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How You'd Cut the Federal Deficit

You spoke up loud and clear. But is Washington listening?

calculations, erasing a deficit of $1.4 trillion would require the nation's roughly 310 million inhabitants to cough up an average of about $1,958 apiece.

These commenters may not have been aware that quite a few Americans already make gifts to reduce the national debt. Such gifts exceeded $2.8 million in 2010, down slightly from $3 million in 2009. (Should you wish to make a contribution to reduce the debt, the Treasury Department offers detailed instructions for doing so — and, yes, you can use a credit card.)

Another commenter proposed immediately taxing increases in the value of stocks — though we're presuming that would also lead to refundswhen share prices go down. And another proposed a surtax of 1 cent per message on mobile phone texts, calculating that such a tax would raise at least $1.2 billion in revenue.

Several commenters also suggested legalizing and taxing the domestic cultivation and sale of marijuana, an illegal industry that, according to a 2006 study, generates annual revenues of nearly $36 billion. But even a 20 percent tax on marijuana cigarettes, similar to the rate on tobacco cigarettes, would shave just $7.2 billion from the federal deficit.

Another commenter recommended selling all of the 144 million ounces of gold now kept in the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Ky. At current prices (about $1,600 per ounce) such a sale would yield $230.4 billion, though the sudden unloading of Uncle Sam's mother lode could push the price of gold down and end up partially defeating the purpose of the sale.

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