Warshington

Death and Taxes

March 11, 2015

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Death and Taxes

“What is taxation but theft on a gigantic, unchecked, scale?”

Murray Rothbard’s question doesn’t have an answer. The coercive taking of money is theft. No exceptions. Mental masturbation on the “social contract” or necessities of public action don’t eliminate that fact. The duties and obligations of society shouldn’t translate into pickpocketing folks to pay for a myriad of welfare goods.

That said, I’m ready to do the philosophically impossible: compromise. Call me a squish; I’ll own it. But the matter is of high importance. Bickering over marginal tax rates is a debate for DC talking heads. I’m talking about the most important topic: war. It’s a topic of such importance that serious folks in the news glide over it like it were a peaceful outing in the country. Americans treat war as a state of being. We’re stuck with it, we’re told, because danger lurks behind every corner.

If that’s the case - and it very well is - then I propose an unorthodox idea: let’s pay for war. I don’t mean rack up deficits and debt to foot the bill now. I mean have an actual tax that pays for sending soldiers and weapons over to foreign lands. Whether it be a tax on income or the final sale of goods is no matter. Tax, baby, tax!

“At this point in our republic, bankruptcy will be the only thing that throws a wrench in the war machine.”

Yes, it’s true a portion of the tax dollars we pay currently is used to fund overseas adventurism. But it’s clearly not enough to make us wary of further combat. President Obama recently presented Congress with an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State. The asking for permission is mainly for show. The prez had no problem using airstrikes against the caliphate over the last 6 months.

With Republicans in control of Congress, you can bet the AUMF will be approved, if not strengthened. The GOP may lack a spine when it comes to (sh)amnesty, but it certainly doesn’t lack an appetite for bloodshed. If the request is given the congressional imprimatur, Republicans should live up to their reputation as stingy budget hawks. Include in the provision a 5% tax on something Americans enjoy. Upping the payroll tax would be a good start. Maybe apply it to gasoline. Perhaps new cars. Even food should be on the table. Whatever it is, make us suffer.

There once was a time when shared sacrifice was encouraged for war. During World War II, bonds were sold to fund the effort. Children were told to buy stamps by their favorite superheroes. Victory gardens were encouraged to prevent food shortages. Rationing and price controls deprived the population of everyday items like basic clothing. As economists Steven Horwtiz and Michael McPhillips point out on their 2013 study on WWII-era scarcity,

“Not only were various consumer items unavailable, but those that could be found were of inferior quality. Substitute goods were of substandard construction and were often uniform, precluding consumers’ choice of styles, shapes, and sizes.”

George Carlin said it best: “the only true lasting American value that’s left…’buying things!” If you want Americans to pay attention, empty the shopping malls. Too bad modern capitalism has made that prospect impossible. We have thingamajigs galore, and enough raw materials to wage war without dust forming on the shelves at The Gap. So there must be another means to hit the people in their materialistic heart.

Conservatives despise taxes. And yet they are the ones predominantly clamoring for war. For too long, the two have been incongruous to one another. We’ve been intervening militarily across the planet for nearly 6 decades straight. Scores of young Americans have lost their lives in the process. But we still don’t bear the full cost of this death and destruction.

If our society is as naturally connected and necessary as Edmund Burke suggested, then there must be give-and-take. Burke saw community - and its outgrowth, the nation - as embodying human nature. Our personhoods are individualistic, but also interconnected to one another in a myriad of ways. Suffering doesn’t happen in isolation; it often permeates to family and community. Clearly, the casualties of seemingly-endless war in the Middle East have done little to deter public opinion against increased boots on the ground. A new Pew Research Center revealed that 47% of Americans favor U.S. troops fighting ISIS. When half the country wants to put their countrymen back in the trenches after 10 years of failure, there’s a real problem.