Don’t panic. This is hypothetical. But I’ve been thinking about those recent comments by the U.S. envoy for United Nations management and reform, Joseph Torsella, in his effort to illustrate the profligacy of the UN’s soaring core budget. Torsella just told the UN General Assembly’s budget committee that while the UN may regard $100,000 as a mere rounding error in a core budget now topping $5 billion per year, a big chunk of that money comes from U.S. taxpayers. According to Torsella, $100,000 represents the total federal taxes paid on average by 16 hard-working American families, laboring for a full year.
Torsella also said that for the more than 10,000 UN staffers paid out of the UN’s core budget, total compensation now averages $119,000 per staffer. At the UN, that kind of thing is tax-free.
So, let’s do a bit of arithmetic. U.S. taxes provide the funds for 22% of the UN’s core budget. So, out of a total of more than 10,000 UN staffers now making an average of $119,000 per year, the U.S. supports more than 2,200. Using Torsella’s ratios, for the U.S. to cover the salaries of each of these more than 2,200 staffers requires the total federal taxes paid over a full year by almost 20 average American working families. In round numbers, this means that roughly 44,000 average American working families toil for a full year to provide America’s share of the salaries paid to UN staff, over that same interval, out of the UN’s core budget.
Of course, one reason the UN gets away with its profligate, sky-rocketing budgets, staff numbers, and pay hikes for personnel is that the money from U.S. taxes is not collected from 44,000 specific working families. Instead, the bill is spread as a lesser-ticket item among millions of tax-paying Americans, most of whom are chiefly busy earning a living (and paying taxes), and don’t have time to focus on how the UN spends its share of the swag.
Why not amend that, and make it a lot more personal for a select number of average American taxpayers? Instead of paying the UN out of the general pot of federal tax revenues, the U.S. government could pick 44,000 average American working families, divide them into groups of 20, exempt them from all other federal tax claims, and assign each group its own personal UN bureaucrat to support. These taxpaying families could even be invited to take an interest in the individual UN staffers whose salaries have become their direct responsibility. They could peruse the list of UN benefits, cost-of-living adjustments, and other perquisites. They could cruise the web for news of the latest travels, reports, and other accomplishments of their assigned UN beneficiary/bureaucrat. They could drop by the UN offices in New York, and share a cappuccino, and check out the lifestyle for themselves. Then they could go home and get back to work, earning the money to pay the taxes to support the specific UN staffer with that average take-home pay of $119,000.
I’d wager that would provide a degree of valuable oversight to which the UN, during its entire 66 year history, has never, ever been exposed. It could work wonders in clarifying and focusing the current Washington debate over funding for the UN. (It could also have its highly entertaining moments.)
OK, I know. For a lot of very good reasons, U.S. tax policy does not work that way. Nor is it safe to give the UN any opportunity, however odd, to get its hooks directly into U.S. taxpayers. The UN has been angling for that for years, and in that direction lie horrors even worse than what goes on now. But as a thought experiment, it is interesting to imagine the average American working family taking a direct interest in the work habits and lifestyle of the average UN staffer, so richly supported by funds from the U.S. tax pot. What would they find they are getting for their money?