A War Tax?

|

Author James Bamford thinks a tax surcharge to fund wars and a threshold draft, one that would start snagging young Americans once a certain number of U.S. troops are engaged in fighting, are about the only things that can force an apathetic public to pay attention to what government does in the name of security policy.

In other words, Bamford thinks the current national security system is broken beyond repair; that Congress, the press, and the nation's professional security class have all failed to restrain a sharply focused political agenda which had getting U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East as its over-arching goal. Plus Bamford wouldn't mind seeing the president answer directly for his policy path:

It would seem logical that if Bill Clinton could be subject to impeachment for an alleged deception over a minor consensual sexual affair, George W. Bush should be subject to the same treatment for launching a deadly and seemingly endless war based on lies, distortions and deceptions. If that doesn't qualify as a "high crime," I don't think anything does.

Right or wrong, that a relative mainstream insider like Bamford has come to these conclusions is significant.

NEXT: "You've watched 40 straight hours of SpongeBob — get off the weed!"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Bamford thinks the current national security system is broken beyond repair; that Congress, the press, and the nation’s professional security class have all failed to restrain a sharply focused political agenda which had getting U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East as its over-arching goal.

    yet more significant, he joins bob woodward and seymour hersh. how many investigative reporters have to come to this conclusion before its widely accepted as fact? or will it take the ever-widening aipac-spy investigation to blow up?

  2. You want an “apathetic public to pay attention to what government does”?

    Pay your taxes a la carte: on your yearly bill, indicate where you want your money to go. See how long this war stays funded. (hint: slightly less than the “war” on drugs, or “welfare”)

  3. gaius,

    It doesn’t matter how many journalists come to this conclusion as it can be blamed on an anti-military, anti-religious, anti-American biased liberal press.

  4. After reading freakonomics, I’m very sympathetic to creating incentive structures that force people to pay attention when their descions (votes) effect other people (i.e. America waging war on other countries). Right now, it is of no consequence to the majority of Americans. Or the consequences are too far down-stream to be considered in any rational (in the human sense, not in the economic perfect rational sense) way. We need some incentive, and a check by the public (with negative feedback as incentive) on politicians power. The negative feed-back of welfare is our dollars going to the government. Where is it for the war apparatus?

  5. While were talking about making politicians accountable for their actions, how about we talk about raising taxes? There are plenty of politicians who deserve to spend the rest of their lives in the slammer for stealing money from millions of innocent Americans to be used for their own selfish purposes (buying votes).

    And let’s not forget the folks who voted them into office. They also deserve to be punished in some way. Perhaps once taxes reach a certain level we could start making the kids of people who have the lowest tax increases pay all their money to the government. This would certainly provide many incentives to stop the immoral practice of raising taxes.

    PS: After this policy goal has been accomplished, I plan to move onto alcohol. Alcohol executives need to be held responsible for all the drunk driving deaths each year. They should all be charged with murder. And their kids should be loaded with alcohol, forced to drive drunk on an icy mountain pass, and the results shown to all 10th graders.

  6. it’s quite sad, isn’t it, mr david? with the subversion of the press credibility such a strong current in idealist politics — be it with embedded journalism or ridiculous diversions of blame — i find it difficult to believe that taiming the vehicle of criticism of the unquestionable ideal isn’t the primary motivating factor. totalitarianism is the consequence of introversion.

    that cannot be a factor viewed favorably by an empiricist, for whom a thousand wrong questions are worthwhile if the right ones are asked and answered.

  7. Seems to me that if the primal individual right is the “right to be let alone,” then that right should include the right to be apathetic and ignorant.

    How is this different in principle from requiring people to be “smart shoppers” or to watch educational television programs “for their own good”?

  8. Kip –

    Problem is, by deferring the costs of the war (tacking them onto the deficit) the gov’t is discouraging people from paying attention, i.e. doing the opposite of what you’re saying. Take away the ability to hide the costs of the war and people will be better able to make an informed decision, which means better and more accountable government.

    IOW, it’s not just that people are apathetic, it’s that the administration is actively feeding their apathy.

  9. “…James Bamford thinks a tax surcharge to fund wars and a threshold draft…are about the only things that can force an apathetic public to pay attention to what government does in the name of security policy.

    I’m as vehemently opposed to the Iraq war and the Bush Administration as anyone you’re likely to meet, but this policy prescripition sounds to me like it was designed to punish the electorate for electing the wrong President. …Unless they’re trying to prove it in court, people don’t like to think of themselves as having been fooled. That seems to be a part of human nature. A policy prescription created to punish the electorate for that seems silly to me.

    I agree that, in theory, incompetence should be just as impeachable an offense as perjury.

    I also agree that it’s interesting that mainstream insiders seem to be starting to “get it”. We’ve been living in the lag between what happened and the realization of it for more than a year now. From within the eye of the hurricane, it can look like the storm has already passed, and there hasn’t been much damage. …but that’s deceptive.

    Theoretically, there should have been many Americans who supported the war on the basis of self-defense, who should have withdrawn their support once it became clear that the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq was not done in self-defense. I suspect the facts just haven’t yet become clear to most of those people, and the rest just can’t come to terms with the realization that they were fooled.

    It’s happened before. I remember that more than a year after we invaded Iraq, there was a poll showing that almost seven in ten Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was complicit in 9/11. The public consciousness will catch up to the facts eventually, and all but the most obtuse will “get it”.

  10. Well, as someone opposed to higher taxes and conscription, I can’t see anything to support in Bamford’s prescription.

    He’s basically saying that, look, the government did one bad thing, so lets have it do two more bad things.

    If there are structural problems around the way we fund things, lets fix the structural problems with structural solutions (Constitutional limits on debt and taxes) rather than band-aid tax cuts.

    As for conscription, why? What purpose would this serve? Its only purpose would be to create political opposition where none now exists, which seems kind of pointless and artificial to me.

  11. Oops. That should be “band-aid tax increases”.

    Take it away, Dr. Freud.

  12. I agree that, in theory, incompetence should be just as impeachable an offense as perjury.

    The irony is that only in government are ignorance and incompetence acceptable defenses.

    Suppose you get pulled over, and someone in the car has a dime bag. Saying that you didn’t know won’t help you.

  13. If there are structural problems around the way we fund things, lets fix the structural problems with structural solutions (Constitutional limits on debt and taxes) rather than band-aid tax (hikes).

    As for conscription, why? What purpose would this serve? Its only purpose would be to create political opposition where none now exists, which seems kind of pointless and artificial to me.

    i think, mr dean, that regardless of the ideology, the objective reality is that the army is depopulating to the point where we are simply going to have to start withdrawing from places. this, against the background of the zealots at pnac are calling for a radical expansion of the armed forces. meaningful political support is developing for conscription as the only way to bridge the gap between all-out militarism overseas and all-out self-indulgence at home.

    likewise, there’s a massive gap between dreamy ideology and pragmatic reality on taxes. the oecd expects a $900 billion american current-account deficit for 2006. un-fa-thom-a-ble, and highly inflammable. united states government needs to take strict measures now, now, now to close the gap — and can do so by cutting spending AND raising taxes AND raising rates. even drastic spending cuts need to be accompanied by tax increases, i’m afraid — more than band-aids. a revocation of last term’s tax cuts would be a start.

    sooner or later, people have to wake up to the fact that these issues are real, not imaginary, and should be dealt with now for fear of what they will become if left unattended any longer.

  14. Theoretically, there should have been many Americans who supported the war on the basis of self-defense, who should have withdrawn their support once it became clear that the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq was not done in self-defense.

    What theory is that? Once the self-defense angle was clear, many supporters simply changed their basis for the support. One being Saddam Was Bad, the other being It’s Our Duty To Right Our Mistakes (which may not actually be all that different). It’s kind of difficult to morally justify an Oops We Fucked Up So Let’s Scram policy, even if it is the wisest thing to do.

  15. conscription as the only way to bridge the gap between all-out militarism overseas and all-out self-indulgence at home.

    Once again you make no sense. The all-out miltarism overseas IS self-indulgence. Reducing our overseas militarism would be a reduction of our self-indulgence, not an increase in it.

  16. I’m somewhat supportive of half of this idea. I find conscription to be a moral wrong any way you slice it, so that’s out. I can’t believe I’m supporting a tax, but in this case it makes a bit of sense. If the gov’t is actually going to “pay” for what it’s “buying” – if you call waging war a purchase and taking citizens property a payment – then I’d be supportive of it. Sort of like a toll road. It might, in theory, accomplish two things: pay for gov’t action instead of piling on more debt and raise public awareness about what the gov’t is doing because the folks are directly paying for it.

    Of course, even if said war is ever deemed over, the tax will likely continue on as some congressman’s slush fund for decades. And if it’s extracted along with payroll taxes, people will probably become oblivious to it.

    It might be effective if there were some constitutional limit on when the tax was imposed and on what it could be spent. That, and if the tax could only be collected by making payment in cash, in person… in D.C – regardless of where you reside.

    Then again, when’s the last time congress (or the president or the courts) gave constitutional limits the full attention they deserve?

  17. all-out miltarism overseas IS self-indulgence

    but whose? not mine! 🙂 i mean to say that it these wars on abstractions are certainly nationally self-indulgent, but that most people at home would never consider self-sacrifice for the national cause even to the extent that they may believe they benefit.

  18. Freedom isn’t free, no there’s a hefty fuckin’ fee.
    And if you don’t chip in your buck-o-five, who will?
    – Team America

  19. most people at home would never consider self-sacrifice for the national cause even to the extent that they may believe they benefit.

    My experience tells me that most people are making daily self-sacrifices to God. But perhaps you are an atheist and believe that rendering unto God is the same thing as self-indulgence.

  20. I just don’t get why the war is anything different from any arbitrary use of public dollars.

    Body bags? Bombs? Civilian casualties? Military casualties?

    And, most important of all from a libertarian perspective: PRIVATE PROPERTY BEING DESTROYED! ;->

  21. “Body bags? Bombs? Civilian casualties? Military casualties?”

    I’m saying that people are aware and find those losses acceptable. If at some point casualties decrease recruitment to nothing, well, the people have spoken there too. To me, the combination of a voluntary military and our political system means that we get the wars we want to an even greater extent than we get public spending we want.

    The trick is to convince people not to want this level of war, not to try to proclaim fron on high that a special tax is required.

  22. very democratic, mr ligon — but what if the people fall in irrational love with the concept of american superiority and global manifest destiny? is there any rule in a democracy against a national suicide attempt?

  23. Jason-

    Fair enough. Another good argument is that since the politicians declared war, not the American people, a special tax on the people doesn’t make any sense.

    I would, however, suggest that as a tiny token of solidarity with those bearing the brunt of a war, when Congress declares war (or authorizes force, or whatever the terminology is for the particular case), the Congress and President take a 50% pay cut until the end of the conflict. I know, it’s a tiny token, and many of them won’t exactly be hurting for cash, but it seems reasonable enough.

    Then again, I also think that whenever the government borrows money Congressional pay should be halved. So if they borrow money during a war, we’re talking 25% pay.

    Which means that our current policies would be described as “Four Senators for the Price of One!”

    But wait, there’s more! Act now and you’ll receive your own autographed copy of “The Best of Jeff Gannon and Armstrong Williams” absolutely free! That’s right: A war, a loan to defer taxes on current spending, 4 Senators for the price of one, and your own copy of the government’s propaganda!

    ;->

    OK, that was silly.

  24. gaius:

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not appealing to Democracy as a savior of any sort. I am stating my belief that by and large our system of politicians buying votes is the result of people wanting to be bought. We libertarians often argue in the world of principles, which is interesting, but I suspect completely irrelevant to most people. Thus, I think constitutional arguments are useful only to those who already are converted. We have a New Deal because we wanted a New Deal, and us jumping up and down pointing to its demonic birth is now a waste of time. The result? Most people accept that this is the role of government, and legitimacy through constitutional analysis means nothing.

    The lesson for me is that you couldn’t pass a tax that would check the mass suicide pact. It would be ignored as soon as the popular kool aid flavor was chosen. I’m not talking about what should be, but what is. At least what is as I see it.

  25. Can we at least use the tax to give reservists and guardsmen the chance to buy cheap health insurance for them and their families? So when they get deployed for 1-2 years and can’t keep their benefits from employers and can’t afford a regular policy on their own?

    The Republicans had a merry time denying it today (hey, we got magnets on our cars…ain’t that enough?). Military money goes for *contractors* not soldiers:

    http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0505/052305cdpm1.htm

    “..House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has employed a rarely used authority to strike a provision in the committee-passed $441.6 billion defense authorization bill that would have opened the military’s Tricare health care system to all National Guard members and reservists.”

  26. Hey thoreau,

    “I also think that whenever the government borrows money Congressional pay should be halved. So if they borrow money during a war, we’re talking 25% pay.”

    Unfortunately, Congress gets to set its own pay, so you’d see a “Juvenile Diabeties Research Funding Bill” with a four-fold increase in the congressmen’s salaries (effective after the next election, in keeping with the 27th Amendment) buried in the fine print.

    Obviously, self-imposed debt-ceilings haven’t amounted to anything, so to curb the government’s tendency to borrow, I’d propose that it be made an impeachable offence for a Secretary of the Treasury to issue debt that matures after his Administration’s term expires. (Which in my opinion is analagous to eating dinner at a restaurant, and leaving the bill for the next person to sit at your table.)

    This system would allow an administration some degree of funding flexibility during its terms, provided that the sum of surpluses and deficits netted out. It would prevent an administration from scoring points with tax-cuts and deficit-spending, while leaving its successors to dig the country out of the accumulated debt.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.