I got a letter from the IRS today

Well, the letter was actually addressed to me and my wife. The IRS people are great believers in family values, and my wife and I are what the tax collectors affectionately refer to as joint filers. It’s all pretty warm and fuzzy, in a creepy sort of way.

Anyhow, the letter was not nearly as bad as usual. It informed us that the government, acting under authority of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, would soon be sending us $1,200. Usually it’s the other way around, and the agency’s letter invites us to send it more of our money than we have already sent. Well, we understand, of course: when the government identifies someone who deserves to get our money more than we deserve to keep it, simple justice requires that we pass it along to KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root), Lockheed Martin, and other widows or orphans.  Besides, if we kept the money, we’d probably just end up wasting it, whereas the Department of Defense watches every cent with an eagle eye. Ditto for Health and Human Services. We don’t call those people “public servants” for nothing; they really put their hearts into their jobs.

According to the economists, for what their opinion is worth, the economic stimulus act will dish out about $160 billion, of which approximately $110 billion will go to deserving folks like my wife and me, and the rest will go to deserving businesses that would like to write off more of the expenses they incur for making certain investments. Don’t laugh, now! Just because $160 billion is not likely to keep afloat a sinking supertanker-sized economy with a GDP of more than $14 trillion does not entitle you to classify this sum as chump change. On the road where I live, it’s still a substantial amount of money.

There is, however, a little catch for you younger people: because the government was already running a deficit, its outlays  for the stimulus payments must all be covered by borrowing, which means that the public debt will rise by the full amount of the payments. And guess who will be responsible for servicing that additional debt and paying it off when it matures. If you said “we, the U.S. taxpayers, will be responsible,” then give yourself an A in the course. In short, we are getting a check from the government today, but at the same time, we are also being given the privilege of paying that same amount back, with interest, in the future.

I’m not too worried myself; I’m old, and I will probably be dead long before my pro rata share of this obligation hits me very hard. For you younger people, it’s a different matter. As for me, I’m relying on two of my firmest beliefs: (1) dead men don’t wear plaid, and (2) they don’t get letters from the IRS, either. Or, if they do, they are, shall we say, unmoved by them.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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