Is There Any Way the “Peace Tax Fund Act” Could Reduce Military Spending?

In response to my critique of the Peace Tax Fund bill that I posted here , someone responded:

The Peace Tax Fund would not achieve anything “real” until enough had checked the box to actually make it impossible for Congress to fund the Pentagon to the extent it wished. That is an interesting possibility, however, and would be a direct gauge of a war’s popularity on a year-to-year basis. A so-called just war would see just the true pacifists — and we all know we are a very slender slice of the citizenry — checking the Peace Tax Fund. A highly unpopular war might actually produce millions of such reactions. Would that have an effect? Possibly.

This brings up a couple of issues. One is that the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act does in fact restrict the use of the “Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund” to those taxpayers who are “designated conscientious objectors” — a category that includes only a taxpayer

I had a heck of a time tracking down this “50 U.S.C. App. 450 et seq.” but I think this is the important part:

So if the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill becomes law, only those taxpayers who “by reason of religious training and belief” are “opposed to participation in war in any form” will be able to take advantage of its provisions.

The first half of this qualification isn’t as daunting as it may first appear, since the courts, in their reluctance to get their hands dirty in deciding what sorts of religious beliefs are worthy and which are not, have allowed a lot of pretty vague and individualistic spiritual bents to qualify as “religion” for the purposes of such a test. The second half, though, pretty much locks out all but the committed pacifist. Keep that in mind.

Now, just to satisfy curiosity, let’s see how many such pacifists there would have to be in the United States for the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill “to actually make it impossible for Congress to fund the Pentagon to the extent it wished.”

The bill would establish a “Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund” that would receive all taxes paid by these conscientious objectors, and the money in this fund “shall be allocated annually to any appropriation not for a military purpose.”

A while back, the National Priorities Project conducted a break-down of the federal budget that gives a fairly good idea of what would fall in this “military purpose” category. I use their numbers rather than the numbers gathered by the War Resisters League because the WRL includes veterans benefits and a portion of the interest on the national debt as military expenses, while the National Priorities Project and the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill do not.

The National Priorities Project estimates that “[m]ilitary spending consumes 26 cents out of every individual income tax dollar. It makes up about 20% of total federal spending and over half of the discretionary budget.”

A simple way of looking at the Peace Tax Fund is that the government sets up two sources of money in the treasury. One, the Peace Tax Fund, can only be spent on non-military purposes. The other one, the “general fund,” can be spent on anything.

The only way this would actually have an effect on military spending is if the general fund becomes smaller than the amount spent on the military. If that happens, the government would either have to borrow money to make up the difference (which they certainly could do) or dip into the Peace Tax Fund (which would be illegal) or reduce military spending (which would be grand).

So the question is: How many people would have to become conscientious objectors to military taxation for this to happen?

If, for simplicity’s sake, we assume that likely conscientious objectors to military taxation currently pay on average about the same amount of taxes as everyone else, in order to cut in to that 26% of every tax dollar that is spent for military purposes, more than 74% of these taxpayers would have to declare themselves conscientious objectors, who “by reason of religious training and belief” are “opposed to participation in war in any form.”

Nowhere near three-quarters of Americans feel this way, and so the law will have no effect at all on the military budget. Furthermore, if three-quarters of Americans did feel this way, there would be no need for such a silly law in the first place as we would all already either be living productive and sane lives in a peaceful tomorrow of harmony and understanding, or living in barbed-wire collective labor camps under the control of our foreign overlords, depending on your brand of speculative fiction.

So if you do support the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill, don’t do so because you think it might some day deprive the missile-makers and war profiteers of their turn at the feeding pail. That just isn’t going to happen.