One Nation On Welfare. Living Your Life On The Dole

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Adam Golfer for TIME

The sun is shining on Miami Beach, and I wake up in subsidized housing. I throw on a T-shirt made of subsidized cotton, brush my teeth with subsidized water and eat cereal made of subsidized grain. Soon the chaos begins, two hours of pillow forts, dance parties and other craziness with two hyper kids and two hyper Boston terriers, until our subsidized nanny arrives to watch our 2-year-old. My wife Cristina then drives to her subsidized job while listening to the subsidized news on public radio. I bike our 4-year-old to school on public roads, play tennis on a public court and head home for a subsidized shower. Then I turn on my computer with subsidized electricity and start work in my subsidized home office.

It's just another manic Monday, brought to us by the deep pockets of Big Government. The sunshine is a natural perk, and while our kids are tax-deductible, the fun we have with them is not. The dogs are on our dime too. Otherwise, taxpayers help support just about every aspect of our lives.

Of course, we're taxpayers too, and we don't exactly fit the stereotype of entitled welfare queens. Cristina is an attorney and until recently was a small-business owner. I'm a journalist, an economic red flag these days, but I work for the company behind the Harry Potter and Batman movies, so at press time I was still getting paid. My family's subsidies are not the handouts to the poor that help fuel America's political culture wars but the kind of government goodies that make the comfortable even more comfortable. Our federally subsidized housing, for example, is a two-story Art Deco home in the overpriced heart of South Beach. But our mortgage interest is a personal deduction, my home office is a business deduction, and federal subsidies keep our flood insurance cheap. Even our property taxes are deductible. So thanks for your help.

The 2012 election is shaping up as a debate over Big Government, but it is only loosely tethered to the reality of Big Government. The vast majority of federal spending goes to defense, health care and Social Security plus interest payments on the debt we've run up paying for defense, health care and Social Security. Nondefense discretionary spending--Washingtonese for "everything else," from the FBI to the TSA to the center for grape genetics--amounts to only 12% of the budget.

Still, it's a big government. The U.S. did not spend even $1 billion in 1912; it will spend $3.8 trillion in 2012 on everything from Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Assistance ($593,842) to Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting ($9,409,400), from mortgage insurance for manufactured homes ($64,724,187) to ironworker training on Indian reservations. There will be an additional $1.3 trillion in tax expenditures, federal benefits (like the deductions for my 401(k) and my nanny's salary) that are basically identical to those normal spending programs except that they happen to be provided through the tax code.

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