It’s Memorial Day, a day to honor those who’ve served our nation and protected the freedom we cherish. So to all the veterans and to those still in harm’s way today as active-duty personnel, we salute you.
For most Americans, it’s all too easy to forget that we’re still at war. Those actually doing the fighting, suffering, and dying are increasingly demographically concentrated, and even geographically concentrated. There aren’t a whole lot of wealthy kids from Greenwich dodging bullets over in Afghanistan. For that matter, the number of middle class kids over there is disproportionately low, when compared to the poor and working class.
The problem with this is that the people making the decision to go to war and stay at war are not the ones bearing the cost of war. In economics, this is known as the “principal-agent problem,” i.e., where those making decisions are not the ones incurring the cost. A waiter, for example, may decide to give a huge (and unprofitable) portion to a patron, figuring, “hey, the owner’s gonna pay, so no skin off my apple… and it might even increase my tip!”
In a restaurant, this is a problem. But when it comes to war-making, it’s catastrophic. If most Americans don’t have to bear the costs of war, they don’t properly value it — i.e., they don’t fully internalize just how shitty it is. For too many Americans, the war in Afghanistan has been reduced to cool war footage on TV. So why should there be any urgency in ending it?
If there were a draft — one with no deferments — is it likely that this war would’ve reached its 12th year? If kids were being plucked out of the blue for service, without regard to race/wealth/location, would America have stood for this? I think not.
We’re not going to have a draft any time soon. America wouldn’t stand for it. But what about a modified version? Some other way for all Americans to feel some pain when our troops are at risk?
I humbly suggest the “bankruptcy lottery.”
The way it would work is simple: For every day we’re at war, and for every soldier killed or wounded, an American would be picked at random for instant bankruptcy. All their assets would be seized. House, car, cash, Swiss bank accounts, everything. Instantly. Back to zero.
Would that suck? You better believe it. But it pales in comparison to what our troops risk every day.
No doubt, this would make news, and the stories of those selected for bankruptcy would be spread far and wide in this, the 24-hour news cycle. And most likely, it would scare the crap out of folks, as they saw newly bankrupt people who “look just like me!”
And maybe that would give them just a teeny, itsy bitsy sense of the true cost of war, and make us as a society “price” it more appropriately.
And hell, if we’re not even willing to endure a one-in-a-million chance of losing our earthly possessions, we certainly shouldn’t be eager to send our troops to risk something far more valuable.