by Doctor Science
One thing we agree on about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is that the (American) human costs were borne by only a small part of the population. For people in the military and their families the war was a constant and excessive burden, but most Americans felt no direct consequences at all. And I think we all agree that one reason these wars dragged on so long -- the longest of *any* of this country's wars -- was because the burden was so very unevenly distributed, so that the public -- and their representatives, and the media -- could basically forget about the wars for weeks or even months at a stretch.
As usual when this topic comes up, in our discussion last month we talked about whether having a draft instead of a voluntary military would ensure that more Americans had "skin in the game", and would take war with more of the seriousness it deserves.
But there's another way to give more people skin in the game. It's a truism that wars have a cost in blood and treasure. Afghanistan and Iraq were different from past wars on the "treasure" axis: there was no explicit war tax. On the contrary, one of the "selling points" of the war was that it would pay for itself, so there was no need to increase federal revenues (=raise taxes) to pay for it. In finance this is called a leveraged buyout, but in politics it's either imperialism or just plain plunder. There was plundering in Iraq, all right, but it didn't end up with the people who fought or paid for the war.
The Bush Administration didn't just refuse to consider a war tax, they actively worked to reduce tax rates (and thus federal revenue) while the war was in progress. The enormous cost of the wars were almost entirely financed by borrowing, along with cutting other programs. Some of those program cuts were at the Veterans' Administration, the principle vehicle for helping the people who'd be paying the "blood" costs of the war.
Right now, the United States is mostly a plutocracy. Wealthy people tend to be very interested in politics, have access to politicians, and have different priorities and opinions from most other Americans. Because politicians depend so much on the wealthy for campaign funding, what we get are public policies that are heavily weighted toward things the wealthy are worried about, and toward solutions that they favor.
In other words, for war to be taken seriously the top 1% -- and even 0.1% -- of Americans have to have "skin in the game".
Bringing back the draft won't affect these people significantly, because there aren't very many of them, they're almost all over 40, and their children and grandchildren will have lots of ways of getting around military service or of getting nice, cushy postings if they don't. No, the way you motivate the wealthy and get their attention is with *taxes*.
I'm not saying all wars need to be directly paid for by increased revenues immediately. Every war of the past few hundred years, at least, has been paid for by a mix of borrowing and immediate taxation. But I think there has to be *some* immediate taxation, at least 25% of the cost of the war, year by year.
And those war taxes need to fall on the upper end of the income scale. The poor and middle classes will pay for war with their blood; the treasure needs to come from the rich. If we weren't a plutocracy, maybe we could look for a "fairer" system where all classes contribute both blood and treasure, but that's not what we've got. I'm pretty sure that if there'd been an Iraq War tax that hurt the 0.1% as much as stop-loss policies hurt military families, the war would have ended by 2005 if it had been begun at all. The wrath of the rich would really have concentrated Congress's mind, as the mere human cost did not.