Friday, June 5, 2015

Our Roads and Bridges are the Responsibility of Our State Community


Our Legislators Don’t Understand the Role of Our State Government


Our state legislature is having a hard time agreeing on a budget this year, especially when it comes to paying for and roads and bridges. One legislator says he won’t vote for the budget unless it eliminates the requirement to pay the prevailing wage for workers who work on road projects. Another legislator says that we should eliminate bonding as a means of paying for our roads. Our governor says that that he won’t agree to raise the gasoline tax or the vehicle registration fee.

All of these positions stem from a doctrinaire belief that the most important thing for our state to do is to lower taxes. People who hold this belief refuse to see that our state government has an important role in providing an environment in which all of us can thrive and that we must all share in its cost. Our roads and bridges make it possible for us to get to work. They make it possible for our factories to ship their products to markets all over the world. They make it possible for tourists from Chicago to spend their money in northern Wisconsin. We all know that our transportation network could never be built and maintained by the private sector alone. Much of the work is done by private contractors, but the planning and funding comes from the state.

All of Us Benefit and All of Us Should Pay


As a community we all benefit from our roads and bridges, and so it is only fair that we should pay for them as a community through our taxes. We have done so for many years through the gas tax.  However, the gas tax at its current level is no longer sufficient to pay for our community’s roads and bridges, and so we have to reconsider the way we pay for them. We can find a way if we recognize that our state government is not something imposed on us. It is the means by which we act together to accomplish things like building roads that we cannot accomplish as individuals.

The Tax Burden Should be Apportioned Fairly


We should also accept that the cost of our roads and bridges should be apportioned as fairly as possible.  Apportioning the cost fairly means that those who use the roads the most should pay the most. To do this, we can increase the gas tax, or we can move to a tax based on mileage.  I favor the latter because such a tax would fall equally on drivers of electric cars and drivers of gas-powered cars. We could also increase the registration fee. We should not solve our problem by eliminating the “prevailing wage” rule in order to reduce the wages of the workers who build and maintain our roads. That would be unfair because it would not apportion the majority of the cost to those who receive the majority of the benefits.

Apportioning the cost fairly also means that future users of our roads and bridges should bear a part of their cost.  It makes no sense to pay the whole cost in one year when the benefits will be spread over decades. So, we should use bonding to pay for roads and bridges. However, we should not use it as a substitute for raising taxes. We current users have to pay our share, too, and in addition, if we are going to borrow more money, we will need more tax revenue to pay our debt. We can pay for our roads and bridges in a sensible way if we stop focusing on reducing taxes and recognize that if our state community needs roads and bridges, we must pay for them with state taxes. Once we accept that principle, we will be able to focus on apportioning the cost in the fairest possible way.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Social Security: Fairness, Community and Sustainability

Social Security Must Be Reformed

Social Security must be reformed. As the system is now constituted, it is not financially sustainable because it pays out more than it takes in. If nothing is done, beneficiaries will face cuts in their benefits as soon as 2033.  What can we do to put Social Security on a firm footing and meet the commitments we have made?

We Do Not Duck Our Responsibilities

We have to find a way because we are not people who would duck our responsibility to care for the old people among us. We will not abandon the people who nurtured us and worked hard to build the world in which we live.  Some people in our society can earn and save enough on their own to provide a comfortable old age, but not everyone earns enough to do so, and it would be wrong for us to abandon them in their time of need. So, we need Social Security.

We Recognize that Social Security Benefits Are Earned

Moreover, we have a responsibility to fix Social Security in a way that preserves the benefits that people have worked for. We have to do this because Social Security benefits are earned.  They are contractual. They are not charitable contributions. A worker and his/her employers pay into Social Security throughout his/her working life. An individual’s “account” may be seen as a combination of a savings account (the worker’s share) and deferred compensation (the employer’s share), and people who have worked hard all of their lives have a right to the benefits they have earned. If we cannot pay those benefits because we have allowed the system to fail, we will have cheated them, and our American community cannot be based on cheating.

We Must Be Financially Realistic

On the other hand, we have to be realistic because Social Security benefits are paid in the real world with real money. We cannot promise benefits that we cannot pay, and we have to recognize that, as things now stand, we will not be able to meet our commitments indefinitely.

To solve this problem, there are only two things we can do:

1.       We can increase the program’s revenue.

2.       We can modify the benefit formula to reduce the program’s benefits.

A Possible Solution

There are many ways for us to increase revenue or to reduce benefits, and to test out various possibilities, I used “The Reformer: an Interactive Tool to Fix Social Security,” which is on the web site of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. This interactive tool allowed me to try various alternative “fixes” both individually and in combination to see what it would take to fix Social Security in a way that was financially realistic while honoring our responsibilities to be honest with our workers and to care for the old people among us. The tool allowed me to try increasing the Social Security tax or decreasing the benefits, and as I did so, I had to face the moral question behind each choice? Who should pay higher taxes to increase Social Security’s revenue?  Whose benefits should be decreased? Should everyone pay higher taxes, or should the increases be concentrated on those with high incomes? Should everyone’s benefits be reduced or only the benefits of the rich? Should we use our money to pay benefits only to those who really need them, or should we pay benefits to everyone who has earned them?
Here are choices that I made among the alternatives that the web site gave me, and these choices would make Social Security solvent for 75 years and beyond. I started with revenue increases because our responsibility to meet our contractual commitments requires us to avoid reducing earned benefits when we can.

                                               Increases in Social Security’s Revenue

Type of Revenue Increase
Percent of the Shortfall Closed in the 75th Year
Increase the payroll tax by 1.4% (The site allowed me to choose the amount. At the median US income of about $50,000, a worker would pay an additional $700/year.)
50%
Subject all wages to the payroll tax. (Today, only wages up $118,500 are taxed. The cut-off point rises with inflation.)
71%
Cover newly-hired state and local workers. (Today, state and local governments can opt out of Social Security.)
6%
Increase the taxation of benefits (Today only a portion of Social Security benefits are taxed.)
8%
Diversify the investments in the Trust Fund to increase returns (This means investing in the stock market.)
19%

The first two items listed would make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years, and it was tempting to stop there, but with only these two changes, there would still be a gap after 75 years, which meant that Social Security would not be fully solvent. So, I added the remaining three revenue-increasing items. Unfortunately, they still did not fully close the funding gap beyond the 75th year. In order to make the program fully solvent, I turned to modifications of the benefit formula. Here are the choices I made.

                                          Modifications of the Benefit Formula

Type of Modification
Percent of the Shortfall Closed in the 75th Year
Slow initial benefit growth for the top 20% of earners (This affects the formula by which a person’s initial benefits are calculated.)
3%
Modify Cost of Living Adjustments by indexing COLAs to the chained CPI
20%

      Taken together, these revenue increases and modifications of the benefit formula would completely close the funding gap and would make Social Security safe indefinitely, but they are all politically controversial.  Radical rightists are generally opposed to tax increases, while progressives generally oppose reductions in benefits, but the truth is that, without using both approaches, we cannot make Social Security fully solvent while meeting our moral responsibilities to care for the old and to honor our contractual commitments.[1]  The fact that our commitments are contractual means that we have to be honest with our workers about what they will receive. Promising benefits that we cannot pay would be equivalent to promising the workers a salary that we could not pay. If we did that, we would be guilty of fraud.

My first choice in benefit cuts was in line with our current practice. Today, we “bend the curve” in benefit calculations to avoid paying very large benefits to a few people and to be able to pay a minimum benefit to the very poor. The need to bend the curve will increase if we tax all wages because otherwise, a few people who earned very high incomes during their working years, would receive outlandishly high benefits. A more extreme version of this approach would be to “means test” Social Security benefits and deny them entirely to people with retirement incomes above a certain level, but doing that would change Social Security from an earned benefit program to a welfare program, and that would be a mistake.

My second choice in benefit cuts was to use the “chained CPI” to calculate annual cost-of-living increases. This has recently been controversial, but it is the least bad of the alternatives presented on the interactive website, and I could not make Social Security fully solvent beyond the 75th year without some reduction in the cost-of-living increases. So, I chose this one on the principle that we should not make promises that we cannot keep. People need to know what they can depend on and what they need to provide for themselves. 

In making my choices for increasing revenue and reducing benefits, I tried to apportion the costs fairly. The tax increase of 1.4% would be shared by everyone, but collecting Social Security taxes on all wages would affect only those with high incomes. On the benefit side, slowing the increase in the initial benefit for the top 20% of earners would affect only those with high incomes, but using the chained CPI would affect everyone.

Diversifying the trust fund’s investment portfolio was an easy choice because it caused no one to pay higher taxes or to lose benefits, but it is politically controversial because it would convert the Social Security Trust Fund into the largest stockholder in many companies, and that would be a big change in the structure of our economy. However, most state pension funds invest in the stock market, and they receive higher returns than those received by the Social Security Trust Fund. Wisconsin’s pension fund provides a successful example of an honest, well-managed, fully funded application of this approach.

The choices I have listed represent my attempt to put Social Security on a firm financial footing while recognizing that we are a community that recognizes its responsibility to care for its members who are old, and that we are a community that respects contractual commitments and does not renege on its promises. I invite my readers to try their own, alternative solutions.



[1] Actually, there is a way to achieve what we want without reducing benefits, but it would require a major change in the structure of Social Security: we would have collect Social Security taxes on non-wage income like interest, dividends or capital gains. However, that would be beyond the scope of this discussion, which is about the things we can do within the structure of the program that we have.
 
 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Social Security, Student Loans and the Paradox of Thrift


A Contradiction at the Heart of Our Economy

      We have a deep contradiction at the heart of our economy and our society. Our economy cannot grow or provide jobs for people unless most of us spend more than we can afford and unless most of us fail to save adequately for retirement. Put simply, we have a choice as a society between high unemployment and poverty in old age. Why is this so?

Why We Must Spend

      Consumer spending is a large portion of economic activity in the United States. There is disagreement among economists over the exact percentage, everyone understands that consumer spending is important and that if it is not robust, our economy will suffer. If consumer spending is strong, businesses become optimistic, and they hire workers. If consumer spending is weak, businesses become pessimistic and lay off workers.

     Thus, in order for our economy to be healthy, we must spend, and this season is the time when we spend the most. A great deal of advertising effort goes into persuading us to spend, and we have become used to the idea that we can use credit cards to spread the cost over several months. We run up debts during the holidays and the interest on our debts adds to the cost of the gifts that we give. Holiday giving is not the only time we spend, of course. We buy cars. We furnish our houses. We acquire electronic gadgets, and we take expensive vacations. All of these contribute to the economic health of our economy and persuade businesses to create jobs.

We are Unprepared for Retirement

       But what about our individual economic health? It is well known that most Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement. Most of us don’t save enough to build healthy nest eggs, and many of us are facing difficult times in old age. So, while our economy is healthy, many among us are not healthy economically because we do not save enough.  We could save more and spend less, but if all or even most of us did that, consumer spending would decline dramatically, and we might well face a big recession. That contradiction between individual thrift and societal well-being is called “the Paradox of Thrift,” and it tells us that if we all saved as we should, our economy would suffer. Many people would lose their jobs and become unable to save just because they and everyone else had tried to save.  So, we have to keep on spending.

Spending is Threatened by Our Aging Society

       Unfortunately, healthy consumer spending is threatened by demographic trends. Our society is getting older as the baby boomers retire, and many of them are not prepared for retirement. They don’t have enough saved. People who don’t have much money can’t spend much. So, as the baby boomers retire, we can expect consumer spending to decline. We will be able to maintain consumer spending to some degree by loosening credit requirements and allowing people to finance their purchases with credit cards even though we know perfectly well that they will probably never be able to pay their debts. However, we saw in 2008 that this is not really a good idea. How can we balance the health of our economy with the need to provide for a comfortable retirement? How can we have sufficient consumer spending without impoverishing our senior citizens or our workers?

How Can We Maintain the Spending That We Need? 

      There are a couple of things that we can do, and we must do them together. First, we can strengthen and expand Social Security into a real, national pension system that provides people with a reasonable standard of living in old age.  If we do that, our seniors will be able to live comfortably and spend money. They will not buy the things that young people buy, but they will take their grandchildren on vacations and buy new cars.

      However, expanding Social Security will require working people to save more than they are saving now, and that will have a negative effect on consumer spending. We can minimize that effect if we finance the expansion of Social Security by raising the maximum income on which Social Security taxes are paid. This will concentrate the effect at higher income levels where people already save a higher portion of their income than poorer people do.

     Second, we can reduce the interest rates on student loans. This will have the effect of reducing the sizes of the monthly payments that recent graduates have to make, and that will free up more of their money to be spent. They will be able to buy houses and furnish them. They will be able to replace their cars.  They will be able to increase their spending on holiday gifts.

We Should Act in Our Own Interest

      I am not advocating these changes for humanitarian reasons, although I could do so. I am not suggesting that we expand Social Security because old people deserve a comfortable retirement, nor am I not saying that we should reduce the interest rates on student loans because the current rates place an unfair hardship on recent graduates. I am saying that we should do these things for a purely selfish reason, which is that if we do not do them, our economy will suffer, and all of us will suffer with it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Downton Abbey Solution



In recent decades, the top 0.1 percent of our people have come to own an ever increasing share of the wealth and income in our country, and in this way  our income distribution has come to resemble more and more the distribution that characterized the Gilded Age just before World War I. If we are going to permit the emergence of a society like that of the Gilded Age, perhaps, we should consider adopting some of that era’s social practices, especially those that dealt with the problem of unemployment. We can see those practices in an early episode of the television series Downton Abbey. In that episode, Matthew, a distant middle class relative who has become the heir to Downton Abbey, has trouble adjusting to aristocratic life. Specifically, he is annoyed at the attentions of his valet who insists on helping him to dress. Matthew wants to get rid of the valet because he can dress himself perfectly well, but when expresses this to the Earl, he answers, “Would you really deprive a man of his livelihood because you can dress yourself?”

The point is that those who can afford to employ servants have an obligation to do so in order to provide jobs for people. This version of noblesse oblige is, in the Earl’s view, the only real justification for the existence of a wealthy, privileged class, and in fact, the wealthy class in Britain performed this role admirably.  In 1900, domestic service was Britain’s largest class of employment and included approximately 1.5 million people. (Today, only about 65,000 people are in domestic service in Britain on a much larger population base.)

Many features of the lives of the wealthy revolved around the fact that they employed large staffs of servants. For example, wealthy people changed their clothes often. They had morning clothes and evening clothes, and they engaged in activities like tennis or fox hunting that required special outfits.  In those days, there were no wash-and-wear fabrics. So, all that clothing had to be cared for by servants including washing maids, valets and lady’s maids. Wealthy people traveled by horse and by horse-drawn vehicles, too, and a staff was required to care for the horses and to drive the carriages. When automobiles arrived, they were driven by chauffeurs.  Meals were elaborate and they were served elaborately. So, kitchen staff was needed as well as a staff to serve at the dining table. Individuals did not choose this way of living. They followed a tradition that obliged them to maintain a certain style, and that style required a large staff of servants. In effect, their social position required them to employ those staffs, and more than a million people in Britain depended on the livelihoods that were thus created.

Our distribution of wealth may soon resemble that of early twentieth century Britain, and perhaps we should also learn something from its social rules. Perhaps we should begin to view our “top 0. 1%” as people who have an obligation to create employment. Here are some suggestions for rules for the top 0.1% updated to fit our twenty-first century world. 

1.       No person in the top 0.1% should drive his or her own car, and when such people arrive in public places driving themselves, they should be widely booed, and their social solecism should be reported in the press. Their friends should refuse to associate with them, and they should be refused admission to the trendiest clubs.

2.       No person in the top 0.1% should be able to cook. Anyone who can cook should be regarded as a low class person unworthy of participation in exclusive social events and should be barred from exclusive resorts and hotels. It should be clear that respectable people employ cooks and kitchen maids.

3.       Outdoor barbecues are a special case and require a separate cook. Clearly, barbecuing is beneath the dignity of a professional cook, and no such person would consent to work in a house that did not employ a specialized person for outdoor grilling. 

4.       No person in the top 0.1% should be seen carrying packages. Such people should carry purses, canes and gloves to indicate that they do not need to carry their own packages, and the men should remove their hats indoors to further encumber their hands. When such people shop, they should be accompanied by servants who carry their packages for them. It goes without saying that carrying packages is beneath the dignity of a chauffeur. 

5.       It should be considered unacceptable for a person in the top 0.1% to answer the door or the telephone in his or her house. Respectable people employ butlers for that purpose, and people in the top 0.1% who insist on answering their own doors or telephones should be shunned socially. 

6.       No parent in the top 0.1% should ever be seen in a public place with his or her children unless the children’s nanny is also present. Clearly, the responsibility to care for children precludes a nanny from functioning as a chauffeur, and carrying packages is beneath a nanny’s dignity. Thus, a woman who goes shopping with her children will need at least three servants to accompany her. 

7.       Only a nanny may take children to school, and since she cannot function as a chauffeur, she and the children must be driven by the family’s chauffeur. (It goes without saying that such people never take buses or subways.)  If the children have books, notebooks or other materials to take to school with them, a third servant must accompany them to carry these things for them. If a child arrived at school without being properly attended, other children of the top 0.1% would know immediately that he or she was not a member of their social class and would shun and bully the child.

I could go on, but you get the idea. If we are going to allow a very high concentration of wealth, it should carry with it a responsibility to use at least part of it to employ a large number of servants so that the wealth may be redistributed through regular, market mechanisms.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Forget the Poor! A Progressive Agenda for the Twenty-First Century

Forget the poor! They aren’t the problem.

           The poor our not our most important problem. Our problem is a middle class that is becoming poor. We have an economy and a government that are dominated by economic forces that allow corporations to squeeze ever more wealth from the labor of the middle class while giving back nothing.  These forces allow a few greedy people of great wealth to use the threat of outsourcing to squeeze Americans until there is no juice left in us. Consequently, in recent decades, we have seen much wealth created in the United States but little or no increase in real wages.

We progressives have not faced this reality straightforwardly. We have clung to a vision of America from the nineteen sixties. In that America, most people were doing ok, but injustices remained at the margins of society.  In response to these injustices, we had the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the War on Poverty and the Women’s Movement. All of these were intended to correct injustices that had come to seem egregious in a society in which most people were doing ok. More recently, we have also seen Gay and Lesbian people and struggle to be treated equally, and we have seen the struggles of undocumented immigrants, especially Mexican and Central American immigrants.  These movements have had some successes, but much still remains to be done. We still have poor people. Black Americans still face barriers to success. Women’s equality is still a work in progress as is equality for gays and lesbians. Millions of undocumented, Mexican and Central American immigrants continue to struggle in the shadows.
           Because work remains to be done in all of these areas, we progressives have continued to focus on them, but in the meantime, the world has changed around us. We no longer live in a society in which most people are doing ok. Instead, we live in a society in which a family with two wage earners struggles to maintain a level of living that could be maintained by one wage earner in the nineteen sixties. We live in an aging society in which most Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement. We live in a society in which young people are crushed by the debt that they incurred in order to obtain the education they needed (and which our society and economy needed them to obtain).  We also live in a society in which  most people still get their health insurance through their jobs while at the same time, those jobs have become ever more insecure and uncertain. In short, we live in a society in which most people are definitely not doing ok, and economic injustice is not something that is found only at the margins of our society.

We progressives must recognize that the world has changed, and we must and craft a progressive, political agenda for the twenty-first century. The first principle of that agenda is that its core elements must be things that will benefit the majority of our people.  In a world in which the middle class is being squeezed and impoverished, we can no longer cobble together a broad political agenda from the agendas of a patchwork of special groups. We can no longer add together the agendas of black Americans, Hispanics, women, gays and the poor to create a progressive agenda for the twenty-first century. Our agenda must address the needs of most Americans directly and clearly. Here are some suggestions for things that might be included in a progressive agenda for the twenty-first century.

Issues for Our Time

Jobs

          Creating jobs that pay well and cannot easily be outsourced to other countries must be a high priority. To do that, we must support large programs to rebuild and expand our aging infrastructure. We must also focus attention and support in each region of the country on the growing sectors of the economy. Finally, we must also stop giving tax benefits to companies that move their operations to other countries. 

Pensions

           We must expand our Social Security system into a decent national pension system. Individuals and companies must contribute to it. We must also improve the way that we finance our pension system, and many suggestions for doing so have been advanced.  We cannot have a country in which most of our people live out their retirement years in poverty.

Post-Secondary Education

           We must change the way that we finance post-secondary education. The use of loans to students has proven to impose unbearable burdens on young people, and the cost of their debts is a drag on our entire economy.  I think that the key to changing this system is to recognize that we do not educate students only to provide them with opportunities. We educate them because our economy needs their skills.  Everyone benefits from an economy with a good supply of advanced skills, and the cost of providing the supply such skills should not fall entirely on the students.

Health Insurance

          Creating a modern, national system of health insurance must be a high priority.  Employment-based health insurance should be a thing of the past.  It is a drag on hiring because a company must provide each new employee with expensive health insurance.  Employment-based health insurance also drags down wages for most people because money that might be used to raise wages is used instead to pay health insurance premiums. Employment-based health insurance is a drag on our economy as well as a source of poverty and insecurity for our middle class. So, we must push for a true, national health insurance system. Obamacare is a good first step, but its limitations are well-known, and even as I write, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that may nullify its benefits in many states.

Taking Back Control of Our Financial System

          We have to take back control of our financial system. We cannot allow a few greedy bankers and traders to be in a position to destroy the lives and savings of millions of Americans. This is a matter of basic fairness. There are various ways to go about regaining control of the system starting with breaking up the companies that are too big. The rule should be that a company that is too big to fail is too big to exist.

The Core of Our Appeal to Voters

           These issues and other like them should form the center of every progressive political campaign. They will allow us to offer something concrete to every American. All people facing retirement should know that we stand for them. All people who need jobs should know that we stand for them. All people who are trying to obtain post-secondary education or who have children who want to do so should know that we stand for them. And all people who worry about their health insurance should know that we stand for them.  The days of cobbling together a progressive agenda from the agendas of a scatter of marginalized groups must end, and the day of addressing the needs of the majority of our people must begin. We should start now to select among the many, viable proposals that are out there, and we should begin a campaign right away to educate the voters on these issues.

Friday, September 12, 2014

We Should Be Careful What We Do About ISIS


We Already Have Too Many Useless Deaths

We should be very careful in deciding what to do about ISIS.  The murder of two Americans in Syria is appalling, but in responding to it, we should be careful not to cause the useless deaths of thousands more Americans. I use the word “useless” deliberately because in my lifetime, too many Americans have died uselessly.
In Vietnam, tens of thousands of Americans died, and their sacrifice produced no benefit for the United States or for Vietnam. The outcome of the war was that the Vietnamese communists took over the country, and we could have obtained that outcome without a single American death in 1945, in 1954 or in 1965.

In Iraq, more than 4000 Americans died, and the main outcomes of that war were:

·         An increase in the power of the Shi’ites in Iraq.

·         An increase in the power of Iran as the patron of the Iraqi Shi’ites.

·         An increase in the power of Sunni Islamic terrorists in reaction to the actions of the Shi’ite government of Iraq.

All of these outcomes are contrary to the interests of the United States. So, the American deaths in Iraq actually made the Middle East more hostile and dangerous for our country. We do not want the same thing to happen in Syria.

We Will Have American "Boots on the Ground"

President Obama has said that we will hunt down ISIS, degrade it and ultimately destroy it. He has said that we will use air strikes, but that the “boots on the ground” will not be American. Allies like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan will do the fighting there, but they have shown little enthusiasm for that role. In the meantime, a senior US Air Force commander is quoted in today’s USA Today as saying that the our pilots will need American spotters on the ground in Iraq and Syria to verify that the targets of air strikes are real and legitimate. What will happen when those spotters come under attack, as inevitably they will? Will we abandon them, or will we send in “boots on the ground” to defend and support them?

What Will Happen if we Train and Equip the Moderate Opposition?

President Obama has said that we will work to train and support the moderate opponents of the Assad regime, but the moderate opposition to Assad is fragmented and not very effective. Moreover, the moderate opposition groups are allied with radical Islamist groups like the Nusra Front who oppose ISIS for their own reasons. Will our weapons fall into the hands of those Islamist groups? What will they do with those weapons? Remember that we armed Islamists in Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union, and when that war ended, the Taliban used those weapons to take over the country.  When we invaded Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban, our troops found themselves fighting against an enemy that we had armed.  We do not yet know what the outcome of our war in Afghanistan will be, but the situation there does not appear encouraging. We know that the Karzai government and its supporters are spectacularly corrupt. We read reports of renewed attacks by the Taliban in key provinces, and we read that the government’s troops are sometimes being overwhelmed there.  In the end, will the more than 2000 American deaths have produced any benefit for our country?

The Price Will Be High

If we decide to remake the political map of Syria and Iraq by eliminating ISIS, we will pay a high price in the lives of the Americans who do the fighting, and it is not clear that eliminating ISIS will produce any real benefit for the United States. The regimes in Iraq and Syria will still be unstable, brutal and corrupt. Other radical Islamist groups will still be there. We cannot change that.

President Bush told us that we would bring democracy to Iraq, and we know what the outcome of that has been. Some people say that if President Obama had not withdrawn our troops from Iraq, the situation would be better there, and perhaps they are right. But how long are they be prepared to stay there? We were there for a decade. Are they prepared to stay for another decade or two?  If we enter the war in Syria, all of its problems will become our problems, and we will not be able to put down that burden once we take it up. So, let us be careful what we do now because we will have to live with the consequences for decades. Let us at least try not to cause more useless deaths.