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.