Saturday, September 11, 2004

Patriotism and Taxes

This is the third post of a series on patriotism. (The first two posts are here and here.) I am working from the definition of patriotism given by "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it."

Love of America often takes the shallow form found in the familiar first verse of "America the Beautiful", with its paean to "amber waves of grain...purple mountain majesties...[and] fruited plain." America should be loved for its vision of liberty -- and, most importantly, for its steadfast efforts to promote that vision by permitting Americans a combination of personal and economic freedom that is unparalleled in the world. America isn't perfect and never has been. But what nation is perfect or ever was? It's true that the regulatory-welfare state has taken deep root in America, but at least those who understand that the regulatory-welfare state denies freedom, stifles initiative, and slows economic progress are free to hack at it. And sometimes they succeed in pruning it.

The other side of the coin of patriotism is sacrifice. Most living Americans (I hope) will never have to sacrifice life or limb in the defense of liberty. The only practical form of sacrifice open to most of us is to give up some material goods -- to pay taxes -- for the defense of the country. And perhaps there is an emerging consensus on that score. quotes from The Economist's Lexington column:
Americans may disagree about whether Mr. Bush should have invaded Iraq. But most of them agree that America is engaged in a global war on terrorism. And most of them -- including those furious Democrats -- are willing to project American power abroad in order to win that war.

The most obvious sign of this consensus is America's growing military muscle. Compare the last budget adopted before September 11th and that for the current fiscal year: total federal spending on defense (including both Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security and international affairs) has risen by more than 50%, from $354 billion to about $547 billion. This huge military build-up, the biggest since the Korean war, has enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans. Considerable bipartisan agreement propelled the creation of the gigantic Department of Homeland Security; and now Congress (again, not the White House) is pushing through the most far-reaching reorganization of the intelligence services for 50 years.

Anyone who doubts the force of America's gathering consensus should study the Kerry campaign, which proposes little different from Mr. Bush in terms of future action; or they should look at this summer's surprise bestseller. The 9/11 Commission Report is a thoroughly bipartisan production, the work of five leading Democrats and five leading Republicans. And it minces no words on the need for an aggressive approach to terrorism.

The report argues that there is no room for appeasement: the terrorists are willing to use any means to spread Islamic theocracy, and the only way to deal with them is either to destroy them or to leave them utterly isolated. The report endorses lots of nicey-nicey reforms in the Middle East, but it is also comfortable with projecting American power abroad. “Terrorism against American interests ‘over there’,” reads the report, “should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against America ‘over here’.” America's homeland is, in fact, “the planet”.
I would gladly pay higher taxes to support the war on terror. I am not a knee-jerk tax-cutter when it comes to the essential functions of government. But I do not want to pay higher taxes to support the war on terror and to subsidize corporate welfare, individual welfare, farm subsidies, the nationalization of education, myriad regulatory activities, and all other programs that transfer money and power to Washington for the benefit of the permanent government and interest groups. That is not what the Framers meant by the general welfare.

Taxes should be the price we pay for the preservation of liberty -- not the price we pay for charity, graft, and our own enslavement.