Friday, September 17, 2010

Panem et Circenses

"In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war."
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

What does it say for the state of the United States as quondam empire that unlike Smith's 18th Century Britons we refuse even to pay
"...the taxes...on account of the war..."?WASF.


  1. As I ponder the state of US culture from my geriatric perch, I have arrived at the conclusion that a significant portion of the population, if not a majority, really think that money grows on trees and that there is a free lunch served on a regular basis.

    For a so called "capitalist society", it staggers my mind how few of my acquaintances in the US, many of whom would be classified as "well educated" have no idea of the cost of anything, or how those costs might be paid. Yet, in a capitalist system, income must exceed expenses for the great god "profit" to be properly worshiped.

    It's not the "war" that's causing the deficits, Chief. It's all the other waste and unnecessary spending. We are really paying the taxes necessary to fund the "war". Things like Medicaid, aid to education, are what's not necessary and thus running up the tab. It's all based on how you do the accounting.

  2. I found this at Huffpost. It's not just money we're borrowing and spending and tallying up fiscal deficits.

    A 350-page report issued in July after a 15-month investigation into the Army's rising suicide rate found that levels of illegal drug use and criminal activity have reached record highs, while the number of disciplinary actions and forced discharges were at record lows.

    The result, the Army found, is that "drug and alcohol abuse is a significant health problem in the Army." Where the Army once rigidly enforced rules on drug use, it got sloppy in the rush to get soldiers ready for the battlefield, commanders say. Officers who once trained soldiers on everything from drug abuse to financial planning had only enough time to get their troops ready for battle.

    The number of misdemeanors that soldiers committed — including traffic infractions, drunk driving and being absent without leave — rose to 50,523 in fiscal year 2009 — a sign, the report said, that "good order and discipline" were declining in the ranks. Five years earlier, the number was 28,388.

    What do you guys think is more deleterious to the nation, the debris of once able-bodied and -minded people or the debris of the fisc?

    I lean toward the people.


  3. Al: It's not the cost, really. What gets me is the disconnect between most of us and a hell of a lot of what our government and the large organizations (corporate and otherwise) are doing. Most of us don't know, and a lot of us don't seem to care. The wars are just a symptom.

    And, honestly? I don't think that we're breaking the bank. Yes, the entitlement programs are expensive. Education, too, tho I'd argue that we're paying nowhere near the cost that a genuinely world-class education for ALL citizens would cost. But we're also being taxed at the lowest rate since the Fifties. And especially the sorts of things that have helped open up the income gap between the truly wealthy and the "rest of us"; dividends, interest, and capital gains.

    And my experience is that as costly as things like Medicaid and Social Security are, they are just another way of paying for things we will pay for one way or another. The time when people would just stay home, get sick, and die are pretty much past. Poor people are going to go to the hospital and get treatment. We'll end up paying for it in our insurance premiums, or through our taxes. And if they wait until they're REALLY sick then the costs will be higher, and continue longer, than if they have some sort of coverage that encourages them to go to the doc sooner.

    I'm not sure where we need to economize, really. Seems like we could do without things like fixed facilities in, say, Germany just as well as we could do without bandaids for poor kids. But we don't seem engaged enough to make the hard choices about either one.

  4. basil: I think the two are related, really, to what I was talking about above; we, many of us, aren't engaged enough to really make intelligent choices about what our country is doing. And so our country is doing stuff like sending a small, peacetime volunteer Army to war for repeated deployments and stressing the guys with the expected results.

    We might make a choice between fiscal discipline and military policy if we were both engaged enough and understood enough. But instead, we want everything and don't want to pay for it, either. We're living in a fantasy world, where we can have health care, and wars, and this, that, and the other, and still have massive tax cuts.

  5. Chief:-

    I wrote "It's not the "war" that's causing the deficits, Chief. It's all the other waste and unnecessary spending. We are really paying the taxes necessary to fund the "war". Things like Medicaid, aid to education, are what's not necessary and thus running up the tab. It's all based on how you do the accounting" paraphrasing those who think that way, not what I see as the situation. Yes, there are indeed people who think that they are paying for the war, and any deficits are just the result of all the other wasted spending. Lived in a neighborhood full of them before moving here.

    In short, they see no need to raise taxes to fund the war. Or, more likely, they don't want to pay any more taxes, no matter what the relative rate.

  6. Aviator,
    ISTM that the cost of all of our wars are breaking the bank. Where is the trillions coming from to pay this piper? Just figgur what it'll cost to keep the 4500 severely wounded alive, and then ask for how long.
    Look at all DVA costs that we just pull out of our national asses.
    Possibly it'd be more correct to say that the police/security/intel/dod/homeland security/dos amalgum is breaking the bank.
    Now if wars are not breaking the bank, then they are a big big straw that can/will tip the scales.
    When the yellow ribbons become stale and theres not enuf money to go around, then the vets will have a frei corps potential.Just my opinion.

  7. Our own Freikorps? The German post-WWI Freikorps operated mostly at the convenience of the German government, allowing them deniability . . .

    As to the US economy, I think the plan is to simply keep the printing presses running, churning out more $$$. The assumption being the common one of our age: the $ is too big to fail, the US economy is too big to fail, the US empire is too big to fail . . .

  8. seydlitz,
    IMO the entire world would be more than happy to see the US bite the big one- our supposed allies included.
    OK i take back the Freikorps idea. What i was trying to say is that millions of disgruntled combat vets could form a very dangerous organization.
    I believe our assumptions upon which we base our Economic Theory are false, as you seem to also accept.
    The problem is both theory and application.

  9. OK, my tongue in cheek was missed. As a whole, the population doesn't want to pay the taxes for anything, and as long as the printing presses operate, they won't have to - for a while.

  10. Al-

    Complex humor is lost on me. . . I guess I'm more of a three stooges guy . . . ;


    The economy is based on interest.

  11. jim-

    Maybe Freikorps/Black and Tans is exactly the type of "dangerous organization" you mean?