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Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Case for a War Tax

Democracy is the least worst form of government. People in democracies never suffer from famine (Amartya Sen made that point years ago in important work), and they are rarely subject to arbitrary detention, torture and imprisonment.

But the quality of democracies varies greatly, depending on the qualities of their citizens and the qualities of their would-be leaders. Some people are too stupid for democracy and in some times and places only crooks want to lead.

There are no doubt some dictatorships whose downtrodden people are better informed about the world than citizens of some democracies and there are surely dictators less driven by greed and vanity than some democratic leaders.

And some democracies, though careful of their own citizens' lives, are careless with the lives of others. The UK's military expenditure is the fourth largest in the world (after the USA, China and Russia) not because it faces the threat of attack but because it likes to attack other countries, preferably ones which are distant and poor.

This has become a habit and is something expected by the UKs tabloid newspapers and some of those who read them. A British Prime Minister proves himself not by Jaw, Jaw but by War,War.

Nowadays, that principally means aiming missiles at poor people's villages, but from a great distance since sentimental public opinion does not want to see the lives of British troops endangered in close or equal combat.

How do we stop this democratic carelessness about other people's lives?

I suggest a War Tax. Instead of funding all military expenditure from the proceeds of general taxation, that part of it which arises from active operations (actually using bullets, firing missiles, ferrying troops hither and thither - in other words, Campaign costs) should always be funded from a separate War Tax imposed to pay for each set of hostilities in which the UK chooses to engage.

This would immediately make the cost of War transparent and immediately weaken tabloid and popular enthusiasm for overseas aggression.

War should have a price tag. That's probably the best defence against aggression we can offer to poor people in far away villages.

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