Thursday, October 04, 2007

Adam Smith on War

I found the following quote from Adam Smith in Glenn Greenwald's blog on the Salon website. I like it a lot.

The ordinary expense of the greater part of modern governments in time of peace being equal or nearly equal to their ordinary revenue, when war comes they are both unwilling and unable to increase their revenue in proportion to the increase of their expense. They are unwilling for fear of offending the people, who, by so great and so sudden an increase of taxes, would soon be disgusted with the war; and they are unable from not well knowing what taxes would be sufficient to produce the revenue wanted.

The facility of borrowing delivers them from the embarrassment which this fear and inability would otherwise occasion. By means of borrowing they are enabled, with a very moderate increase of taxes, to raise, from year to year, money sufficient for carrying on the war, and by the practice of perpetually funding they are enabled, with the smallest possible increase of taxes, to raise annually the largest possible sum of money.

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.

Greenwald feels this quote accurately describes how the people inside the Washington beltway -- the politicians and pundits -- regard the war against Iraq. It is "the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies" and "a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory."

And taxes have not gone up even modestly. Instead, they have been cut, and the people inside the beltway have not had to pay for their amusement at all.