A good idea from Beto O’Rourke

The knock against this candidate for the Democratic nomination has been that he lacks substance and a proven record and that he is merely coasting on his narrow loss to Ted Cruz in the Texas senate race. But he recently put forward on interesting idea and one that should be pushed even further than he envisages.

Beto O’Rourke on Monday called for Congress to enact a “war tax” any time the country goes to war, with the proceeds going to care for veterans of the conflict.

If elected, O’Rourke said he would push Congress to enact a law creating a new trust fund for veterans’ health care for every war the U.S. fights. Each fund would be paired with a war tax, which O’Rourke’s campaign said would be “implemented on a progressive basis.”

The problem is that it has become increasingly easy for the US to get into wars because it is seen as costless for the public. Ever since the draft ended after the Vietnam war, the general public does not feel any pain directly. Even then, the wealthy were often able to evade the draft, as was the case with the Donald trump who claimed that he had ‘bone spurs’ that disqualified him. Yeah, right. Nowadays only a tiny fraction of the population actually fights on the ground and risks death and those people are mostly drawn from the ranks of the less wealthy who see in the military a chance of a job. Even that cost has got less as the US shifts to missiles and drones for inflicting damage and death. For most people, the continuing overt wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the covert wars in who knows how many countries, are out of sight and out of mind.

So now American politicians can threaten war with any country that they think is being insufficiently subservient and the public either yawns or actively urges them on because the world has to be shown who’s the boss. Should the US start a war with Iran? Sure, why not? There is nothing good to watch on TV anyway.

Some people have recommended bringing back the draft to force people to confront the fact that wars have costs. But I doubt that would be effective as a deterrance since fewer troops are needed now for inflicting damage on other countries and the elites would dodge the draft anyway. But a tax imposed on everyone for each war (a tax that goes well beyond O’Rourke’s intention of funding veterans’ needs) would be better because it would serve multiple purposes. It would affect everyone. It would prevent the continual draining away of resources from the public welfare to feed the war machine. But most importantly, it would continually remind people that wars have costs, especially human ones, even if they only feel it in monetary terms.

Raising taxes has nowadays become portrayed as the worst possible thing that you can do and forcing people to choose between that and going to war would be a salutary experience for those who think that way.

So let’s give O’Rourke props for a good idea.


  1. says

    Perhaps there could be polling stations where you go to vote whether to go to war or not, but it’s not a private poll. You choose to go between two rooms, one for YES and one for NO. If you go into the room for NO, you give them a few details so you can be marked down as NO and you leave. If you go into the room for YES, there is a lot more paperwork so that in case YES wins, it can be determined how much money you will pay towards the war effort and how that money will be deducted from your accounts/pay cheques.

  2. consciousness razor says

    How about a “tax” for the people who support a war (particularly those in the government)? I don’t care much about the details: they can divide up the trillions of dollars amongst themselves however they like, but they would pay for it all privately, not just veterans’ benefits. Then it’s not really a governmental thing at all, and nobody would hesitate to treat them like the ordinary terrorists they are. In order to make space in the prisons for them all, we would probably need to release everyone who’s in there on minor drug offenses, as well as immigrants who are being detained for no reason at all. It would be best if we could stop them from fighting in the first place, although they would have to impose a draft on themselves of course, since they don’t get to use our military, so there’s a decent chance it that does happen. But if all else fails, we could at least prevent them from ever doing it again.

  3. Roj Blake says

    FFS Mano, even you are showing a blase attitude towards death and destruction in foreign lands. You’re usually better than that.

    It is NOT a “good idea”, it is a perpetuation of American imperialism with a sugar coating for the Seppos. Every one of those “veterans” made a conscious decision to put themselves in harm’s way, they are victims of their own hubris. Unlike the true victims in the countries America attacks who had no choice.

    Americans sleepwalk from one war to the next, never giving a tinker’s cuss for those whose lives are destroyed. Let’s have a great big memorial for the firefighters who died in New York 9/11. Let’s forget about the firefighters who died in Iraq simply doing their job, trying to rescue people, while bombs still rained down.

    Fuck off America; the rest of the world is sick of paying the price for your arrogance.

  4. DonDueed says

    Who defines “war”? The US hasn’t fought a declared war in a very long time. But it has been almost continually at war in one way or another since the end of WW2. So a “war tax” would amount to just a tax.

    With all the budget finagling that goes on, we’re not even paying for the actual cost of the wars, let alone this new fund. There’s no reason to think that would change.

    I agree with Roj Blake. How about instead of this weak sauce, we actually stop fighting these un-wars?

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Roj Blake & DonDueed: Gosh yes, typing “stop fighting these wars” will work very well, I’m sure. What O’Rourke is proposing could actually contribute to stopping them.

    Your comments are about as useful as “Just Say No!” as a solution to drug addiction.

  6. Roj Blake says

    Rob Grigjanis, So you equate war with addiction? I guess for Seppos it IS an addiction as you are always at war with someone, be it a foreign land or yourselves. For the rest of us it is an infliction.

    I have spent 50 of my 66 years on this Earth Just Saying NO to war, and I don’t intend to give up while I draw breath.

    What O’Rourke is proposing is just adding a layer to military spending. Slashing the US military spend, bringing the troops home from the 100’s of foreign bases, not jumping at every shadow, ceasing the overthrow of democratic foreign governments, and Americans being smart enough to elect politicians to do this things is what is needed.

    You may say I’m a dreamer …

  7. ridana says

    24 cents of every tax dollar goes to the military (or more precisely military contractors). 6 cents goes to veterans benefits. So I already pay our imperialism a third of my tax dollars. I don’t need to pay more taxes for war, any war, especially undeclared wars. And the people for whom we’re sending off our kids to fight are hardly going to miss a mere $1000. That’s an accounting error to them.
    This is not a good idea. Making Congress get its priorities straight and move some money from worthless shit like the F-35 into veterans benefits would be a nice start, as would taking some fucking responsibility for declaring war as the Constitution intended instead of letting Presidents run wild. And part of that responsibility is to stop sending people off to unjustified wars.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Roj Blake @6:

    So you equate war with addiction?

    Why do so many people not seem to understand the meaning of “analogy”?

    O my Luve is like a red, red rose
    That’s newly sprung in June;

    Robert Burns, are you saying your girlfriend grew up in shit and has thorns sticking out her side?

    P.S. Unlike John Lennon, Burns could at least write decent poetry.

  9. Roj Blake says

    Rob, your analogy failed.

    How do you propose ending the US’s constant war with everyone?

  10. says

    The only war tax that has any chance of making war—declared or undeclared—less likely is a universal draft that allows only a single exception: conscientious objector status.

    Draft every single young man and woman on their 18th birthday (or upon their graduation from high school) for a six month tour of basic and secondary training. At the completion of that six months they can: (a) extend for a two-, four- or six-year regular enlistment; (b) enter the active reserve for six years and then transfer to the inactive reserve until they reach age 65; or (c) enter the inactive reserve until they reach age 65. All members of the inactive reserve would be required to report for a regular period of refresher training (perhaps one week a year or every other year).

    This will never happen, but if it did, if the children of privilege were place in harm’s way, we would see a precipitous drop in imperial/corporate wars.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  11. jrkrideau says

    This is a truly perverse idea. It institutionalizes war as a normal part of US life.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Weird. Saying “we just shouldn’t fight wars” is all well and good, but utterly useless. O’Rourke’s idea would make the people in charge think twice about fighting wars, because they don’t want to piss off voting taxpayers. It’s not a bad first step.

    jrkrideau @11:

    It institutionalizes war as a normal part of US life.

    It already is effectively institutionalized, FFS. This would bring the cost home to people who are otherwise accepting/apathetic of the status quo.

    hyphenman @10: I’ve often thought the same sort of thing, but yeah, probably not gonna happen. But it’s more constructive than just wishing things were different.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    Roj Blake @9: I’ll spell the analogy out for you. I wasn’t comparing (or equating) war to addiction. I was comparing the usefulness of the proposed “solutions” to the two problems. Which is to say, none whatsoever in either case. I’m amazed I have to explain this to an adult.

  14. Holms says

    #11 Roj
    There are adults, let’s say up to age 20-21, who do not have a single memory that predates the US war in Afghanistan. I’m pretty sure war is already a normal part of American life.

    #9 Roj #7 ridana
    I don’t see anyone here claiming this to be a complete solution. Yes it would also be nice if the president could not sidestep the requirement for congress to declare war, congress really needs to grow a fucking spine and reclaim that power of theirs. It would also be nice if the F35 boondoggle was scrapped today, or better yet, had never been started. It would be nice if the presidents and politicians were forced to participate on the front lines of any war front resulting from their agitation, whthe result is a declared or undeclared war.

    There are lots and lots of things that would be nice if they were true, but as the saying goes, wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which fills first.

    This is an idea that will have a tangible discouraging effect on warmongering, which is also a nice thing if it passes.

  15. consciousness razor says

    This would bring the cost home to people who are otherwise accepting/apathetic of the status quo.

    Would it, though? Beto’s proposal: we raise some tax money to pay for veterans’ care.
    I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the status quo to me.
    Do we not already pay taxes for that? Would we provide it only if there were a war, however that may be defined, or don’t veterans already get taxpayer-funded care no matter what? I don’t get it… what the fuck, do you think we were doing all this time?
    But whatever. While we’re at it with all these changes that would “bring the cost home” (not the bombs or the death), why not make Mexico pay for it? Then we wouldn’t have to tell ourselves it’s a “tax.”

  16. says

    Roj Blake @#3

    Every one of those “veterans” made a conscious decision to put themselves in harm’s way, they are victims of their own hubris. Unlike the true victims in the countries America attacks who had no choice.

    I have mixed feelings about veterans. I feel sorry for veterans who were the victims of mandatory conscription. They got abused by their own states and they had no choice about the matter.

    Volunteers, now those get complicated. On one hand, they are the victims of state propaganda machine. They got indoctrinated and manipulated by their own country. Then there’s also the pesky fact that many volunteers come from poor families. They saw army as a paying job, as a career opportunity, because in the USA there are very few career opportunities and well-paying jobs for people who come from poor families. But, despite all these circumstances, they still volunteered and went to murder some innocent people in a faraway place. They did have a choice about it, and they decided to become murderers.

    Ultimately, I do think that states should pay for veterans’ healthcare bills. It’s immensely wrong to brainwash and exploit some human being and discard them afterwards once they have become too old and too sick for further exploitation.

  17. flex says

    Andreas Avester, @16,

    Clearly your experience is a little different than mine, but I can share some of mine with you. While I was always in the college-bound cohort in high school, after watching a number of my older friends start, and drop out of college I recognized that I wasn’t really prepared for college. So I joined the service as a way to save money for college, with the bonuses of being able to visit (or be stationed) in other countries, take advantage of the college funds the military offers, as well as shelter and board.

    I found the experience fascinating. First, I recognized that my reasons for joining were very much a minority. If I was going to categorize the other recruits I met in basic training and technical school, and there were hundreds of them, I would place their backgrounds as follows: 40% from inner city neighborhoods where a joining the military is a great way to leave them; 40% from far rural areas where joining the military is a great way to escape the collapse of the rural economy; 15% from military families, their parents were in the military and so they were following the lifestyle they know. The remaining 5% had a wide variety of reasons, from the courts giving them an option of join the military or go to jail (not uncommon for cases of statutory rape at the time), to people who really did feel patriotic and wanted to serve their country.

    No one chose the military because, as you wrote, they “decided to become murderers.” I’m not saying that it wasn’t understood that if the job demanded it you could be placed in a position where you would have to kill others, but the vast majority of jobs in the military do not ever make that demand. It was also understood, that if the job demanded it, you could be placed in a position where your life was in danger. Again, the vast majority of jobs in the military do not make that demand either. It was one of the risks, known risks, you took when you joined.

    In regards to the state propaganda machine. Everyone I knew who worked full-time in the military had no illusions about state propaganda. The military cultivated a cynical attitude toward idiotic politicians who deployed them irresponsibly. The troops would go, but not enthusiastically. They went because it was their job, which they knew they had to do as a condition of employment. The enthusiastic idiots were the weekend warriors. The national guardsmen who spend one weekend a month and two weeks a year playing army. These were the indoctrinated, patriotic, fools who were working other jobs but loved the idea of fighting for their country. These were the volunteers who frightened the fill-time, active-duty member of the military. The people who choose the military as a full-time job were well aware of their risks and commitments. Many of the full-time volunteers served their 4 years and got out, using the military as a stepping stone into a technical field (or even a not-so-technical-field like short-order cooking). Those who stayed did not stay because of patriotism or indoctrination, but because there are other benefits, like a half-pay pension after 20 years of service. Having a guaranteed income of ~$25,000/year doesn’t put you into the middle-class bracket these days, but it keeps you out of dire poverty.

    Hyphenman @10 made a suggestion which has come up regularly. The idea that instituting the draft and requiring all people to serve may make wars less likely because of the risk that a privileged person may be in danger. I doubt it would have that benefit. I doubt it because the vast majority of people who serve are not placed in harm’s way. People with privilege will also find privilege in the military and be kept out of danger. This happened when we had the draft, people from families which connections had desk jobs or non-combat jobs. The intelligence teams were filled with privileged people.

    And as for veteran healthcare. Yes, veterans deserve good healthcare and the state should pay the bills. Of course, if the USA went to a single-payer healthcare system for all residents, this issue would not even be on the table. Healthcare for everyone means the veterans are covered too.

  18. Mark Dowd says

    FFS Mano, even you are showing a blase attitude towards death and destruction in foreign lands. You’re usually better than that.

    Good point. The war machine’s propaganda has so thoroughly fucked everything up in this country and dehumanized the “others” that the anti-war crowd has basically no chance of gaining any ground with moral discussions. Taxes and racism are pretty much the only thing the MAGA crowd cares about. The same fuckers that yell “Support our troops” will bitch like fucking toddlers if they actually have to pay for that support.

    The only war tax that has any chance of making war—declared or undeclared—less likely is a universal draft that allows only a single exception: conscientious objector status.

    You could drive a truck through that loophole. Trump’s daddy was able to pull strings to have a doctor basically falsify medical records for him with the bone spurs, you think any of these people would have trouble pulling strings for “conscientious objector” status? Fuck no.

    The only way to stop the wars is to elect politicians that will STOP THE FUCKING WARS!!!! The fact that these cute, indirect solutions are considered “clever” is a sign of just how god damned fucked up this piece of shit country is.

  19. Roj Blake says

    Andreas Avester, @16,

    I feel sorry for veterans who were the victims of mandatory conscription. They got abused by their own states and they had no choice about the matter.

    I have empathy for those I know, but not sympathy. There is always a choice, and some made the choice to refuse, often at a high personal cost. If more had refused, the supply of meat would have dried up and an invasion of a foreign state may have ended sooner.

  20. lanir says

    War, as far as I’m aware, is pretty goddamn awful. I’m also absolutely certain I only have the most vague idea of how awful it would be to live through one in any role whether military or civilian.

    Pretending that dropping bombs is not waging war is a lie. That much I think I have a pretty good grasp on.

    So with that preliminary stuff out of the way… I think it’s dangerous and counterproductive to insist that every aspect of this situation be fixed at once in one fel swoop. There has to be a path to any perfect dream world you can conjure up from the world we live in or it’s just a fantasy. Regardless of what the first steps look like, it will take momentum to reach your end goal. Insisting on a quick fix will alienate too many people and nothing will be accomplished.

    There’s still a point to being on guard against false starts and meaningless gestures but the proposed tax does have the magic word “tax” in it. That word alone puts half the warmongers in DC into a precarious position. So while it appears it wouldn’t address the core issue it’s not useless. Once the country starts having conversations about the cost of war (even if it’s initially a terribly mistaken impression that the cost is only monetary) and what they’re willing to pay for it, you get more of an opening for the discussions you really want to have.

  21. Jazzlet says

    There has to be a path to any perfect dream world you can conjure up from the world we live in or it’s just a fantasy

    This, it is true for any vision of the future in all policy areas we might want, but all too few people understand it and so don’t work on the steps to get where they want to be.

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