Death and taxes
A couple of weeks back, Matthew Yglesias had an insightful post noting that "by far the fastest way to end the war in Afghanistan would be to ask General McChrystal’s staff to produce a plan to make it deficit neutral and find sixty votes in the Senate for his financing plan." Today, it looks like that question might be a bit more relevant, as Rep. David Obey is advocating a wartime surtax on high-income households to pay for any escalation in Afghanistan. "It’ll be interesting to see how far he goes with this," writes Yglesias. "Does he put together a bloc of progressive legislators who say they’ll only back a tax-financed version of the war? Would any Blue Dog budget balancers join such a group?"
A couple of points here. First, there's no reason this should be limited to high-income households. I can see the argument for concentrating a health-care tax at the top of the income pile, as the rich are getting massively subsidized by the system right now (through the employer tax exclusion), even though that's not my favored way to pay for the bill. But that doesn't hold for war, and if part of Obey's point is that we need to face these tradeoffs squarely, then he should design a tax that does exactly that, rather than continuing the fiction that we can pay for everything in American life by adding a bit more to the tax burden of the rich. Maybe a very small value-added tax?
Even so, it's nice to see Obey being radical enough to admit that war requires actual money. We have a discourse in America that's comfortable asking whether wars are winnable, but not whether they're worth it. In that way, we actually treat war rather like we treat health-care spending: the question is whether we can save a life or vanquish a foe, not whether this is the best use of money given all the other things that can be done with that money. That's one of the reasons, incidentally, that I'd like to see a simpler tax code, more along the lines of a VAT. A 1 percent rise in the tax rate would have a lot of meaning for people, and help us think clearly about what is, and isn't, worth doing.
November 23, 2009; 6:02 PM ET
Categories: Afghanistan , Taxes
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