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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Starving the Other Beast  

There are two arguments for tax cuts, based on economic assumptions of scarce resources. The first is that the market is better at allocating resources than the government is: the more money in private hands (cet. par.) the more economic growth. The second is the flip side: the fewer resources the government has, the less it can spend (in theory, over time, eventually.)
The two primary arguments against tax cuts are government-focused, based on economic abundance but political scarcity. The first regards tax cuts as budget expenditures, to be fiscally justified in the context of a pre-existing base line of income and projected, usually sacrosanct, outgo; the second conceptualizes them as government benefits, no different in principle from other grants and services, to be justified politically through social engineering policy determinations and competition between interest-groups.

The interesting one to me is the second For: a subversive way to use the tax code to shape the government, not society. (Conceptually interesting, that is; in practice, it's utterly contrary to experience.) But why are only Reaganite conservatives considered devious enough to use incremental government policy to achieve long-term, disabling, rarely-admitted ends?

Consider this from Phil Carter at INTEL DUMP:
A pair of articles in the Baltimore Sun and Dallas Morning News (registration required) makes an old point with new evidence: that the war in Iraq has stretched the American military to a point it hasn't seen for at least a generation.
Last year's sneers that Clinton's hollowed-out army did a pretty good job taking Iraq, huh? have become Bush's (non)plan doesn't have enough soldiers to secure Iraq and it slowly dawns on me that this might have been intentional. The gradual force reductions, the deep funding cuts in the '93 budget plan, the strategy of high-tech force-multipliers combined with fewer tooth troops, the commitment to long-term peacekeeping assignments under multi-national auspices, the bias toward intervention if and only if national interests are not at stake: all work together to make fighting an actual war more difficult. (One might view greater integration of women and of gays as part social policy, part serendipitous distraction from the work of warfighting.) Perhaps war, like abortion, should be made safe, legal, and rare.

Today's military is wonderfully suited for targeted, individual, short-term high-intensity campaigns - like Afghanistan - but not for a war with varied interconnected campaigns in multiple theaters - like WOT. Two simultaneous major conflicts? Not any more.* One major conflict? Only in part, as we see today: there aren't enough boots to put on the ground in Iraq, without further straining existing reserves and existing commitments - much less to deter Syria and Iran from meddling and providing cross-border sanctuaries. And the real hornets' nests in Saudi and Pakistan and Korea will have to simmer and wait. Stand-off encirclement of a mujahid-infested thieves' den like Fallujah and fighting terror as police work aren't so much policy choices as logistical necessities entailed by years of consistent policy decisions.

If you believe, as many on the right do, that the federal government is a force for evil - it makes sense to try to disable its geometric growth over the course of years. If you believe, as many on the left do, that the American military is a force for evil - it makes sense to shrink it, to tie it down, to limit its capacity to cause harm in the world.

We owe them the respect of recognizing their agenda and its successes. Of course, hobbling the Pentagon to end war may prove about as effective as using deficits to stop the expansion of entitlements.

*As Steven Den Beste (I think; link untraced) has pointed out, we can fight six wars at once - but five of them would quickly turn nuclear. Unintended consequences of peace-seeking, anyone?

posted by Kelly | 12:31 PM link