of others, since this commenter has an agenda and won't be convinced - commenter also can't answer the question about how he can actually get money out of his own savings account. That account is empty and is quite literally only made of IOUs from the bank it is held at.

These are two completely separate concepts, but if you insist on equating them, here we go:

Imagine you borrowed money to a business. That business then spent the money and gave you an IOU.

How is the business going to repay you when you want to withdraw? Like I said in my original comment, it will have to:

A) Raise their prices.

B) Cut spending (like employee benefits).

C) Borrow from somewhere else.

So much nonsense here in the rest of you comment. I think the best part is where you claim I have an agenda because I'm being factual, but you keep trying to shift the topic into taxing the rich.


The nonsense is that your comparison again has no relevance to the social security trust fund. Your scenario is based on the assumption that "the business spent the money" and "gave you an IOU". When the fact is that the government did not "spend the trust fund", and there is no such thing as a social security IOU.

As far as the general fund being in deficit, how they resolve that has nothing to do with social security, which has a healthy trust fund to draw upon until 2034, after which benefits will automatically shrink until payroll contributions are enough to fund the trust fund again.

https://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/fundFAQ.html

If on the very small chance you are not in favor of cutting social security in any sense, know that the argument that there "is no trust fund" and "it's just IOUs" is a right-wing argument, a right-wing frame, that is typically only advanced to justify cutting social security in some way. If you are not in favor of cutting social security, find different language. If you are, then be intellectually honest about your views that government has no role in doing what social security does, rather than engaging in myths about non-existence of trust funds.


Oh wow, you really dug out a sockpuppet to downvote me for pointing out that comparison you shredding was YOUR comparision?

That's really sad.


>The nonsense is that your comparison again has no relevance to the social security trust fund.

It's YOUR comparison.

What a troll.


The time for fixing Social Security with "minor tweaks" has passed, the problem moving forward is Demographics

>Social Security's total income is projected to exceed its total cost through 2019, as it has since 1982. The 2015 surplus of total income relative to cost was $23 billion. However, when interest income is excluded, Social Security's cost is projected to exceed its non-interest income throughout the projection period, as it has since 2010. The Trustees project that this annual non-interest deficit will average about $69 billion between 2016 and 2019. It will then rise steeply as income growth slows to its sustainable trend rate as the economic recovery is complete while the number of beneficiaries continues to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers.


> The time for fixing Social Security with "minor tweaks" has passed, the problem moving forward is Demographics

Eh, if it makes it past the Boomers (which it does in the low-cost estimate in recent trustees reports, but not in the intermediate- or high-cost estimates; so risky-but-plausible with no intervention, certainly achievable with minor tweaks) it's fine, demographically, for the foreseeable future; Gen X is a demographic trough, and the Millennial generation is a gentler boom than the Boomers.


It's also the case that (most) boomers benefit from a lower retirement age than subsequent generations, so getting clear of them reduces pressure on the system for other reasons.


I'm sorry, but quite frankly the low-cost estimate is about as Rosy a prediction as one can hope for, and is decoupled from current and past demographic and economic trends.

1) To get to that number the Trustees assume fertility rates will rise to over 2.2, a rate not seen since 1970 which completely goes against the trend of the last 50 years.

2) They continue to assume 1 million migrants a year to the US, despite active legislation seeking to limit migration to half a million a year.

https://www.ssa.gov/oact/TR/2016/2016_Long-Range_Demographic...

All of this is dependent upon a Labor Force Participation Rate not encumbered by automation and a general lack of skills by the populace. Which may not be a problem but the BLS has been underestimating the decline in LFPR in their projections for the last 20 years. We're decades a head of where we should be based on Demographics alone, according to all of their predictions.

https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/o...


>A quick third take away seems to be the unprecedented rise in non-cash government aid (food stamps) during the Obama administration. The data is there, needs more analyzing of course.

I'm not sure you can say it like that. It went up 2.13x from 1980 to 1990, 1.43x from 1990 to 2000, 1.93x from 2000 to 2010, and 1.07x from 2010 to 2015.

There was a big jump of 1.93x from 2000 to 2010, but that is only 2 years of Obama's first term. What really happened there is likely the housing crisis/market crash in 2008. I don't see how that's related to Obama. It only went up 1.07x (the lowest amount for each of the 10-year segments) for the remainder of his term, and it made a higher jump from 1980 to 1990.


You knew where he was headed with his comments, and thanks for countering with stats he should have looked at.


Are those numbers inflation adjusted?


They are not. I took them directly from USAFacts[0], and according to their methodologies[1], they have not adjusted for inflation either.

[0] http://usafacts.org/government-finances/spending?comparison=...

[1] http://usafacts.org/methodology


Wait, none of these graphs are in constant dollars? How are we meant to read them?


Some charts and graphs are inflation adjusted, others aren't. You have to find it for each one.

And yes, some are in thousands, some in millions, and some are actual. On a large report like this with many different metrics, expecting them all to be scaled the same would make many hard to read.


You're right. I should have stated it differently when saying Obama. I only glanced at it at first too. And most likely, the jump during 2000 - 2010 is most likely attributed to the economic recession. Which was during the Obama administration. Despite why the recession happened, it was decided to increase it anyway at a higher rate than the previous decade.

Although it seems that state and local governments increased their non-cash gov aid spending a lot too during that time. I'm not sure what the breakdown on that is. Is it money given to the states by the Federal government?


I don't understand your argument here either. "Jumps during 2000-2010 were due to 'the economic recession'. Which was during 'the Obama administration'"?

* There was more than one recession in the time period you're talking about.

* The Great Recession did not in fact start during the Obama administration.

* There was a recession at the beginning of Bush's term and at the end of it, but most of Bush's term occurred during the real estate bubble, during which there was no recession --- why would increases in benefits during that time be attributable to a recession?

* What does "despite why the recession happened" mean? The recession did not occur due to food stamps.


You misread many things in my comment. Go through each of your points here and re-read what I said.

1. The 2001 was recession was minuscule to the 2008/09 one.

2. I never once said the recession "started" during his administration, I said the recession was during, that's it. Big difference.

3-4. The entire point was that the majority of the increases between the years of 2000-2010 were most likely between 2008-2010. I never made any correlation that increases in benefits were a cause of the recession. I said "despite why it happened" to basically say I'm not talking about or blaming anyone for the reasons of why it happened, just the actions that were taken after it.


None of this clarifies your argument or answers any of the questions I asked. I literally don't understand the argument you're trying to make, and because I'm a nerd like most of the people here, there's a siren in my brain going off over it. Can you try to reword your argument more precisely?

It sounds to me like you made a statement in your original comment that was straightforwardly refuted, and I'm trying hard to understand how anything you replied to that refutation with changes anything. You claimed there was an "unprecedented" rise in food stamp benefits during the Obama administration. No, that's not at all the case, right?


You spent five minutes looking at some charts and can now confidently state that (1) the media has got it all wrong and that (2) you've figured out how to avoid deficits, how taxes should really work and the problem with social security.

The word "hubris" comes to mind.


Ok, I'll bite... briefly.

A.) I spent more than five minutes. Regardless, I stated at "at a glance".

B.) I did not say the media has it all wrong. I said many things, NOT ALL, perpetuated by both sides in the media are different than the data from government sources. I don't think anybody would argue that both sides, especially recently, have had media reports that sketch and bend the truth. And both sides just claim the other is "fake news".

C.) I never said I figured out how to avoid deficits. I stated a problem, which is running a deficit perpetually is not sustainable. I'd love to hear a solution if you have one.

D.) For taxes, I once again stated an observation from the report, which supports the idea of a simplified tax system. No, I didn't lay out my full economic tax plan suggesting what to do. If you read one of the other comments, their is a link about historical effective tax rates, go check that out. That, along with the tax revenue by the federal government, is why I made my statement.

And finally yeah, the problem with social security is many faceted. But from a selfish, personal reason... highly unlikely any of the money I'm paying in right now will EVER come back to me. So yeah, I believe it's a problem.


I don't even understand the argument you've made. From your original comment, it appears that you dove into a site full of graphs, came up with "405 billion shortfall", and declared the program imperiled. I can't find that number on the site (I may have spent less time looking than you did) and it doesn't square with the Trustees report or, for that matter, with the conventional wisdom that Social Security is probably not our big problem --- relatively small, long-overdue fixes to SSDI will more or less resolve budget concerns there --- but instead Medicare.

Your comment at the top of this thread is sort of a perfect illustration of the problems of sites like these.


> Despite all the different changes in the income tax rate/other progressive taxes. This supports an overhaul to the tax code to a more simple, flat tax system. From another data source outside this report, I'd have to find it, but historically, no matter the top bracket tax rate, the Federal government collects about 15-17 % income tax. Including when the top rate was 90%+.

Even assuming that is true, it wouldn't change the regressive nature of a flat tax.


In practice a 20% flat tax on all people and corporations without exceptions and deductions would be more progressive than the current system. The wealthy pay very little taxes.


A couple things...

The parent is talking about "progressive" as in "the tax gets progressively higher as you make more money", not in the "social justice" sense. The flat tax being regressive means that the poor would have to actually pay more in taxes than they do now, which is very little. That's seen as a bad thing. Obviously there are solutions to that in flat tax proposals.

Second, "the wealthy pay very little taxes" is a meme. I mean, look at what we've got here:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/13/high-income-...

Those making $250K and up are responsible for 51.6% of all income tax revenue. How much more should they be expected to contribute? Remember: the truly wealthy can live anywhere in the world. There's a balancing act that needs to be established between "you're not paying your fair share" and "soak the rich."


> Those making $250K and up are responsible for 51.6% of all income tax revenue. How much more should they be expected to contribute?

And this is what is so annoying about groups complaints about the wealthy paying taxes. The heavy reliance on misleading statistics.

The quote says a specific group pays 51% of all tax revenue and says it's way too much. Well did they collect 51% of all income?

An entire article that not once answers the most obvious question even though they clearly have the data to answer it.

And to be clear, I'm not talking about Adjusted Gross Income (which is the total after taking every possible deduction in the book), but actually gross personal income. The latter usually isn't reported. The former is which often is used to make percentages of taxes paid seem higher.

And I don't know the answer, it may even help their case - but the fact the most obvious stat question isn't brought up in arguments for why taxes on the wealthy are too high makes it easy to conclude these aren't discussions in good faith.


> The quote says a specific group pays 51% of all tax revenue and says it's way too much. Well did they collect 51% of all income?

Did they get 51% of all the benefits of how that money was spent?


More, quite possibly. They're likely using infrastructure more heavily (primarily due to the way they make money), they more likely to rely on subsidized work by others (employing people on medicaid etc, because they're not provided health care via employer)...


It's hard to say, but anyone who is a part of a demographic minority that has collected 51% of all the income in a country's economy has clearly gotten some additional benefits.


The quote says a specific group pays 51% of all tax revenue and says it's way too much. Well did they collect 51% of all income?

Probably not. Some quick Googling finds this analysis:

http://www.financialsamurai.com/how-much-money-do-the-top-in...

It uses different split points, but claims that the top 5% of earners make about 35% of the total AGI, but pay 59% of gross income taxes.


Of course, federal "income taxes" are less than 2/3 of total federal taxes on income.


So, I'm looking at the actual IRS spreadsheet of Income Tax for the year 2014, which you can find here: https://www.irs.gov/uac/soi-tax-stats-individual-statistical...

The IRS is so nice as to provide exactly the metric we're looking for, which is:

For the group of people making $XXX per year or more, what percent of all income in the US does this group earn, and what percent of all income tax does this group pay?

Here's the groups you mentioned:

    +------------------+------------------------+---------------------+--------------------------+
    | Income group     | Percent of tax returns | Percent of total US | Percent of total US      |
    |                  | in this group          | taxable income      | Income Tax owed          |
    |                  |                        | earned by group     | by group (after credits) |
    +------------------+------------------------+---------------------+--------------------------+
    | $200,000 or more | 4.20%                  | 41.90%              | 57.50%                   |
    +------------------+------------------------+---------------------+--------------------------+
    | $100,000 or more | 16.00%                 | 67.90%              | 79.50%                   |
    +------------------+------------------------+---------------------+--------------------------+
So yes you can see that those who earn high amounts pay taxes at greater rates than those who earn smaller amounts. However, it's not as though those earning $250k+ a year are only earning 25% of money earned by people in the US but are paying 50% of the taxes. Instead, they're payed around 40% of all the income and pay around 57% of all the taxes.


> The flat tax being regressive means that the poor would have to actually pay more in taxes than they do now, which is very little. That's seen as a bad thing.

It is a bad thing. In low-income households, there is less disposable income. In that case, taxes eat into the cost of necessities (or near-necessities such as broadband for those with slightly higher income). On the other end of the spectrum, for those with large incomes that income is largely disposable.

Dollars are dollars, sure, but there is a distinction to be made between taxing someone's food money and someone's Rolls Royce #2 money.


In other words: The marginal utility of your first dollar is significantly higher than that of your last. Also known as the law of diminishing marginal utility.


> Remember: the truly wealthy can live anywhere in the world.

As an American who often lives anywhere in the world, I'd like to point out you pay US taxes no matter where you live. (though you do get a 90k income exemption, if you are talking about the "truly rich" then that doesn't matter a whole lot)


Not if you renounce your US citizenship, which is an option the truly wealthy have available to them (see: that Facebook guy).


Just one simple example would be that there is an untaxed amount, let's say $25k (or whatever the poverty level is) and everything above is 20%.


That is still regressive. A truly progressive tax system would be similar to what we have now but with much fewer deductions that the affluent can use to lower their effective tax rate. (Oft cited that warren buffet has a lower effective tax rate than his secretary because of all the deductions and loopholes.)

Not to mention that there is a huge misunderstanding of how progressive tax rates work. A very affluent businessman was on tv saying they would essentially have no motivation to work if the marginal tax rate increased for him when Obama was campaigning. His idea was that the tax bracket above 250k per year would somehow affect his entire income if he earned more than that figure so he would only want to work until he had 249,999 dollars and then stop making money to avoid "making less money". Of course the marginal tax rate is the rate that your money is taxed above that threshold. In this case the tax rate would go from say 15% to 20% on the money earned after 250k. Let's say you made 260k that year. Your extra tax burden because of the marginal rate increasing would be 20-15= 5% on the 10k dollars. You don't get taxed an extra 5% on all your money made like that fellow thought.

Flat tax is regressive and sales tax is regressive.


I find the whole claim that people, who are otherwise hard-working people, doing whatever it is they're doing to make a lot of money (running a business, lawyering, doctoring, whatever), are going to look at an increased tax rate and just stop doing whatever they're doing. That doesn't make sense to me, from every business owner, lawyer, and doctor I've ever known.

No one would say anything even remotely like, "well, my practice is going well, I saw 20 patients today, oh what rewarding work, but what with these taxes I'll just stay home".

Every single wealthy person I've ever known, their motivation has been the thing they do first, the money a distant second. Maybe I just know pretty decent wealthy people, I dunno.


> That is still regressive

No, it's clearly not. Lemme give you some examples assuming a 15% flat tax and a 25K pre-bate (or credit, or whatever you want to call it):

1) 25k income, $0 tax - effective tax rate = 0% 2) 50k income, $3,750 tax - effective tax rate = 7.5% 3) 100k income, $11,250 tax - effective tax rate = 11.25% 4) 1M income, $146,250 tax - effective tax rate = 14.625%

It's clearly a progressive tax, as the rate goes up as income goes up. Feel free to call the above rates or the idea of a flat tax unfair, but please don't try to glance the meaning of well defined terms like 'regressive tax' to mean what you want them to.


There are two definitions of a regressive tax. the first deals strictly with the percentage rate and the second deals with the proportionality of effect toward lower class incomes. Your flat tax would be strictly progressive on the first front but regressive on the second even more regressive if tax deductions are still a thing. The only fair tax is one that is progressive and accounts for diminishing marginal utility of a dollar. Just like sales tax is a flat tax it's regressive because of the elasticity of demand for essentials.


The point that the businessman was trying to make is not that he misunderstands how marginal tax rates work, but for the next dollar I'm going to earn, I now get to keep less. My incentive to earn the NEXT dollar is therefore less.

This is exactly why we don't have a tax rate on the top bracket of 90% like in the Eisenhower era. It's not about being taxed on all your money when you make over that amount, it is, where is the incentive to grow my self or my company if I only get to keep $0.10 of the next dollar I make.

Most people who pay multiple tax rates across brackets understand how it works.


Listen, I saw it and I know what he said. he said if he goes one dollar over 250k he would make less than if he had not gone over that threshold. this is complete bullshit and it was either an ignorant understanding of marginal tax rates or a deliberate way to obfuscate the issue with a national tv appearance where you can feign ignorance and most of the population doesn't understand tax rates.

He didn't say after 250k my motivation to work is gone because a smaller amount is returned to me.(iirc the tax rate wasn't that much more than it was before anyway) he said he would lose money if he went over that threshold of 250k.


> he said if he goes one dollar over 250k he would make less than if he had not gone over that threshold.

That actually is theoretically possible - there are numerous tax credits and deductions that come with income caps, and while they are generally phased out, it's not always a smooth slope, and can have some cliffs.

Obviously he'd be in a very odd and like one-time situation if that were the case, but it is possible with how screwy our tax system is.


> Obviously he'd be in a very odd and like one-time situation if that were the case, but it is possible with how screwy our tax system is.

That scenario is possible, sure. either way it's disingenuous to make the claim that they would lose money by making one more dollar when the tax breaks were not part of the discussion and that cliff would exist regardless of the marginal tax rate on the high earners(which they were discussing). I am ALL for simplifying the tax code to remove subsidies and loopholes and other complexities to the tax code. I am not for removing the progressive nature of the tax code.


This is such a ridiculous argument because you will never replace all taxes with a simple 20% tax since states, counties, localities, and ports all have the ability and incentive to tax and impose fees.

Due to this, I will focus on what it means to replace the income tax system with a flat 20%. A family of 4 (2 kids under 18) making $50,000 per year pays about $200 in federal income taxes if they do nothing but file their taxes and take the standard deduction, personal deduction, EITC, and Child Tax Credit. A family of 4 making 70k pays something like $2000. A family of 4 making $150k last year contributing to 401k, HSA, IRA's, 2 kids under 18, have an effective tax rate of like 8%.

In every single one of these cases, the families would be worst off (some significantly) if they were required to pay a 20% flat tax.


In 2015, the top 20% paid 84% of collected income tax. That would hardly qualify as little taxes.


They also own 88% of the country's wealth. And collect 65% of the country's income. (More if you include investment gains.) Pardon me if I don't shed too many tears. [1]

Increasing taxes on them would hardly qualify as hardship. The utility of a dollar is much lower when you have ~$300,000 in savings (80th percentile), then when you have ~$300 in savings (20th percentile).

Related anecdote: With an annual income of ~$250-300,000, my net tax rate, including untaxable benefits and investment income is the same as that of my partner - who makes ~$30-40,000. If I had an income of $2,500,000, it would be substantially lower.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_Unite...


Please explain how flat tax rate across any income level, while removing the current tax code, would be considered regressive? I have not heard that argument before.

The proportion of tax paid is the same at any income level. Anything that would counteract any "regressive" tax system would have to happen on the personal income side. Which means better education, opportunities, etc., to increase income levels.

I'd support a rule though that said if you make less than the poverty line (around 32k I believe?), you pay no income tax at the federal level.


> Please explain how flat tax rate across any income level, while removing the current tax code, would be considered regressive? I have not heard that argument before.

It's regressive in that it causes the poor to pay more than they do now. With regard to taxes, progressive and regressive have specific meaning.

> The proportion of tax paid is the same at any income level.

I don't believe this is true. You'll have to back up a statement like that with references, rather than just repeating it continuously.

What you are talking about is the effective tax rate. That said, you might find this table of effective tax rates by quintile[1] interesting, as it directly disproves that point.

1: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/statistics/historical-average...


> It's regressive in that it causes the poor to pay more than they do now. With regard to taxes, progressive and regressive have specific meaning.

Under that meaning, a flat tax is the border between progressive and regressive taxation. It is not an example of a regressive tax.

Increasing the amount that poor people pay makes a tax scheme relatively more regressive, but if it's no more regressive than a flat tax, it's still not "regressive".


> Under that meaning, a flat tax is the border between progressive and regressive taxation.

That depends entirely how you measure. If you measure by total income, then yes. If you measure by income after necessities for living are accounted for, then a very simple progressive tax that takes that into consideration might be considered the baseline, and a flat tax that doesn't take that into consideration could be considered regressive. On the other end of the spectrum, if you make people account for all subsidized government services used and count that as income, then a flat tax is progressive. Without an agreement on the baseline for measurement (which I believe is where a lot of people start disagreeing), you can't even necessarily agree on what is progressive and regressive.


I thought progressive and regressive referred to convex and concave taxation curves, respectively (both monotonically increasing, of course). Then flat tax is exactly the border (i.e. a linear function).


While depending on background, that may be what some people think of as defining progressive and regressive taxes, and may indeed describe at a low level the concept that most people think of and even be the origination of the term, it's not the definition generally put forth currently[1][2] (which is, admittedly, very simplistic). That just goes to my point, which is that people aren't even necessarily in agreement on the terms, and might not even be aware of that.

1: https://apps.irs.gov/app/understandingTaxes/student/glossary...

2: https://apps.irs.gov/app/understandingTaxes/student/whys_thm...


I think these definitions are equivalent. If your marginal tax rate (at least sometimes) increases as you get more income, the curve of tax liability against income will be concave upwards. If it (at least sometimes) decreases, that curve will be concave downwards. Right?


Almost. I think the concept inside many people's heads is simplified to the degree that it doesn't even need to describe a curve. A simple step function, for example (the simplest in this case being if you make less than $X, you pay nothing, otherwise Y%). In that manner, the concept is not approximating the curve, the curve is approximating the concept.


What I meant by the proportion of tax paid is the same at any income level is under a flat tax scenario, leaving out all tax rules today of exemptions/credits.

If the rate is 10%, the proportion of tax is the same, whether you make $10 or $1 million, you are still paying 10% of your income.

Yes, the effective tax rate collected. The reference you provided only supports my claim. It looks like the effective tax rate, which is the actual rate collected by the IRS is around 20% since 1979. I'd have to find it, but if you take the data all the way back to the New Deal, the effective tax rate is around 17%. Most likely due to it being easier to "hide" income back then.

Regardless, the effective tax rate has stayed around 17-22% over almost the last century, despite the large differences in the tax rates at different brackets. Remember, the top rate during the Eisenhower administration was 90%. Yet the effective tax rate average was unchanged.


I think the problem here is that your inference that a flat tax rate would be good because the total amount of income taxes collected each year as a percent of total income hasn't change has had no supporting evidence presented, and it's such a leap to most people that they don't even understand that's the argument you're making.

Exactly why do you believe that since the total percentage of income collected hasn't really changed that means a flat tax is a good idea? The reason for a progressive tax is not to raise the total amount of taxes collected, but to change which people it is collected from proportionally. I'm not sure what the total percentage collected has to do with that.


Someone making $10 is going to miss 10% of that a lot more than someone making $100, and they're going to miss 10% of that a lot more than someone making $10,000. And someone making $1MM isn't likely to miss it at all.


The basic point in simplest form is that the less money a person earns, the greater the impact of paying 20% of their income in taxes is in terms of real dollars left to live on.

A family earning $50K will have $40K left after federal taxes to live on. A family earning $250K will have $200K left to live on. One of these families is hurt more than the other by a flat tax. This is what is meant when a flat tax is criticized as being regressive.


Thanks for the explanation of what he meant. I was thinking more macro, but by regressive, people seem to mean the micro aspect of it. I don't believe it would take a very complicated tax code, if we started over, to make sure the lower brackets are not regressive. Even just using standard deductions, child tax credits (cost of living higher), etc.

A single "family" of one making 50k though should most likely be paying their portion of tax, whatever the tax rate is. At some point an individual has to be accountable and live within their means.

So in the end, the tax rate would be flat, but effective tax rate would not.


If you are just going to carve out a bunch of exemptions, which is what actually makes that tax code difficult in the first place, to end up with the same outcomes that we have now, why change anything? It would actually be even more difficult to get the exemptions right since there would have to be more, they would have to be higher, and their phase outs would be more complicated.

Also, a single "family" of one, pays more in taxes today then say a family of four with 2 kids earning the same household income. Apologies ahead of time if I misconstrued your argument.


Social Security is perpetually misunderstood. It's working as designed.

Those surpluses that you're looking for were essentially just dumped on the federal balance sheet as non-marketable debt and spent on stuff like building aircraft carriers.

The "deficit" means that it's time to pay back those IOUs. It's pretty easily balance that -- you raise the threshold for payroll taxes and index it to inflation.

Flat tax is an awful, terrible idea. The reason that the 90% tax rates resulted in similar collection rates is that lots of things were deductible. All leases, most interest expenses. More people were essentially exempt from paying as well.


It's pretty easily balance that -- you raise the threshold for payroll taxes and index it to inflation.

It's already indexed to wage growth rates, and there's nothing "easy" (or at least, shouldn't be) about a 12.4% marginal tax rate hike.


It's easier than dealing with the blowback from slashing essential benefits from millions of seniors.

My guess would be that the marginal dollar provided to a 30th percentile income individual has a higher economic impact than a loss of 0.12 of a marginal dollar for a person making $150k.


> My second takeaway at a glance is the giant problem that is Social Security. It's been said over and over, and the aggregation of more data into charts comes to the same conclusion. The way Social Security works is not sustainable. Period. Something has to give. A $405 B shortfall on SS in 2015. If that was at least half, we would actually not be running a deficit. We would have a budget surplus if we actually made Social Security/other Gov. retirement program replacement actually sustain itself perpetually. What. A. Concept.

We've literally spent the last 30 years building up the Social Security Trust Fund.

We have just under $3 TRILLION saved up for the expected social security shortfall. People are living a bit longer than expected, so we're a bit short on money.

But the USA has run a social security SURPLUS from between 1980 through 2014. Believe it or not, the US Government is actually very long-term thinking and we are somewhat prepared for the future.

------------

Yes, so thank Jimmy Carter in 1977 for coming up with the idea to save money for 2010+. The "Baby Boomers" are now retiring, so its natural for us to lose money until the Baby Boomers die out. The question is if the Trust Fund can last long enough (ie: until enough Boomers die)


> We would have a budget surplus if we actually made Social Security/other Gov. retirement program replacement actually sustain itself perpetually. What. A. Concept.

The problem is that there are a lot of people who believe that SS isn't broken because you can simply increase retirement age, make people pay in more, and other assorted band-aids. SS will be "solvent" until it suddenly isn't, and people need to realize that.


>SS will be "solvent" until it suddenly isn't, and people need to realize that.

And with a stroke of the pen, they'll make adjustments. SS isn't a real debt obligation; it's merely a "promise".


Retirement age must increase. People are living longer than when retirement pensions were first designed. It was easy to introduce, people weren't expected to live that long then and now they do.


So (rich) people are living longer... does that mean they are as productive, longer? Just because they're alive longer doesn't mean they can work as well in their 70s as they used to. There's also the whole ageism thing to consider. How hard is it to get a job in your 60s. How about if you're 70? 75?

The people with the lowest life expectancy are those that need SS the most, yet you're suggesting they not be able to receive it until after they're likely to be dead.


If you're thinking of America, it has homework to do first with SS (health care for all). I can see your perspective coming from there, I don't think it would be a viable argument in Europe.


I will actually HAPPILY increase my retirement age: when employers stop firing engineers over the age of 55 and replacing them with college grads. I'm happy to work until 72 or even 75. I have a pretty generous vacation allowance, so I'm not feeling the "rat race" in that way anymore. What I'm feeling is the creeping dread as I approach 50, that I'm going to be rightsized.


And it could be changed so gradually that no one near retirement age or who has started planning significantly for it is affected. Even a glacial rate of change would help -- one month later every year for the next few generations. And delay the start by a few years.

Point is to make changes without giving any cohesive group a strong reason to organize opposition. Or to have a strong moral argument that it was promised them.


Living longer != able to work longer. Making SS solvent isn't a hard problem, we know how to do it. It is simply politically hard.


This!!! I believe originally the retirement age was set way above the average life expectancy. Some information I had was that when it was first setup life expectancy was 55 yrs while you could collect SS at 60 years. If that is really the case then SS has been a ponzi scheme of sorts for a while but now that people are living longer the time to payback is coming. Second, I think sometime in the 70's or 80's accounting changes were made so that the budget deficits could be "hidden" with SS money (i.e. it was no longer an exclusive trust).


I believed so too, but reading on Wikipedia somewhat opened my mind to different arguments, since they underscore how the average life expectancy could be said to be approximately 70 years at the introduction of the 70 year retirement age in Germany.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Socialism_%28Germany%29#...


The retirement age increasing isn't strictly necessary just because people live longer. As long as a stable rate of interest exists, retirees can save up enough money and keep living off the interest payments. All that's required is that they're able to save up the same amount in the same time frame (provided the rate of interest doesn't change). Unfortunately, we haven't had a stable rate of interest for over a century.


the cap MUST increase


Tax all churches on donations and property assets and use these revenues to fund Social Security. The Constitution grants the Pope and his equivalents the freedom of religion; not the freedom to avoid taxes owed to the Federal Government.


>We would have a budget surplus if we actually made Social Security/other Gov. retirement program replacement actually sustain itself perpetually. What. A. Concept.

Why is running a budget surplus necessarily a "good thing"?

Seems like if people are willing to trade real assets for paper, we should do that as long as there are willing counterparties.


> Seems like if people are willing to trade real assets for paper, we should do that as long as there are willing counterparties.

That's why it's a good thing. Because we don't want to run out of "as long as."


Always running a surplus is presumably as bad a thing as always running a deficit, but if you can run a surplus On sunny days, then you don't need austerity measures on rainy days


Austerity measures are exactly the wrong strategy for "rainy days", no matter what your debts look like. See how the US bounced back fairly quickly from the 2008 crisis after the stimulus, while countries like the UK are still tightening their belts, because the cuts they've made to date have not had the desired effect.


> I'm seeing many things (if this data is accurate, which assuming it is as it's from all government sources) and trends that go against a large percentage of what the media on both sides are perpetuating. That is my first takeaway at a glance.

Examples?


"My second takeaway at a glance is the giant problem that is Social Security. [...] A $405 B shortfall on SS in 2015. If that was at least half, we would actually not be running a deficit. We would have a budget surplus if we actually made Social Security/other Gov. retirement program replacement actually sustain itself perpetually."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

yes, the first step is to remove the cap on social security withholding, which would affect the top ~6%. that would take care of over $100B of that yearly deficit.


There's lots of simple things to do to address Social Security's budget, including modest raises in retirement age, means-testing benefits, and changing the way we collect FICA taxes (FICA is itself a flat tax, which is kind of silly, and the withholding cap is a travesty).


for sure. it's just that removing the cap is simple to understand and legislate, and is widely supported--around 80% of all americans. unfortunately that 80% doesn't include the majority of congress critters.


SS will exhaust it's trust fund at some point, but it still has lots of revenue eery year. Last projection I saw was that if we do nothing to payroll tax or retirement age, we'd see a 20% reduction in payouts and it would remain solvent indefinitely. Seems like it only needs adjustments to keep working fine.


> SS will exhaust it's trust fund at some point

Or not. Current projection by the Social Security Trustees are that the OASI trust fund will be exhausted between, IIRC, 2030 and never; the DI fund between 2020 and never (there's two separate trust funds involved.)


I searched for "social security" and found nothing meaningful. Or social-security-related.

Search UI needs work, I guess


I think there are players who expressly want the U.S. government not to have a surplus, due to the political connections/ramifictions/control debt can bring.


Yes. Look up 'Starve the Beast'.


That's not only true now, it's been true all the way back to Robert Morris and Alexander Hamilton (although the goals weren't entirely the same at that time, obviously).


This would be really powerful if it provided access to the original data sources.

Imagine if you could analyze the results of public policy, with clean and detailed data, independently curated, without political or bureaucratic distortions.

The US has 3,000 counties and 20,000 towns and cities, each one a petri dish of experiments in governance. Imagine what we could learn!

From the NYT [1]:

  Want to know how many police officers are employed in various
  parts of the country and compare that against crime rates?

  Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets
  and the cost to collect?

  Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed
  depression and how much the government spends on it?

  That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.
Unfortunately, I'm not seeing source data on the site. There are high-level charts and PDF reports so far.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/business/dealbook/steve-b...


If you drill down to any individual metric, e.g. http://usafacts.org/metrics/12892 it says "Sources for this data are coming soon" & "Download coming soon". Give them some time, they just launched.


thats pretty important... The entire point of this thing is to be transparent.


Well it is, but I wasn't planning on taking their numbers and running with them today, so I think its okay if their MVP is "here's some numbers, we'll tell you how we got them next week".

All that level of detail is necessary to make things actionable, but if they're gathering data no one cares about---that's pretty important, and you can't know that before launch.


Considering that this site isn't really involved with any of the organizations providing the data, it's not really "transparent" in the sense that it should be. Even if they provide the data for download, there's no way to verify that it hasn't been tampered or transformed since its initial collection. They would need to link to the actual sources directly and I don't think that's going to happen.


Thats the creator's presentation of the purpose of it.

Snarky? yes, but an important distinction. A truly objective point of view doesn't exist as far as we know.


Given that I'm just now writing a professional development series for using R in the classroom, these data sources would be really useful. Having a broad source of things we could analyze would be rad.


Whimsical suggestion

https://www.ons.gov.uk/

Use some examples from the above for the class presentations, then homework is to replicate with US data.

PS: if you decide to publish your presentations/course materials freely, do post the location to HN


This is exactly the kind of frustration I feel almost all the time when I see some nice data visualizations on the internet! And that's why I began working on https://thegamma.net. Now I just need to convince Mr. Ballmer to use it...


Government Finance data can be downloaded here: http://willamette.edu/mba/research_impact/public_datasets/in...


>Imagine if you could analyze the results of public policy, with clean and detailed data, independently curated, without political or bureaucratic distortions.

I would not be so sure. There's no such thing as a point of view from nowhere.

Bias can influence the collection and computation of data just as easily as it can influence its presentation and framing. The old saying is "never trust a statistic you haven't faked yourself."

In some ways, presenting as neutral means that neither group is going to trust you. I'm not sure if it actually accomplishes anything.



I'm intrigued by the way they broke down the top-level categories for Federal spending: they used Constitutional phrases, which I haven't seen used this way before (at least not exact quotes, which look so antiquated): https://usafacts.org/the-big-picture?return_to=%2Fgovernment...

I know a lot of people would argue (reasonably) that all government spending should be clearly categorizable under such things, but not that they are.

It reminds me of the "ends policy monitoring" used by a non-profit I'm involved in. The staff pulls out each clause in our end goal ("Ends") policy and breaks down our activities based on those categories.

I'm wondering if this is something Ballmer got from corporate governance. It was new to me when we first started doing it. At any rate, I like it.


Before anyone goes putting a ton of trust in these charts...

Compare the following: http://usafacts.org/metrics/31815 vs http://usafacts.org/metrics/12966

In the second chart half a million more people decide to die every 10th year?

( imgur link to screenshots in case the links don't work: http://imgur.com/a/tY02j )


>In the second chart half a million more people decide to die every 10th year?

Or it's from another source that gives different metrics obtained every 10 years (e.g. from census) with some extrapolation?

In any case, the differences are small in this instance over the long run, it's the lack of source and other metadata that its more troubling.


I can't access USAfacts right now but the census shouldn't matter for this if it's just crude deaths since those are reported through a different system and are a precise count. I can't think of any reason why there would be a 10 year spike in the data, it's definitely an error of some kind.


Why would it extrapolate 25% lower values on all other years? If the 10th years are the actual data points, the computed trend line through only census years shouldn't be so radically different from the drawn markers.

In any case, the differences are small in this instance over the long run

The differences in those years are _huge_.


>If the 10th years are the actual data points, the computed trend line through only census years shouldn't be so radically different from the drawn markers.

Except if the trend line is based on the other data source, and the peaks on the census data.


It just says deaths in the screenshot though, not death rate so it shouldn't be dependent on anything else.


>The differences in those years are _huge_.

They look similar to me. One has less granular data than the other. What exactly are you implying?


>They look similar to me.

Do a quick calculation for me, please.

What percent of 2 million is 500 thousand? Because the errors are 500 thousand on 2-2.5 million. That's a huge amount of error.


They probably were using death rates and multiplying by population (which gets readjusted every census.) Definitely a FIXME.


This would not result in the spikes that we are seeing. If it was a readjusted population, then the number would rise sharply every tens years and stay up.


Similarly, this chart says there are only 2,000-4,000 teachers in K-12 education: http://usafacts.org/metrics/34211. This is obviously not true.


Most likely missing scale. Probably in thousands.


Yep you are right. I see the numbers in the report and they are in the thousands: http://usafacts.org/report-slides?page=66.

This still shows the flaws in the website. It does not say what the scale is in on graph at all, and other graphs will not be so obviously incorrect.


Isn't this just likely to be caused by the census data?


Or more precisely, by the lack of census data in years where no actual enumeration is performed.

The big jumps on census years indicate that the census department does not estimate accurately when working with 9-year-old data.


What you're saying doesn't match the reality of what is actually shown in the graph at http://usafacts.org/metrics/12966

They aren't jumps suddenly correcting a bad estimate with new data. They are gigantic 25% spikes which are then immediately undone. There is no way to explain this chart by just saying that estimates worsen over time.


Births and deaths are derivatives. Thus a 25% spike is basically just an adjustment to reflect smaller (~2-3%) errors in the non-census years. To put numbers to this: imagine 100 people were born every year between 1991 and 2000, inclusive. The statistics only recorded 98 people being born every year, though. We then did a census, and discovered that the number of people <10 years old in 2000 was 1000 people, thus we recorded a number of births as 118 (since we thought that 882 people had been born so far in 1991-1999), and then back down to 100 in the next year.


Depending on the estimate, the most recent census data might not be fully incorporated into the model until several years following the census?

I can't look at your link at the moment because the corporate firewall is currently blocking the domain.

But there really isn't any way to get around the fact that real census data are only collected once every 10 years (and the 1890 census was burned, so that point is missing).


When you can look at the links you'll see what I mean.

To give a description of the problem in text...

Both charts are labeled "Deaths", but I'm going to describe one of them for you.

The time span from 1981 to 1999 goes like this: 1,968,365 - 1,998,559 - 2,033,124 - 2,068,679 - 2,091,359 - 2,105,024 - 2,163,984 - 2,161,764 - [1,637,394] - [2,656,721] - 2,180,115 - 2,226,027 - 2,282,854 - 2,284,363 - 2,317,918 - 2,321,933 - 2,330,759 - 2,359,088 - 2,386,995

And then 2000 is [2,979,442]

And then 2001 is 2,430,225

And so on. Every 10 years, and also in 1989, there is a fluctuation by 500,000 deaths from the expected number given the surrounding trends.

All of the numbers that are _not_ between [] above look like a smooth upward trend, yeah? So WTF is happening in the three that have [] if the data isn't bogus? I say the data must be bogus.


If anyone would like to know more about the 1890 census (I was intrigued) this is a good article on it:

https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1996/spring/1...


You mean people are more likely to die in census years? I mean, it could be true, but I'm not willing to bet on it.

[edit] So I went and put "why is death rate higher in census years?" into the google search bar, and the first result is "Causes of Death - Census". I didn't actually click on the link to find out, but that title certainly sounds like the census kills people. So maybe you're right. :)


I think it's just that the intermediary years are estimations and the chart isn't compensated.

The estimates are just bad and not adjusted historically. Doesn't make the chart bad... just makes the data a little wonky.


The intermediate years use statistical methods that better address some of the practical difficulties in getting complete and unique responses; the "actual enumeration" is well-known to be less accurate (in fact, the same methods used for between census estimates are also used by the census bureau to produce and publish estimates of the over- and under-counts in the actual enumeration.)

There was (probably still is, despite the fact that it seems to be a lost cause) a movement to use the better methods for all purposes, but given that it would be a constitutional change and the errors benefit the already politically powerful, there is pretty much no chance of it happening any time in the foreseeable future.

OTOH, I don't know ow that that actually has anything to do with the chart at issue: there is no information on sources or methodology, just "sources of this data are coming soon". If you don't have the sources ready to cite, you have no business publishing visualizations of the supposed data.


It sounds like you're inventing reasons to post-hoc rationalize bad data. What exactly are the intermediate years estimates of? What does "isn't compensated" even mean in this context?

Doesn't make the chart bad... just makes the data a little wonky.

The chart is great. It perfectly represents exactly the data in the tabular form. The data is apparently garbage though.


It's the trend line generation, not the data. The start and end points are the same between the two graphs. To say that this nitpick throws shade on the entire project is a bit overstated.


It's the trend line generation, not the data.

What you just said doesn't make any sense and is a post-hoc rationalization besides.

The start and end points are the same between the two graphs.

Actually they are not. The starting numbers (1980) differ between the two charts by ~500,000 deaths.

To say that this nitpick throws shade on the entire project is a bit overstated.

My very first search on the data came up with this. I suppose I could have kept searching but that puts me personally at a 100% error rate. Maybe I'm just really really unlucky, though.


Can anyone give me some intuition into why 77k people are employed by the Social Security Administration? [1] That's bigger than Google, and I didn't think their scope was that wide.

[1] http://usafacts.org/government-finances/employment?compariso... under "Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity". The combined count is "n/a" - maybe that's because the State & Local count has some overlap with the Federal count? So I took the maximum of the two.


"Bigger than Google" isn't an interesting metric. A better comparison would be to other insurance companies: Progressive Insurance has ~30k, Allstate ~43k, and State Farm ~70k.

Roughly half of Social Security's workforce consists of insurance administrators, who respond to and adjudicate claims and set individual citizens up with their benefits. Unlike State Farm, basically every American interfaces in some way with Social Security.

Again, an example of how a site full of numbers and line graphs can mislead by failing to provide context, while pretending to present a complete picture.


It seems to me that we could eliminate a lot of that overhead if we stopped pretending that Social Security is insurance and just gave every retiree the same benefit. You would still need to keep track of who has reached retirement age, who has died, and where to send the checks, but you could get rid of a lot of arcane rules.


I guess the question is: how much would you save by firing 50k people, and how much would it cost you in claims getting awarded to people without real need?


Firing fifty thousand Social Security Administration employees would likely require the SSA to be the most efficient benefits management organization in the world. 70,000 employees sounds like a lot, but, again: it's roughly in line with comparable commercial organizations.


There are SSA offices all over the country that actually meet people. Lots of older voting public that demands this.

Same reason why we still have post offices in tiny towns.


~1,230 field offices.

https://www.ssa.gov/org/


I think so too. I've been in one. Once the non-internet generation goes away, those offices can go away. Or fold it into the Postal system like they have done with passport applications.


Uh, I don't think it's a case of people being "non-internet". If the needed wires haven't been ran to your locality then you're not "going internet". Further, the postal service is still critical. We might not use it for every day letters anymore, but it service important functions that nothing else can.


More wonderful fact: Government employes 24 million people. This include state and federal and all jobs paid for by government such as teachers. So about 1 in every 6 person works for government.


Number of "people" in the us: 318.9 million (2014) => more like 1 in 13. Also, I'm pretty sure that 24 million figure includes the military.


Only about 150 million americans actually work

[1]https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat08.htm


People who don't work are still people, so the total number of workers has no bearing on the accuracy of the claim that 1/6 people in the US work for the government. The only relevant numbers are the ~24 million government workers and the ~320 million people. Which make the claim false.


s/person works/workers work/ and it's legit. In fact it's closer to 1 in 5 even [1]. ~125M workers, 24M work for the government.

I wonder how many of those think the government should get our of their lives?

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/192361/unadjusted-monthl...


Have you considered the thousands of problems those people have to solve? The many phone-calls they have do to get people to receive the benefits they are entitled to? Or prevent them from losing them? Google doesn't have to do any of that.

People working in the perimeter of "social work" for the state generally do a lot to help people, who, for whatever reason, are often sabotaging themselves.


They do a lot and in a regional, local way. Google doesn't have to have employees at every city or even in every state. Google also has a relatively narrow focus compared to the SSA. The SSA has to authoritatively interact in a timely manner to births, deaths, citizen naturalizations (term?), and probably a huge amount more. All social security payments come from them, after all.


The laws are byzantine, and often vague. Eligibility decisions have significant effects on people's lives.

For comparison, there are 665k certified practicing accountants in the US.


It might have to do something with efficiency.


"USAFacts was inspired by a conversation Steve Ballmer had with his wife. She wanted him to get more involved in philanthropic work. He thought it made sense to first find out what government does with the money it raises."

Had anyone made the comic strip version?

Wife: it breaks my heart to hear about the many suffering Americans. We can't take our money with us when we die, let's help our fellow Americans?

Steve: that's what the government is for.

Wife: I thought you might say that so I ran the numbers.

Steve: hmm, I'm not agreeing with your interpretation. I think we're going to have to do additional modeling.

USAfacts was born.

Months later...

Wife: are we ready to really help the poor?

Steve: this data is fascinating!


I get the joke, but in all seriousness we probably need both types of people in the world. Some who take immediate action and others who prepare the way for more informed action.


I've seen some well-intentioned foundations spin around in circles, burning through a lot of donor money as they adopt and discard naive models about the nature of teen pregnancy, over-fishing, recidivism, educational success and failure, etc., etc.

Yes. We do need both types of people in the world.


I have a ton of respect for Steve Ballmer. My intent is good fun.

The humor for me hinges on "[Mr Ballmer] thought it made sense to first ... government" implying he sees it as a necessary sequence for him to dig into the data and he wasn't satisfied with the data he had access to. It also humors me that it reads like he doesn't consider the initiative itself being philanthropic. Yes, I do enjoy that it also allows for words to be put in Mr Ballmer's mouth for some darker humor: Mr Ballmer believes it's the role of the government. And Mr Ballmer couldn't find any of the numerous paths paved with objective analysis that he could use to get more involved in philanthropic work.

Of course, none of these interpretations match reality. I do like the intro coming across, at least partially, as normal geek thinking. I like that the About hasn't yet been PR distilled.


It's entirely likely that USAFacts does more for the underprivileged than Steve Ballmer Philanthropist ever could


Joking aside, it's eminently normal, if you're setting out to help people, to ask first where your help might do the most good. And when attempting to answer that question, if you find that nobody has bothered to collect the data, it's normal to proceed to collect the data. The effort itself is philanthropy, and it forms a foundation for future philanthropy.


It's all in the marketing.

Frame it as "data-driven decision making" and we'll get 100s of think pieces from various tech luminaries and wannabe luminaries.


Wife: These kids in rural Alabama could really use some food

Steve: Did you know school teachers are one of the largest groups of federal employees?


There are stories of doctors prescribing food to malnourished children and Medicaid refusing to pay, saying "Food is not medicine."


That makes sense to me since there are other programs which exist specifically to provide food assistance.


Although that point of view appears to miss the point. It appears the inability to pay for food with the health budget would hide / obfuscate the data that might have otherwise shown a direct correlation between malnutrition and poor health.

Sure you could read a study to get the same information, but unless your own data screams to you what the problem is it's not always easy to convince folks you should be doing anything about it.


I don't blame the bureaucrat who denied this claim. While food is clearly required for your health, and there is a strong connection between healthy diet and general and specific health issues, including death, pharmacies don't dispense food. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that insurance would approve supplements, not food, for malnutrition since that is something traditionally associated with health care.

What would you say if the family was providing unhealthy food, and the doctor prescribed a year of vegetables from Medicaid? I agree, that would be a great program, but federal agencies can only do what they're specifically allowed to by law. I would imagine there is much data gathered on what conditions Medicare patients are suffering from, and i presume if malnutrition is common, that would be addressed in agency reports and in congress.

I'm not sure what data you're envisioning 'screaming' to responsible parties or what method they would be encountering this data by.


Depending on the age of the child, those programs may only provide food for a certain amount of time, over the lifetime of the adult applying for the benefits.

Or, if the adult has any property that increases their net worth over a certain amount, then they can't get the benefit at all.


That's true. But the appropriate programs should be created, budgeted, or extended to provide food appropriately, not to somehow mix basic daily nutrition with doctors, insurance and pharmacies.

If they found a medical relationship is more effective, great. But the answer is to budget and create appropriate rules for that first.


I find PerotCharts more useful (with commentary), than this particular site. Too bad it has not been updated in a while.

http://perotcharts.website/

Yes, its that Perot: Ross Perot.


For those prone to confirmation bias, commentary and interpretation of data can be counterproductive. The fact that Ballmer is purposefully not setting an agenda makes this more powerful. Otherwise people tend to accumulate their own set of convenient facts.


> The fact that Ballmer is purposefully not setting an agenda makes this more powerful.

Yes, I agree.

> Otherwise people tend to accumulate their own set of convenient facts.

I think people will do this anyway...are we not human?


>> Otherwise people tend to accumulate their own set of convenient facts.

>I think people will do this anyway...are we not human?

Be careful with this sentiment. It is defeatist cynicism masquerading as self-deprecation. As such it undermines the truly well-meaning among us, conflating their intellectual humility with another's willful ignorance.


> I think people will do this anyway

Of course they will - just look at another set of comments on this page. Two people coming to diametrically opposed conclusions based on the same data w/r/t top marginal tax rates and US government revenue.


> I think people will do this anyway...are we not human?

Yes, but that's not relevant. The point is that there's nothing to be gained by encouraging that behavior.


I also like this joke in a way except it implies Steve didn't also increase his funding and participation in his wife's philanthropic work, which he has said in multiple interviews where he's shared this anecdote that he has.


But not said on http://usafacts.org/about


That's not far off from the origin story described in yesterday's NYT article.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/business/dealbook/steve-b...


It's a nice effort, but I'm disheartened at the lack of labeling for sourcing, as if the source (nevermind the methodology of collection) is subordinate or ancillary to the data itself. There is a massive difference between stats (and taxonomy) collected by local jurisdictions and, say, by the FBI. I know it's a beta, but it's not as if source labels are some optional feature when it comes to the integrity of data.

edit: Exhibit A: Firearms licenses

http://imgur.com/a/IggVx

Where did this data come from? What kind of firearms? What kind of licenses? This data is absolutely useless without context.


What a cool service. The spending by our country (and the associated deficits and debt) shouldn't have to be a partisan issue clouded by smoke and mirrors and political handwringing.

I didn't care much for how Ballmer ran Microsoft (except for his developer conference chants), but I'm really warming to the post-Microsoft Steve Ballmer.


Dear USA Facts team, we would like to offer you few hints for public spending visualizations based on our experience. We are the creators of https://us.wikibudgets.org/w/united-states-budget-2016.

- Government spending is only a small part of the public finance. People need to see all public organisations: states and cities, departments, offices, bureaus and agencies, schools, hospital and prisons and obviously all public benefit corporations. If they spend our money we have the right to see their budgets.

- Governmental organisations borrow money outside of the government budget(!). This increases the government debt but does not show in the deficit. Just because the deficit is smaller than last year does not mean the debt is not growing faster.

- There is a world outside the US. The internet needs a one time stop for all public spending of the world, not just the US. Also you may want to connect the government receipts and expenditures from/to the international organisations, OSN, World Bank, the foreign aid etc.

- Public spending and receipts do not follow a tree hierarchy, it is a pseudograph. You will have to deal with so called offsetting receipts, extra budgetary fees, negative expenditures, positive taxes, transfers between organisations etc. We believe the only suitable visualisation style is a sankey diagram.

- There are huge size differences between individual budget items. Inside the executive branch you do not want to hide the $3 million sent to Marine Mammal Commission (https://us.wikibudgets.org/w/united-states-budget-2016?n=f22...) but you can not realistically show it next to the $7.52 billion sent to the Railroad Retirement Board (https://us.wikibudgets.org/w/united-states-budget-2016?n=3ca...). We solved this by a zoomable interface. (They call it the universe of public spending so let's give them a map!)

- The federal government does not even have a definite list of all governmental agencies. I am not kidding.

- You will never get all the data but you could build a wiki platform where city officials, school principals, government employees etc contribute with their bits and pieces. They can connect their receipts to the spendings of the superior organisations. If it does not match, citizens can investigate why. (If you want ordinary people to contribute with data you may need a human friendly editor too.)

- Different data dimensions will be useful to different people. Show the spending by agency, by programme, by function, by geography, by source etc. Let people combine the dimensions and create custom aggregates.

- Let people seamlessly share custom views and comparisons to social media (with relevant OG tags). We have a fake news industry to fight.

We wish you best luck.


I don't think this comment is particularly helpful. Sure there different ways to slice and dice this but the data set was previously unavailable anywhere. Let's just be happy that you can get some of this information today without having to drive around scanning paper documents.


I find it very useful. It is constructive criticism to help a startup in their related field develop further, and includes helpful links to examples. Anyone can see it is an implicit call for any form of cooperation the two organizations might find mutually beneficial; and it ends with a best of luck wish, showing that there is no animosity. We might be "just happy", but both parties here can be happy and keep working at the same time.


I don't think it is helpful because there is no indication that they tried to pass their 'recommendations' to the people behind this site. It reads like an ad for a competing site.


My apologies. As a non native speaker I sometimes sound too direct and I was in a hurry typing that comment. I polished some of the edges.


> Let's just be happy that you can get some of this information today ...

When else have HN users adopted that approach?: 'Let's just be happy with what we have, and not criticize.'

These are constructive, very informative points; in fact, they may be the most informative in this discussion.


In the context of public spending data available anywhere, perhaps. As commentary on someone who just took $10M of their own money and created availability of data that didn't exist before? Not as useful.

In re-reading both the USAFacts.org page and dandare's comment I really don't see how dandare's criticisms of what data USAFacts made available, what reports they made out of as _demonstrators_ of the data set, and its lack of data outside the US (it is 'USAfacts.org' not 'WorldFacts.org' after all) to be at all helpful or relevant to the USAFacts.org announcement.

That said, I would love to see a 'Show HN:' page where the Wikibudgets folks took the USAFacts.org data and added wonderful visualizations and tools to provide additional insights into the data set.


> As commentary on someone who just took $10M of their own money and created availability of data that didn't exist before? Not as useful.

Hmmm ... the comment doesn't criticize or even mention Ballmer at all; it was only about the website. I don't think we should be granting some projects special status, above criticism, and we never have (with the possible exception of the exalted one, Elon Musk). For example, plenty of FLOSS developers have sacrificed far more than Ballmer - Theo de Raadt has given his entire career and put his entire reputation on the line, as one immediate example - and their projects are criticized all the time.

In fact, shielding the projects from criticism is a disservice to the project.

I'll say that one could read an undercurrent of jealously into it, but that is strictly between the lines and could easily be in the eye of the beholder.

> I really don't see how dandare's criticisms ... [are] at all helpful or relevant

That seems like an unhelpful stretch.


How deeply did you delve into the site? You should look at the "10-K 2017" report, linked at the bottom of the page, first. http://usafacts.org/resources/USAFacts_10-K_2017.PDF

I believe this addresses (at least) your first two points. And moreover, it is a remarkable document because it reads something like an anatomical description of the organism.

Your point about world finance is strange: That is not what this thing is. The same for your wiki idea. Both good ideas, but why would this be a point of criticism?

BTW I don't even know what an OG tag is, so I'm not sure what you mean there.


Thanks for the feedback. IMHO the report is unreadable for most ordinary people. Also PDF is a very problematic format, difficult to search, impossible to scan-read, not always possible to copy/paste to a table. The data itself is not the problem, but the form factor is.

The other things are not meant to be a criticism, just suggestions for what the ideal solution could look like.

OG tags define what image and description Facebook shows when you share a link. If you are in a middle of an FB argument you want to reply with a specific fact, ideally with a picture and description, not a link to a perplexing PDF.


I think you're grasping when you claim that PDF is a "very problematic format":

* full text search works fine; much better than on your site. Try searching "hospital" in both and see which gets better results (spoiler: its the PDF) * Yes, a comprehensive report is impossible to scan-read. That is kind of the point of a comprehensive resource, don't you think? At best, scan reading your site (an opaque javascript visualization) leads to an incomplete understanding; scan reading is rubbish for understanding. * If you want to do Excel-style data analysis, neither your site nor the PDf is the best choice; you should be looking at original sources, just like the USA Facts team did.

Giving people a pile of facts from which to cherry-pick for arguments isn't helpful. Promoting a deeper understanding of the government and its workings does. USA Fact's visualizations, tied back to the Constitution (perhaps the most underappreciated document of our time), promotes deep understanding.

USA Facts ultimately does a much better job serving two audiences: 1) the people who need a better understanding of the big picture of government (on the main site) 2) the people who want to dig in and understand the nitty-gritty - the PDF.

You have a good product, and I normally wouldn't be so harsh in my criticism, but the arrogance in your statements demands correction.


Wow, this zoomable, detailed sankey diagram is awesome. Great job!


I teach high school math and science, and I've been showing the zoomable budget to students all day. Now it's the end of the day, and staff and students are still coming in to share how much more clearly they understand where our federal money comes from, and where it goes.

This kind of presentation of critical data is just awesome. Thanks so much for putting this together.


Thank you for your kind words. I could only the data was more detailed and perhaps in several dimensions and not only for the federal government.


Solid feedback. Having spent my career in think tanks, I can certainly relate to the complexity of understanding what government does / how it's organized, and struggling to communicate that intelligibly. Sounds like you guys have put a lot of thought into those problems.


I'm frustrated that the plots are not accompanied by definitions. In the US population charts, what is meant by divorce rate? Also I have no idea what "currently married" means.[1]

[1] http://usafacts.org/us-population



With http seems to be working http://usafacts.org/


Is there some common data feed interchange format that can share arbitrary data feeds in arbitrary structures between data sources like this and statistical programs like R or data analysis programs like Mathematica (or Wolfram Alpha)? Kind of like a CSV for the web age?

A use case I'm thinking of as an example is on the data source web site I construct a data feed that is represented by a URI to a data feed, consisting of say headers, columns and rows in a table data structure. I paste the URI into R, which pulls it over the wire and then analyzes the data, instead of me downloading the feed and massaging the data into a format ingestible by R. Ideally the format comes out of the box supporting some common data structures like tables and directed graphs, and lets users/developers create their own data structures.

Bonus points for the format supporting differential, incremental updates of previously-downloaded cached feeds.


Graduation rate seems awfully low, at 59% in 2012.

http://usafacts.org/metrics/34352

--I do not think this is accurate.--

Edit: this is the college graduation rate. I assumed it was high school. Page needs more info!


The pages are so lacking in info right now that at first glance they appear worse than useless: something that anyone can point to and make any sort of rhetorical conclusion about and have supposed data to back it up. It not only needs the actual data (and...units?), but some broader context behind each data point. I assume these are in the works, but releasing it in this state, with this much press, is a potentially dangerous move for its future.


That is for higher education. You don't think that 41% of people drop out of college / post high school education? My gut says it seems correct.


Why not?


There is a Visas granted metric. But it is not clear if that is just any type of visa? I would be interested in number of citizenships granted.

http://usafacts.org/metrics/25906


you're in luck :D

that exists under the metric "naturalizations", which describes the process of acquiring citizenship.

http://usafacts.org/metrics/13058


Aah fancy word, thanks. That number seems smaller than I expected.


For such a simple looking website, the page performance itself is awfully slow. From the markup, it appears to use React (bias confirmed).


Given the amount of media attention it garnered in the last 48 hours it's very likely the website is under significant load.


I mean the page performance is poor after everything has loaded which shouldn't be affected by the amount of traffic.


There is no such thing as a politically neutral fact these days. Where leadership is based on fantastical assertions pulled from the air, the machine measuring daily rainfall is a partisan political pundit to be attacked and sidelined at will. Fact-reporting organizations are moot when those in power care only for opinion and "gut". While i support such efforts, I fear that at the current moment our problems are too fundimental for them to have any net impact.


That's the beauty of it though. These are cold hard facts and as long as the veracity of the data is held true the insight can be enormous. The recent dialogue of fake news has made the public think far more about the media and information they're consuming. With something like public records where there is a significant paper trail it'll be much harder to dispute than climate change. There's a tangibility to this versus the at times ephemeral quality of climate change. There's concrete dates printed or typed into documents versus trends and weather patterns. 538 in this past election cycle anecdotally to me received a huge boost in readership due in part from the data journalism. I do think people are inclined to be skeptical of any "fact" but with government records I believe that skepticism quietens.


But these aren't public records. This is a curated list of public records, curated by an organization backed by a retired billionaire. This isn't even a new GAO. It is just another layer of political reporting pretending to be neutral. It itself must be vetted and fact-checked.

Even if one gets beyond that and down to actual public records of facts, what is and isn't available to the public in the US is itself political. The public is denied so much information that in other nations they would expected. Want to see a candidates tax return? You have to ask. Want to know how many firearms are sold or how many people were shot by police last week? There are no electronic databases, even the government doesn't know. Want to see how much your neighbour pays in property taxes on his new house? Canadians can look that up on a website. Americans cannot as "privacy" too often trumps information. When access to facts is itself politicized anyone trying to neutrally report on those facts can only amplify divides.


Climate change is impossible to dispute, unless you ignore the data. I doubt that ideological willful ignorance will ever go away.


Compare to http://www.usgovernmentspending.com and associated sites


Funny that a site run by ex-Microsoft CEO doesn't use the MS stack: https://builtwith.com/?https%3a%2f%2fusafacts.org


An article/thread about Steve Ballmer and the origins of this project is here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14136081.


The site isn’t going to mean anything unless people in power use it for their decisions about policy.

I sometimes think that half the reason political polarization has gotten so bad is that politicians aren’t citing the same data. One lobbying group can provide one dataset, and that’ll get picked up by Democrats to support their idea. Another lobbying group will provide another dataset, and that’ll get used by Republicans for their counterarguments.

If this site could become the definitive source of data—the one that both sides of the aisle trust—there’d be a common data source in policy talks. That could lead to consensus much quicker.


What's with the spikes every tenth year on the "population changes" graphs? http://usafacts.org/us-population


The US Census is taken each decade. It's probably an artifact related to that: better data on Census years, worse data otherwise.


Drop https.


This worked for me too


Cool. I like to get my "facts" from an unverified source.


While it is more than a bit absurd it doesn't work with https, I am not sure the "s" provides much fact verification.


It doesn't verify the facts but it helps to verify the source as in making sure you are actually connected to this site.


They just have a domain validation cert. That doesn't mean much, other than your communication with the site is secure. And there's HTTP resources being pulled in invalidating most of that security. Bonus derp points for being a COMODO cert.


Not really useful to me until they add an API. Hope they do soon.


Wait, what? This claims there are 133,564 people currently married in the US, out of a population of 321,418,820. That's 0.04% of the population. Are married.


Looks like they dropped some `000.


Unfortunately they only give references to their sources, rather than the actual original sources. This might be hard to recreate. Perhaps even impossible.

I imagine Steve Balmer opens more doors and gets more cooperation than any of us here would get in accessing the same data.

Edit: It seems they're in the process of documenting the processes and methods they used to obtain their datasets. When this is released it could be a very useful tool.


note: the expenditures and revenues suggest the net calc here is opposite what it should be http://usafacts.org/government-finances/government-run-busin...


The site claims that 100% of payroll taxes are Federal.

It looks like they missed San Francisco's Payroll Expense tax http://sftreasurer.org/2016-gross-receipts-tax-payroll-expen...

Maybe I am misunderstanding how this tax works though.


It's also possible that they couldn't collect the data from SF. Although, that is probably just a FOIA request away.


The population charts (http://usafacts.org/us-population) are interesting. It looks like the government continually underestimated the population, resulting in the "spikes" as each Census brought numbers up toward reality


Seems very similar to http://datausa.io


It seems like a lot of the historical data is complicated by inflation (like the growth in productivity per capita is interesting, but how much is it in real vs. nominal dollars?), but at a glance it doesn't seem to be accounted for.


Here is a video of said character: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I14b-C67EXY&t=12s


Civilian deaths from fires had a big anomaly in 2001.... I assume that was 9/11?

http://usafacts.org/metrics/15818


By restricting the project to data provided by governments there is absolutely zero chance of much additional accountability being offered by this platform.

I think all recipients of public funds should be required to account for all spending per hour, project and employee, and should also publish highly granular KPI and transactional data.

I don't necessarily want to see a 10-K, I want access to google analytics, the ERP system, and the financial ledger.

It should be possible for anyone with a copy of OpenOffice to determine the cost of the top 10% of patients at any public hospital, the cost of all high level "missions" the US Military is involved in, and the Federal employees who have received the most disciplinary action (or the most complaints).


That kind of accounting would drive up needed grants by at least 20%, or make it so that these NGOs wouldn't actually be able to do anything.


It would be fine if it started out accounting for those things by week, then eventually by day and hour.


My take-away is that this is a very 'raw' deployment. i.e. Hopefully they maintain and change this to something much more informative and authoritative over time.


What the heck is this?

http://usafacts.org/metrics/11699


I believe it is the number, in thousands, of US persons aged 25 and over having an 8th grade education or higher.

As scraped from this web site ...

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_104.30.a...


On an unrelated note, Is Steve Ballmer getting ready to contest for President? He's got the colorful personality to be one.


Man I'm dense. It was only as I dropped my tax forms in the mail just now did I realize why he chose today to release this.


This is a landmark in the communication of complex data. Obviously room for improvement but very well done.


I love the idea of this and hope that it expands to other countries... If only I were a billionaire - CanadaFacts.org


Has this data always been publicly available? Get job by the guys at usafacts.


Super slow for what should amount to HTML - why is this website so slow?


Because thousands (millions?) are stomping to it, as it was just announced and went viral?


Still, it's just HTML.


Still surprising it's failing this hard given most of the data on the site is static (I think? Difficult to tell since almost none of the site loads).

Edit: tbh it's a shame they chose to do it all in react/js. I think this sort of data would be better served to the world as good old html for the most part - the build tool generated source for some of the pages on usafacts is horrendous.


is there any way to add comps to this site? it would be very interesting to see how our split of gov't spending compares to other countries


Is this not a glorified data.world?


Seems to be unfinished as in the UI.


You are probably missing some of the static resources. I am still getting 503 and 522 for several requests.


Needs logarithmic axis!


I was suuuper excited about this. But this site is cringeworthy, even for a beta, given they spent $10 million on this effort.

For one, the division into the constitutional categories is kind of awkward; most people would just like to see by function or department. When the drafters of the constitution wrote these clauses into the constitution, they had no sense that one day the government would be so large or do so many things. It is anachronistic to impose these clauses on a modern state. If everything the government does is somehow serving some role in the US constitution, isn't it kind of funny that virtually all democratic countries provide more or less the same services? The only major difference between the US, with its special constitution, and other democracies' spending is that the US government only directly provides health insurance to about half the population, and the US government spends more on defense and security. I don't think that difference is because of the constitution, but rather historical/cultural factors and randomness. So the application of the constitution simply reflects some kind of delusion on Ballmer's part.

Second, the data is sloppily put together. There is a line for "Social insurance administration" which includes federal and local employees but has no combined federal and local total. Then there is another line for "Social Insurance Administration (federal)" which has no federal/local breakdown but has a total. So are there no local social insurance workers? Why not just put everything in one line?

Third, this is almost entirely data you could get from the federal reserve's FRED system. In some cases you might need to go to the OECD site or the BLS site. But I'm left wondering: how did they spend years on this? This is more like an extended hackathon project. The data vis really sucks, too.


503: Service Unavailable


Yeah I got a Cloudflare DDOS check then a 503. Non HTTPS seems to be working, http://usafacts.org/


Dear deity i hate those...


Cloudflare lately has become an immediate tab-closing prompt the way paywalls usually are


Definitely. Anytime this pops up I leave the site to never return. Why is CF doing this? Instead of preventing ddos you prevent actual users.


Got a CloudFlare error here. Error 522.


Is CloudFlare flagging a HN stampede as a DDoS?


No.

The site has probably configured themselves as "I'm under attack" as that will challenge almost everyone and ease load from their servers of bots (and those hitting F5 from the outset).

They're clearly on fire whilst they scale up, and I would expect that once they've got past the first week they'll ease up on the Cloudflare security level and challenges.


Can anyone see this?


No, site appears to be down.


so that's what the healthcare.gov team has been building after they got fired and replaced by the googlers.


excellent link, I think it offers a great deal of transparency into USGOV and it's spending in a way that's never been done before.


$12,536 - "paid in taxes by the average single parent in 2015"

Noticed that on the front page. That's about as silly as referencing the average household net worth in the US, or the average income - both of which are astronomical due to how well off the top 1/3 are. Show me the median taxes paid.


It's funny that it says 'four missions', but I only count 2 in the quote of the constitution... wow, it's still beta indeed.


I'm actually more suspicious of anything claiming to be "non-partisan" than something that wears its foundational beliefs on its sleeves. At least if something says "We are a Libertarian non-profit" or "We are a Socialist non-profit" or something like that, I know better what specific grain of salt to use when reading its materials.

Anything that claims to be non-profit is merely hiding the slant that its people have put on the data it is providing. The idea that anything can be presented free of the biases introduced by the people presenting it is a silly myth. Which is not to say people shouldn't make an effort to be fair and unbiased when trying to present facts, but we all have inherent biases that are basically impossible for us to remove ourselves.


Fair point! I should hope raw numbers are truly unbiased, though they could still include more graphs that paint the picture they're wanting to paint.

Note that i've not yet seen the site, even with http it's under a nearly dead load haha.


Unfortunately which data they choose to show and how they frame it makes a big difference. There are objective facts but we all color them intentionally or unintentionally despite our best efforts.


Raw numbers will not be unbiased because people are involved in collecting them. That's true of anything that passes through human hands, but it's especially true in anything involving public policy, where it's understood that the opposing side will be looking for any slant they can get, which means the publishing side will be looking to CYA as much as they can get away with.


And of course, USAFacts' interpretation of the responsibilities of government are right out of the liberal progressive manifesto... but I think that is the way the data need to be reported, because there is no Constitutional anchor-point for 2/3rds of what the US Federal Gov't actually does.


Can you explain the obsession people have with the Constitution? It seems like some people believe all new laws shouldn't exist if they're not in the Constitution.


The Constitution limits the Federal government. One can therefore say that government programs that are outside the scope stated by the Constitution are outside the legitimate scope of the Federal government.

The Tenth Amendment is pretty clear: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Now, I know, the Supreme Court has effectively gutted the Tenth Amendment, but the intent was that the Federal government was restricted to a specific set of activities, rather than allowed to do everything everyone thought was a good idea.

So if you think that the intent matters, then you see much of what the Federal government does as being a power grab of things that it never should have had the power to do - and which it still does not have the legitimate authority to do.


Beyond the intent, the plain meaning of the text is clear. If the power is not explicitly enumerated as belonging to the federal government, it is reserved to the states. At most, this would allow the federal government to implement a policy based on a non-enumerated power, which state legislatures could then override. Only powers explicitly enumerated would be binding across the Union.

Telecommunication has really changed the way the world works with respect to all of this, and made us care much more about the federal government than the state governments that are, on paper, supposed to be much more powerful.


Without kind-of ignoring the limitations of the constitution, we'd likely have had an Articles of Confederation style crisis at some point, and had to replace (or heavily amend) the Constitution since then. Which would be better than kind-of ignoring it from our perspective, though not from that of the people who had to live through said crisis.

As it is, we de facto ignore the parts that would screw up operating a modern nation-state, the "must preserve the independence of states!" wing gets to not-vote for amendments that de jure reduce said independence in order to let things actually work well/sanely, and no-one has to live through a crisis bad enough to get that wing to abandon their position. So... win/win if you're happy with a local maximum, I guess?


The U.S. Constitution and its amendments establishes limits to the power of the Federal Government. The obsession with it is that governments tends to overstep their bounds. It's something the lay person can read and point to, and definitively say when the government is doing something it is not authorized to do.


I'm pretty sure that many people have had conflicting ideas about what the government is "definitively" allowed to do or not do, which is what things like the courts and the legislature are for - to decide those things, and ratify clarifications and changes if needed. "Constitutional Law" is not an easy thing for a lay person to interpret.


"Can you explain the obsession people have with the Constitution?"

It's the foundational document of the most powerful, prosperous nation in the history of the species. Things like that attract allegiance. It would be strange if it didn't.

"It seems like some people believe all new laws shouldn't exist if they're not in the Constitution."

Your "some people" straw man is likely fictional, or at least very rare. Laws that conflict with the constitution can be struct down via Judicial Review. Otherwise new laws are entirely compatible with the constitution. The US and its various states have no difficulty producing reams of new laws that survive the constitution just fine.


I think there's a pretty good analogy to be made between legislation and software. The Constitution is the "operating system" of the US government, and the laws are "applications" that run on that OS. If an application attempts to do something not permitted by the OS, it should be an error.


So, the system is full of users, each of whom want different features to be supported by the OS. And some features are needed to protect subsets of the users, while other users not so much. What seems to be happening is, some of the users don't want certain features implemented. In order to stop these features, they are claiming that the OS design specifically forbids these features.

But the OS is software. And the users collectively pay the contractors who write the software, and they can change it to say anything they want it to say, because the users are paying for it, and using it. Unlike religion, the design is not literally written in stone. The designers were well educated on the history of OS design, and knew that designs change over time. So their design allows for modifications without a total rewrite - something they saw as a feature.

So it seems to me the arguments and proclamations made by some users that "It's not in the design!!!" are equivalent to those made by, say, systemd opponents. There's a lot of people (myself included) that do not want systemd in their OS. But if all the other users vote and want systemd in the OS, I will capitulate and learn to deal with it.

We shouldn't get so caught up in the damn kernel or OS that we stop improving the whole system.


Changing the OS is fine, but there's only one way to do it: via constitutional amendment. Merely wanting it to say something different is not sufficient. The users have to follow the official enhancement process.


What I originally was trying to get at is how the Constitution has almost nothing to do with most of what the federal government actually does. It sets the boundaries of civil liberties, policy and procedure, federal authority, the separation of federal powers, and the differences between states and the federal government.

The Constitution is not an OS, or even a kernel - it is an access control policy. What the government actually does is implement that ACL. So when people invoke the constitution all the time, it's like saying "They're trying to download 10 gigabytes of data, but the ACLs!!!!!", when the ACLs don't have anything to do with disk quota. So this is my point: people keep bringing up the Constitution when it does not apply.


It's all fun and games until you're forced to download Security Patch NSA.2017




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