The blogosphere is talking about the fact that we’ve just signed a $680 billion defense bill without any national conversation while we are having a very heated debate about $90 billion a year for health care. Ryan Avent dreams about a world where transit gets the military budget; Yglesias has follow-up.
Here’s my simple idea. Let’s say your salary is $60,000/year, and you take one exemption. According to this paycheck calculator, this is what your pay stub looks like every two weeks, leaving the States out of it:
You see your hard earned money pulled off into Social Security, Medicare and Federal Withholding. If you are a person capable of harnessing great rage, your blood is probably boiling at the thought of the looters stealing from you.
Now let’s do one of those informational nudge things. Taking numbers from the Federal Budget from here, what if your paycheck looked like this instead, which is the same paycheck:
Here you get a special line that identifies the amount of the Federal Withholding was actually going to the defense budget all along, and it tells you what it is. You get a number that lets you identify exactly how much of your time you are working to keep the defense budget as large as it is.
(Social Security % = Defense Spending % = 21% ; Since SS has a fund it deals with, I assumed that [ (Federal Withholding + Medicare) * 21% / (1 - 21%) ] = Defense Spending, since I just wanted to take Social Security out of the front and back end. Right way to approach it?)
There was a similar argument with ‘menu labeling’, where chain fast food restaurants have to give the amount of calories with the menu, in order to give consumers better information. There’s evidence that it hasn’t changed consumer behavior when its been tried. Karl Smith has an excellent writeup. I’m not sure if that means it is a failure; if the calorie intact went up, for instance, wouldn’t it be a success still? People may have wanted to eat more junk food calories, and were unfortunately eating fewer calories than they thought they were, and now that they know better they can go to town on an super-sizes. So it goes with benevolent nudging paternalism!
It’s equally possible that workers will see this and think they want to spend more on the military. The half of the day it takes to get to that $97, sometime around 2pm on your Monday of the two week cycle, may be too little, and people might want to work until late Tuesday to make sure Blackwater is keeping its returns high. That’s how it goes. How much of your two weeks work cycle would you like to spend working to keep a global military hegemony going? I’d probably want to clock it out around my first coffee break on Monday (which is fairly early), but that’s me. But either way, making this information much more clear to workers would make for a much more interesting discussion when it comes to how our federal money gets spent.