An excellent article by Steve Chapman in Reason yesterday reminds readers that the United States' latest war is not free, but rather has real financial and human costs. Chapman notes how this war, unlike previous ones, has less of a direct impact on the average American, due in part to the elimination of the draft and the government financing this war through borrowing rather than direct tax increases.
The majority sacrifices nothing noticeable for the privilege of reminding the world that we can blow up whatever we want and kill whomever we want anytime we choose. For the time being, we don't even have to put up any money.
The latest war will cost some of that, though how much is anyone's guess. Asked the likely price tag, White House press secretary Josh Earnest replied, with charming nonchalance, "I don't have an estimate on that."
Members of Congress show no sign of weighing the benefits of this operation against the outlay. Nor do voters, because they have no reason to. It's a free lunch.
It hasn't always been that way. During World War I, Congress raised taxes twice to pay for sending an army to France. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the biggest tax increase the nation had ever seen. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau didn't sugarcoat it: "The new taxes will be severe, and their impact will be felt in every American home."
During Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson pushed through a surcharge of 10 percent on all personal and corporate income taxes. He justified it as a way to "finance responsibly the needs of our men in Vietnam."