Is 29,000 man-years of American labor just a 'hill of beans'?
In the U.K. Independent on February 22, Christopher Hooton penned an article entitled "Eliminating arts funding programs will save Donald Trump just 0.0625% of budget."
He writes (emphasis mine):
The White House budget office has drafted a "hit list" of programs, according to The New York Times, all of which cost under $500 million a year to run. In fact, they total approximately $2.5 billion - just 0.0625% of the projected $4 trillion budget.
"It's sad in a way because those programs aren't causing the deficit," Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center told the Times. "These programs don't amount to a hill of beans."
Hill of beans?! Let's chat a bit about a hill of beans. In my last assignment in the Army, I was the chief of staff for a 2-Star General Officer Logistics headquarters. We routinely dealt with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The size of our budgets, especially given a wartime urgency, could at times foster a certain laxity in dealing with the budget. This wartime urgency, however, did not relieve us of all our fiduciary duty to the American taxpayer.
One day I ended up needing to make that point to the senior staff. I was conducting an internal budget meeting to tidy up some loose ends during our annual "end-of-fiscal-year panic." One of these mission-focused staff officers happened to mention that his section wanted to purchase some item or another, likely a copier. It was a righteous request, but it was couched in terms that reflected what I thought, at the time, was a small indicator of diminishing respect for the funds entrusted to us and the folks who provided them – "But Sir, it's only five grand!" I wanted to nip this one right in the bud.
I decided to use this as a teaching opportunity. So I conducted a little exercise right there at the conference table. We did a quick survey of those in the room and some back-of-the-envelope math. The result of our calculations was this: the average federal income tax paid the previous year by the folks in the room was, you guessed it, "five grand." The moral of that story was that in order to provide the government that "only five grand" previously cited, one of us, or somebody like us, would have to work an entire year.
Moving forward to today and Mr. Hooton's article that referred to "just 0.0625% of the budget," which comes to the $2.5 billion cited in the article, a 2015 Article in Motley Fool said that in 2013, the average American taxpayer paid about $8,500.00 in federal income taxes. Doing some math here, $2.5B/$8.5K results in somewhere north of 29,000 man-years of hardworking American taxpayers laboring to provide this "hill of beans." People like Mr. Hooton and Mr. Bell would do well to remember that.
Mike Ford is a retired infantry colonel and chief of staff for a 2-Star Operational Logistics Headquarters.