Monday, August 01, 2005

Who's Paying for Our Patriotism?

I thought you knew Mr. Reinhardt, who is paying for "Our Patriotism".

Don't you know your son whom you did give a fatherly advice will be the one paying the ultimate price for this and other adventurous wars of coming days?

Your advice was sound: "Do what you must, but be advised that, flourishing rhetoric notwithstanding, this nation will never truly honor your service, and it will condemn you to the bottom of the economic scrap heap should you ever get seriously wounded."

Mr. Reinhardt, your observation was correct, Americans are insulated from this bloody war, media is playing the tune of sacrilege euphoria though unabashed in their selective promotion of faith, and the moral hazard is indeed lurking in the shadow, while American tax payers are not biting the dust (yet) from their government's ballooning war.

"if all but a handful of Americans are completely insulated against the emotional -- and financial -- cost of war, is it not natural to suspect moral hazard will be at work in that context as well?" -- surely it will, Mr. Reinhardt. And the pompous Rovians and Bushians know about this quite well too.

They "think" way ahead of time, proclaimed our granddaddy of wars Rumsfeld while commenting on getting six month eviction notice from Uzbekistan. Well, he and his neocon pals couldn't take any more "abuse" from American "free press" on American blatant indifferences on Uzbek's monstrous Karimov's relentless human rights abuse and atrocities against his own people in the name of fighting "terrorism". This and that was said in response, and there flies Karimov's curt eviction notice. Does Karimov need more share of the pies under the table?

Now the war will be more expensive, but hey, the neocons don't worry a bit. More money will be borrowed from abroad to finance this mess, more deficit will be incurred in the process. Is this that surprising when one may consider the VP Dick's bold proclamation that deficit may not be a bad thing after all? He is not in deficit, he has millions tucked in safe place from his prosperous days at "Holy"-burton. It is the ordinary Americans who will bear all the grunts in future, and the small children whose future is put in auction for the cause of greed and faith.

And what about the ordinary Iraqis and Afghanistanis who are being bombarded, slaughtered and maimed from this war of deception? If the American soldiers get condemned "to the bottom of the economic scrap heap", no wonder that there is such glaring disregard for the unknown numbers of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan directly caused by this war and its continuing bloody aftermath.

Regards,
Sohel
August 1, 2005


Who's Paying for Our Patriotism?

By Uwe E. Reinhardt
Monday, August 1, 2005; A17

President Bush assures us that the ongoing twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are worth the sacrifices they entail. Editorialists around the nation agree and say that a steadfast American public was willing to stay the course.

Should anyone be surprised by this national resolve, given that these wars visit no sacrifice of any sort -- neither blood nor angst nor taxes -- on well over 95 percent of the American people?

At most, 500,000 American troops are at risk of being deployed to these war theaters at some time. Assume that for each of them some 20 members of the wider family sweat with fear when they hear that a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan or that X number of soldiers or Marines were killed or seriously wounded in Iraq. It implies that no more than 10 million Americans have any real emotional connection to these wars.

The administration and Congress have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate voters from the money cost of the wars -- to the point even of excluding outlays for them from the regular budget process. Furthermore, they have financed the wars not with taxes but by borrowing abroad.

The strategic shielding of most voters from any emotional or financial sacrifice for these wars cannot but trigger the analogue of what is called "moral hazard" in the context of health insurance, a field in which I've done a lot of scholarly work. There, moral hazard refers to the tendency of well-insured patients to use health care with complete indifference to the cost they visit on others. It has prompted President Bush to advocate health insurance with very high deductibles. But if all but a handful of Americans are completely insulated against the emotional -- and financial -- cost of war, is it not natural to suspect moral hazard will be at work in that context as well?

A policymaking elite whose families and purses are shielded from the sacrifices war entails may rush into it hastily and ill prepared, as surely was the case of the Iraq war. Moral hazard in this context can explain why a nation that once built a Liberty Ship every two weeks and thousands of newly designed airplanes in the span of a few years now takes years merely to properly arm and armor its troops with conventional equipment. Moral hazard can explain why, in wartime, the TV anchors on the morning and evening shows barely make time to report on the wars, lest the reports displace the silly banter with which they seek to humor their viewers. Do they ever wonder how military families with loved ones in the fray might feel after hearing ever so briefly of mayhem in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Moral hazard also can explain why the general public is so noticeably indifferent to the plight of our troops and their families. To be sure, we paste cheap magnetic ribbons on our cars to proclaim our support for the troops. But at the same time, we allow families of reservists and National Guard members to slide into deep financial distress as their loved ones stand tall for us on lethal battlefields and the family is deprived of these troops' typically higher civilian salaries. We offer a pittance in disability pay to seriously wounded soldiers who have not served the full 20 years that entitles them to a regular pension. And our legislative representatives make a disgraceful spectacle of themselves bickering over a mere $1 billion or so in added health care spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs -- in a nation with a $13 trillion economy!

Last year kind-hearted folks in New Jersey collected $12,000 at a pancake feed to help stock pantries for financially hard-pressed families of the National Guard. Food pantries for American military families? The state of Illinois now allows taxpayers to donate their tax refunds to such families. For the entire year 2004, slightly more than $400,000 was collected in this way, or 3 cents per capita. It is the equivalent of about 100,000 cups of Starbucks coffee. With a similar program Rhode Island collected about 1 cent per capita. Is this what we mean by "supporting our troops"?

When our son, then a recent Princeton graduate, decided to join the Marine Corps in 2001, I advised him thus: "Do what you must, but be advised that, flourishing rhetoric notwithstanding, this nation will never truly honor your service, and it will condemn you to the bottom of the economic scrap heap should you ever get seriously wounded." The intervening years have not changed my views; they have reaffirmed them.

Unlike the editors of the nation's newspapers, I am not at all impressed by people who resolve to have others stay the course in Iraq and in Afghanistan. At zero sacrifice, who would not have that resolve?

The writer is James Madison professor of political economy at Princeton University.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/31/AR2005073101080.html

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