Acton Institute Powerblog

A Federal Tax Receipt

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There’s an old saying to the effect: “Show me a man’s checkbook and I’ll show you what’s important to him.”

It may not be quite the same as a checkbook, but NPR’s Planet Money passes along what a receipt from the federal government might look like for an average taxpayer (HT):

As Third Way, who put together the taxpayer receipt, argues:

An electorate unschooled in basic budget facts is a major obstacle to controlling the nation’s deficit, not to mention addressing a host of economic and social problems. We suggest that everyone who files a tax return receive a “taxpayer receipt.” This receipt would tell them to the penny what their taxes paid for based on the amount they paid in federal income taxes and FICA.

From this receipt, what’s important to the federal government, and what does that say about our society?

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • M. Harper

    I think a profitable venture would be to look at each item and develop a constitutional justification for it. Are all the things on this list a proper role of the federal government. What could be handled or should be handled at a lower level (more efficiently?).

  • ameryx

    Another profitable venture might be to attack the question from the other end. Rather than seeking Constitutional justification for each line item, start with a tabula rasa and the Constitution, then define: a) what the Constitution requires the Federal government to do; b) what the Constitution allows; c) what the Constitution reserves to the States or the People. a) would take top priority; b) could be done in times when we can afford such things; c) would be excluded from the budget.

  • Roger McKinney

    Good ideas, but too late. No one cares about the Constitution today. Everyone pays lip service to it, but absolutely no one is willing to be restricted by it. Every president takes an oath to defend it, then proceeds to destroy it throughout his term. Less than half dozen presidents ever cared about the Constitution.

    The more I learn of history, the more I realize that everyone sought to undermine the Constitution before the ink dried. Hamilton’s group tried to loosen its restriction on the state while Jefferson tried to increase them or find ways around the power of the central government, such as with his doctrine of nullification. No one seems to have taken it seriously from the very first.

  • M. Harper


    Do I sense a note of cynicism? Proper as it might be, I continue to be and fight for a form of idealism. I know, I know, I’m in for dissappointment.