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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Surtax Now to Support the War to End the War

I am a proponent of the idea of adding a surtax to fund the war in Iraq as proposed recently by House Democrats.

And described by CNN:
"The measure -- sponsored by Obey, Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, and Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts -- would require low- and middle-income taxpayers to add 2 percent to their tax bill, while higher-income taxpayers would add 12 to 15 percent, Obey said."

1. It is our generation's responsibility, so our generation should pay for it. Why is it our responsibility? Because the people chose to elect George Bush (collectively) twice (ok, maybe once, but we can hardly tax the Supreme Court or ONLY those that voted for Bush now can we).

2. I like the progressive nature of the bill. The rich should bare the burden of the surtax and the responsibility for the war since they had the biggest voice to try and prevent it, or at least make sure mistakes were minimized in operating it. Instead they blindly followed conventional wisdom at the time. Secondly, the rich still have more sway than the poor, so the tax would act as a huge incentive for the rich to finally speak up.

3. Provided the taxes were collected a year in advance, there should be no timing issue. Further, the tax acts as a 'sensible' (relatively) cap on spending for the war, as any additional funds required above that generated by the tax would have to be taken by reducing spending elsewhere or appropriating other funds to the war - which can be limited by congress.

This seems a better alternative morally, and in some sense economically as it likely would reduce uncertainty in terms of war spending. (Though obviously, as standard econ theory dictates, the net economic effect would be a substantial negative in the short-run). The gains in the long-run are debatable and I obviously side with camp that says this is a beneficial policy for the long-run.

This idea, really, is a logical extension to the idea of Pigovian taxation. The whole point of taxing something is that the tax acts as a disincentive to the thing that is taxed - particularly a thing that has large negative harm that may not be realized or internalized by a large majority of the population. So tax these people to help account for the total costs of the war - costs that are real and likely not fully realized yet - costs that our children will surely bare - costs of ignorance, greed, or short-sightedness. Hopefully the price mechanism would do its job, and people would start to really look at the true costs/benefits of the war.

But then again, like some other taxes (like a carbon tax on gasoline), this is likely just as politically unfeasible.

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