I’m planning a party to celebrate an immigrant’s recent acquisition of U.S. citizenship. Unlike the red carpet that our government rolled out for the Tsarnaev family, this Boston-area immigrant had to pay for an MBA from an Ivy League university and hand over roughly 50 percent of her income in federal, state, and local taxes over the 11 years since graduation before getting the citizenship that came so easily to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (a failing student in debt to the taxpayer-subsidized University of Massachusetts, who had previously cost Cambridge taxpayers approximately $26,000 per year as a K-12 student (given that the older Tsarnaev brother was collecting various welfare benefits in Massachusetts and was also a Cambridge Public School student, my immigrant friend was also paying for our hospitality to the Tsarnaevs)).
By accepting U.S. citizenship, my immigrant friend says goodbye to the possibility of returning to her native Russia and paying income tax at a 13 percent rate. She also says goodbye to the possibility of living tax-free in a country such as Monaco and to the possibility of living for a smallish annual fee in a country such as Switzerland. She is therefore adopting a share of our debt. I’ve got a baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie theme already planned for the core of the party but am stumped as to what to get to indicate her shouldering of our debt burden.
I thought briefly about getting a huge quantity of jelly beans, one for every dollar that she will have to pay back. But then I got stuck on the question of how many jelly beans to buy. http://www.usdebtclock.org/ says that debt per American (citizen or resident?) is $53,281. The JellyBelly FAQ says that there are 400 jelly beans in a pound, so that would be 133 lbs. of jelly beans. But not every resident pays taxes to service the debt. Some are too young, some are too old, some are unemployed, some are disabled, etc. The debt clock tries to adjust for that by showing “debt per taxpayer” (maybe misleading because people who don’t pay income tax still pay a lot of other taxes, e.g., property tax, sales tax, gas tax) of $148,136. What about the fact that my friend has an Ivy League MBA? Her income is higher than average and likely to remain that way. Furthermore, the Obama Administration and Congress are constantly coming up with new ways to “tax the rich”. My immigrant friend is likely to bump up against the $250,000 “you are now a rich person” threshold in a lot of future years. Should her share then be considered closer to $1 million?
We also have to consider her age, 37. She’s in her prime earning years yet by the time she turns 65 it seems unlikely that Medicare and Social Security will exist in their current forms (maybe they will be “means-tested” so that people who had higher incomes during their working lives won’t get any benefits). Does the fact that she is unlikely ever to receive these valuable government handouts mean that her share of the debt is higher? Since none of her tax payments will ever turn into checks and health care payments in her old age, unlike a lot of American taxpayers
Finally…. since the debt is growing, not shrinking, perhaps her share of the debt is actually $0. If it is never going to be paid back then nobody needs to shoulder the burden of repayment.
So… comments from readers would be appreciated. Question 1: What is the proper way to calculate the share of our national debt being taken on by a new citizen, age 37 and with a high income? Question 2: What is a fun but not crazy expensive or bulky way to symbolize this quantity at a party?