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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 16, Issue 15: April 15, 2014

  1. MyGovCost Free Mobile App Calculates Your Lifetime Tax Liability—and More
  2. Trapped by the State
  3. U.S. Energy Producers Deserve Tax Fairness
  4. P. J. O’Rourke on the Baby Boom Generation
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts


1) MyGovCost Free Mobile App Calculates Your Lifetime Tax Liability—and More

To help Americans see how their federal taxes are being spent, the Independent Institute today launched a free mobile app called MyGovCost. Available in the Apple Store for the iPhone and iPad, MyGovCost shows taxpayers how their taxes are spent by the U.S. government. It also calculates a taxpayer’s lifetime federal tax liability.

MyGovCost provides custom-made calculations that allow each individual taxpayer to see exactly how his or her tax liability relates to the $3.5 trillion in annual federal spending and the $17.6 trillion national debt,” said Lawrence McQuillan, Director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation. “Thanks to MyGovCost, what used to be clouded in mystery is now intelligible, quantified, individualized, and easily accessible just by tapping on your iPhone or iPad.”

By entering your age, income, and level of education, the MyGovCost personal Government Cost Calculator:

  • Estimates your share of federal spending, federal taxes, and national debt.
  • Shows how your tax dollars are spent on major program categories, including Defense, Health Care, Social Security, Interest on the Debt, Welfare, Environment, Education, and more than a dozen other program spending areas.
  • Projects how much you would have at the end of a lifetime if you had been allowed to keep the money and invest it.

Additionally, the MyGovCost App offers news, blogs, videos, and articles from renowned scholars and other experts on runaway government spending and related topics.

MyGovCost Mobile App

MyGovCost Online Government Cost Calculator

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2) Trapped by the State

Over the past half century, federal spending on social programs has risen like a bubbling cauldron. In 1964, it amounted to less than one-quarter of the U.S. budget. Today it accounts for about two-thirds. What effect has the spending trend had on the American psyche? Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs offers a brilliant analogy to help us grasp the transformation.

A salmon trap, also called a pound net, is simple but ingenious, Higgs explains in the Spring 2014 issue of The Independent Review. It’s sort of like a one-way funnel. The deeper a fish swims into the trap, the harder it is to escape. It has long been banned in U.S. waters, but its design lives on, figuratively speaking, in various political schemes that direct people toward dependence on the state.

“As a salmon’s ‘mind’ tells it not to turn back, so the human mind, especially when bewitched by government propaganda and statist ideology, tells a typical person not to turn back,” Higgs writes. “Having lost the capacity for assuming individual responsibility, people are fearful of taking on such responsibilities as their forebears did routinely.”

The Salmon Trap: An Analogy for People’s Entrapment by the State, by Robert Higgs (The Independent Review, Spring 2014)

Please be sure to take advantage of our special offer of your choice of a FREE book, such as The Terrible 10 by Burton Abrams, when you renew or order a new subscription online.

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3) U.S. Energy Producers Deserve Tax Fairness

U.S. oil and gas companies can’t seem to get a fair break from the taxman, Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II argues in The Hill. Although they are plowing back more and more profits into exploration and production—they’ll invest an estimated 8.3 percent more next year than last year, according to Barclays Capital—governments are taking more and more from them. From 2007 through 2012, the total tax bill for energy producers averaged 37 percent of taxable corporate income, compared to 29.1 percent for companies that make up the S&P 500, according to a 2013 survey published by the New York Times.

Governments know a cash cow when they see one. Hence President Obama’s call for higher taxes on oil and gas producers in his FY2015 budget. Fortunately, elements in our political culture are beginning to grasp the folly of overtaxing the goose that lays the golden egg. Here’s one hopeful sign: The Progressive Policy Institute last year designated major U.S. energy companies as “Investment Heroes.”

Although it doesn’t go as far as it could in treating energy producers like other sectors in the economy, Michigan Congressman Dave Camp’s proposed overhaul of the federal tax code is a reasonable first step. “Yes, there are things in it that should be reworked to level the tax playing field,” Shughart writes. For example, its repeal of oil and gas depletion allowances and “Last In, First Out” accounting practices would harm the shale oil boom. “If we’re going to do tax reform, let’s do it right,” Shughart concludes.

Don’t Reform the Tax Code on the Backs of Over-Taxed Energy Producers, by William F. Shughart II (The Hill, 4/10/14)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

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4) P. J. O’Rourke on the Baby Boom Generation

On February 13, P. J. O’Rourke delighted an overflow crowd at the Independent Institute’s headquarters in Oakland, Calif., with witty insights drawn from his latest book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way . . . And It Wasn’t My Fault . . . And I’ll Never Do It Again. What fundamentally sets apart Baby Boomers from other age groups in American history isn’t their huge numbers or their reputation for defying convention, O’Rourke argued. It’s their emphasis on personal identity, an often-reckless passion that gave him plenty of material to poke fun at.

“We are the generation who created the self, made the firmament of the self, divided the light of the self from darkness of the self, and said: ‘Let there be self.’ . . . [But] this is not to say we’re a selfish generation,” O’Rourke said. In fact, Baby Boomers often have wildly opposing views on ethics, psychology, and politics while still sharing an obsession with self-discovery.

One source of differences among the Baby Boomers, according to O’Rourke, is age cohort. For example, those born in the late 1940s often took their youthful personal journey in a rebellious direction, whereas those born in the early 1960s tended to be less confrontational and more cautious, having been too young to have visceral feelings about the Vietnam war and feminism, and having seen the toll taken by their predecessors’ hedonistic excesses. O’Rourke concluded by predicting that the Baby Boom ethos will engulf the entire world, bringing benefits such as fewer totalitarian movements and costs such as a narcissistic global culture. Wars will continue to be fought, but massive conventional wars that rely on draftees will become a thing of the past. Why? Because, O’Rourke said, “everyone will have a letter from his doctor about how he’s allergic to camouflage.”

Video, Audio and Transcript: P.J. O’Rourke “Talkin’ ’Bout His Generation” (Oakland, Calif., 2/13/14)

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Federal Food Waste
K. Lloyd Billingsley (4/14/14)

Visualizing 2015’s Federal Budget Proposals
Craig Eyermann (4/13/14)

Confusing Deficits with Surpluses and Train Wrecks
Craig Eyermann (4/10/14)

State Department Missing $6 Billion
K. Lloyd Billingsley (4/9/14)

The Cost of Obamacare’s Regulations
Craig Eyermann (4/8/14)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.

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6) Selected News Alerts

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