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The Feds Collect Most of the Taxes in America—So They Have Most of the Power | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on June 25, 2021

As the old saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and with states playing the part of junior partner in the taxation game, we should expect them to be junior partners in every other sense as well.

Ryan McMaken

In 2021, it’s clear Americans now have thrown off any notions of subsidiarity and instead embraced the idea that the federal government should be called upon to fund pretty much anything and everything. From “stimulus checks” to “paycheck protection,” it’s assumed an entire national workforce can be propped up by federal spending. Moreover, in the wake of 2020’s covid recession, every pressure group, from local governments to weapons manufacturers, looks to the federal government to offer ever larger amounts of federal spending, ladled out from the federal pot of more than $6 trillion of annual spending. Need some “infrastructure”? The federal government will pay for it. Need a bailout? You know where to go. 

And how is all this spending possible? Naturally, it can only happen when governments tax or borrow. And the federal government does a lot of that. Moreover, the federal government can borrow in increasingly stunning amounts thanks to the monetization of debt going on at the central bank. 

The Feds Tax Us a Lot More Than the States

But even if we ignore all the ways the federal government can spend at astronomical levels thanks to huge deficits and monetary tricks, we find the feds are still very much in the game of collecting good old-fashioned taxes. And lots of them. Moreover, the feds are collecting a lot more in taxes than even all states and cities combined. When it comes to taxes, the federal government is the biggest game in town, and it should surprise no one that everyone is looking to DC for some easy cash. We might hear a lot about how “blue states” are levying crippling taxes on their residents. But not even the governments of California or New York have anything on the federal government when it comes to extracting wealth from the taxpayers in America. 

According to a 2018 study from the Tax Policy Center, for example, “Federal, state, and local government receipts totaled $5.3 trillion in 2016. Federal receipts were 65 percent of the total, while state and local receipts (excluding inter-governmental transfers) were 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively.”

State and local governments may certainly be taking their pound of flesh from the taxpayers, but the fact is the federal government is taking a whole lot more.

Indeed, contrary to the US’s reputation for “local control,” the United States is not particularly decentralized when it comes to tax revenues and government spending. When it comes to taxation, the central government dominates in America. In in his study on taxation, for example, Anwar Shah categorizes the United States as “centralized,” noting—with numbers similar to those of the Tax Policy Center—that the federal government collects more than 60 percent of all tax revenue in the nation. This puts the US in the same category—according to Shah—as Brazil and Russia.

On the other hand, only 37 percent of all tax revenue is collected by the central government in Switzerland, a “decentralized” tax system according to Shah.1

In other words, the state and local governments in Switzerland collect most of the taxes, while the situation is reversed in the United States.

This becomes even more clear when we look at tax collection on a state-by-state basis.

Using 2019 data from the IRS we see that total federal tax collections coming out of California amounted to approximately $472 billion. But state tax collections totaled about $188 billion.2 Put another way, the total state tax bill in California was 39 percent the size of the federal tax bill. Or, for every dollar the federal government collects from Californians, Californians pay their state government 39 cents.

The difference is even more obvious in many other states. In Florida in 2019, the federal government collected $210 billion from the taxpayers. The State of Florida, meanwhile, collected $44 billion. In other words, for Florida residents, Florida’s tax bill was only one-fifth the size of the federal tax bill.

Source: Internal Revenue Service, “Table 5: Gross Collections, by Type of Tax and State, Fiscal Year 2020″; and the US Census Bureau’s “2019 Annual Survey of State Tax Collections by Category Table.” 

Even in big states with huge tax hauls like New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, state tax collections don’t even begin to rival the taxes pulled in by federal payroll taxes and income taxes.

In fact, no state collects as much in taxes as the federal government collects. Hawaii comes the closest, where Hawaii residents pay 88 cents in state taxes for every dollar collected by the federal government. But nearly all states collect less than fifty cents for every dollar collected by the federal government.

Source: IRS, “Table 5: Gross Collections, by Type of Tax and State, Fiscal Year 2020″; and the Census Bureau, “2019 Annual Survey of State Tax Collections by Category Table.”

Local governments tend to collect an even smaller amount than states when compared to federal spending. 

The political implications of this are large. Thanks to the Sixteenth Amendment, the federal government is able to tax Americans directly, and it does so in amounts that are usually more than double what the state governments pull in. This puts an enormous amount of power in the hands of federal officials, and it means fiscal power in the United States mostly resides in the hands of federal policymakers. (We could contrast this with Switzerland, where the federal power to tax expires without an affirmative vote extending this power every ten years or so.)

It’s a big reason why we’re now seeing state governments go to the federal government seeking bailouts—and why interest groups spend so much time and energy focusing on federal laws, taxes, and regulations. It’s only natural that they should. Washington, DC, is where most tax money goes in America, so we should expect to find most of the political power there as well. Once we consider that the federal government—with the help of the central bank—can spend far beyond even what it collects in taxes, we should not be surprised that in times of fiscal crisis, state and local governments go running to the feds. As the old saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and with states playing the part of junior partner in the taxation game, we should expect them to be junior partners in every other sense as well.


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power&Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado and was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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Why These Five States Would Be Better Independent Countries | The Daily Bell

Posted by M. C. on December 1, 2019

Add New Jersey. Many of us Pennsylvanians would gladly add Philadelphia as an incentive.

By Joe Jarvis

Trump scares me. But progressives terrify me.

Whoever comes next will be more extreme than Bernie Sanders.

Californians may hate Donald Trump now. But you can bet Texans will hate whoever comes next.

The federal two-party system ensures a perpetually unhappy populace. Each tries to force their will on the other when it is “their turn.”

And the rest of us, who aren’t on one side or the other, constantly lose.

This is unneeded friction. Forced unity creates far more problems than it solves.

But why put up with the swaying whims of federal politics?

In America, we have a marketplace of 50 state governments lying in wait.

I moved from Massachusetts to Florida three years ago. The taxes are lower, the living is cheaper, the laws are less restrictive, there’s little traffic, and the weather is nicer.

But that didn’t allow me to escape the shadow of Washington DC.

But imagine if we could keep the ease of moving from state to state, but without the federal government following us.

States would sink or swim on their own merits. No help from DC. And no interference either…

Plus, not a single US state would even be close to the smallest country on earth, by population or land area. Much tinier countries do just fine on their own.

California has plenty of reason to become its own country. It is the most progressive state without much in common with DC or many other states.

Californians are still being prosecuted by the feds for owning state-legal marijuana dispensaries. California wants liberal immigration policy, while the US government thinks otherwise.

It’s also the most populous state. It would be the 36th largest country on earth by population. Larger than Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Poland. Slightly smaller than Spain, Argentina, and Ukraine.

California has the 5th largest economy in the world. That’s ahead of Great Britain despite having less than 2/3 the population.

Some states are net payers of federal taxes. They pay more to the federal government than they get back.

California receives $.99 in federal expenditures for every $1.00 it pays. That means it would hardly be affected financially by divorcing the US government. Overall California would keep 1% more money in the state without federal taxes and without federal programs.

Other estimates claim it is much worse, and California only gets 70 cents back on every dollar it sends to Washington DC.

An initiative Calexit wants a 2020 ballot question to ask Californians if they want to secede from the US. Louis Marinelli is the co-author of the initiative. Here’s his take:

[C]an you think of 25 red states that might like to see blue California secede? I can think of 30 that voted for Donald Trump.

Look, the United States claims to be the freest country in the world. We ought to enjoy the fundamental right of self-determination, and if we so determine, self-rule.

Then California can sign a military base agreement with the Americans to lease land for their existing bases. California will not be hostile towards them, but our immigrants will be protected from them.

Additionally, by keeping the tens (sometimes hundreds) of billions of dollars we lose each year supporting red states that hate California, we will reduce our debts, fund our liabilities, and provide every Californian with a debt-free college education and universal healthcare.

I personally think Cali’s high taxes, restrictive regulation, and overbearing laws are ridiculous.

But who am I to tell Californians that they can’t bankrupt their state? I’d prefer to have them govern themselves, especially if that meant California voters didn’t have control over me and my affairs.

California isn’t the only state where federal taxes and aid zero out. New York and Florida are also large population states with close to even return based on what they give to DC.

Florida has millions more residents than Chile or the Netherlands.

With no income tax, it is quite attractive to work there.

Plus Florida has the 17th largest economy on Earth, topping $1 trillion GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

That’s bigger than Turkey’s economy, despite having just a quarter of the population.

At just under 21 million inhabitants, Florida would be the 58th largest country on Earth by population.

New York would be 59th by population.

With the 15th largest economy, this is slightly smaller than Spain’s economy. Meanwhile, Spain has twice the population of New York. Clearly, New York is quite capable of operating as an independent nation.

Of course, New York City alone could be its own country. And then they wouldn’t be able to dictate oppressive urban laws to rural upstate New Yorkers.

Then again, NYC wealth is redistributed to other portions of the state…

This highlights the natural friction of grouping incompatible regions under one government.


Texas is another large state that would do just fine on its own. As a country, it would be 51st largest by population, larger than Australia.

Texas’ GDP of $1.6 trillion is also slightly larger than each of the Australian, Russian, and South Korean economies.

The size of the economy is on par with Canada. Yet Canada has almost 9 million more residents.

Only three states receive less money per person from federal expenditures than Texas. Texas takes in the fourth smallest amount of money per capita from the federal government.

Oh, and of course there’s that little fact that Texas was once an independent country.

It became its own country, called the Republic of Texas, from 1836 until it agreed to join the United States in 1845. Sixteen years later, it seceded along with 10 other states to form the Confederacy. The Civil War forced it back into the Union, where it has stayed ever since.

New Hampshire would be a relatively small country–a little bigger than Estonia in terms of population.

But New Hampshire would also be the richest country in the world.

At least among the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. This list includes 34 of the most advanced countries like the USA, UK, Australia, Japan, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Canada, Chile, etc.

Median income, adjusted for purchasing power, even puts New Hampshire ahead of Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland.

New Hampshire is another net payer of taxes. It gets about 70 cents back on every dollar it sends to DC.

New Hampshire also has a small secession movement. One organization is called the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence. Another calls itself NHexit.

A 2014 Reuters poll showed 23.9 percent of Americans would support their state peacefully seceding from the union if necessary, while 53.3 percent opposed the idea.


This list is far from complete.

For instance, Hawaii probably has the most legitimate reason of any state to secede. They were an independent Kingdom until 1893. The USA annexed Hawaii after the monarchy was overthrown.

Native Americans are another group who have a strong historical claim to independence.

And what’s Alaska still doing as part of the United States anyway? It isn’t even attached.

Being united by force just averages the good states with the bad. It means states can’t feel the full benefit of their good policies. It means they don’t suffer the full consequences of their failures.

It means wealth is redistributed. It means power is centralized. It means individuals have less control than they would over a smaller, more local government.

Forced unity eliminates the marketplace for the government. Let the states compete, and the best policies will rise to the top.

The American people will then truly have a choice and a voice in government.

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