If War Is So Great, Why Won’t You Pay For It?
My suggested headline was above, but the editor went more confrontational.
UPDATE: A reader points out that the headline misstates my point. Republicans want to do things, and they need to support taxes to pay for the things they want to do. War may be necessary, but it isn't free. Voluntary donations, or spending cuts, won't do it; if they want war, they should take the political hit that would come from having to raise taxes to pay for the war. The headline makes is sound like even more of a flippant sauce-goose-gander argument than it was. It's more of the economics argument, that how important can the war be if it's not worth paying anything for? Too bad for readers; I finally write something with less snark and the headline makes up for it.
IF THE IRAQ WAR IS SO GREAT, LET ‘WINGERS PAY FOR IT
East Valley Tribune, Mar. 9, 2008
What’s the war in Iraq worth?
One of the more tired tropes of right-wing ideology is the voluntary “tax me more” account. “If you want the government to act,” they say, “send money. Once we get enough, we’ll raise teacher’s salaries or whatever else you liberals want.”
Of course, nobody contributes to these voluntary accounts, and conservatives crow, “See! Nobody wants to pay for your liberal claptrap.”
However, there are several flaws with voluntary payment accounts, which game theorists call the “collective action” problem. It may be worth $50 to me to increase teacher salaries statewide -- but that happens only if others also contribute. Otherwise, my $50 doesn’t buy anything; the donation’s value to me requires that everybody pay their share, because without collective action, there isn’t enough money to raise teacher salaries.
There’s also the free-rider problem -- why I should contribute so APS can pay lower property taxes? And, in Arizona whenever the economy turns south, there’s the budget shortfall problem. You’d be foolish indeed ever to contribute to a voluntary fund here, because the first thing the Legislature in a recession is grab all unprotected funds (like energy assistance or mental health research) to help close the budget gap. Of course, when times get better, the Legislature never seems to replenish those accounts, and merrily resumes cutting taxes on the richest.
But ignore those problems, and grant the ‘wingers their argument; nobody really wants these things because we’re giving them the chance to pay, and they aren’t. So let’s apply that thinking to the Iraq war.
None of the war’s supporters are willing to pay for it. It’s been 5 years of “emergency” spending, with no tax increase even remotely considered. As the leading House Republican said in 2003, “Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” This would have been a shock to the Founders, who did impose taxes to raise an army to fight for independence. But apparently, paying for war is so old-fashioned. These days, you still may need money to pay soldiers, buy equipment, bullets, and bombs, and there are former Sunni insurgents to keep paying off -- but apparently it’s money war supporters have no desire to pay.
Look at presumptive GOP nominee John McCain’s policy positions. We have to fight the war, and have US troops in Iraq for 100 years if that’s what it takes, and we have to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, and cut all sorts of other taxes, too. We’re supposed to pay for all this by cutting spending, none of which is supposed to affect those getting Social Security, Medicare, or federal projects here in Arizona, like securing the border. The cost of the war is supposed to disappear somehow, and if anything is done to pay for it, it’s by having other people get less. But as far as what John McCain, or George W. Bush, want to pay personally, right now, for their war -- can you spell zilch?
If the war is such a great idea, shouldn’t its proponents be willing to pay something to pursue it? This isn’t like the collective action problem; those supporting the war are in a position to make sure everybody pays their share, and that the money contributed (in taxes) goes right where it’s promised (to Baghdad). Also, these people are supposed to be experts, and pride themselves on their ability to move public opinion. But raising taxes would burden the economy and their contributors, not necessarily in that order. It’s an odd position; the war is the most important thing, “defeat would unleash incomprehensible consequences,” but in dollar terms it’s all worth, well, nothing, actually.
I know ‘wingers find it tiresome when liberals prattle on about doing things “for the children.” But even they would have to admit that it’s better than the conservatives’ approach of borrowing all the money for their war. Instead of doing things “for the children,” the proper ‘winger approach is “stick them with the bill.”