The War Tax Is Here—And Americans Are Willing to Pay (For Now)

A long time ago in a cognitive state far, far away, I was for raising taxes.

Before marriage and kids beset my supple mind with what neuroscientists call annoyloid plaques, turning my hippocampus to mush, I had the brilliant idea to impose a levy “that pays for sending soldiers and weapons over to foreign lands.” Back then, I considered my war tax a cleverly simple bait-and-switch. Americans hate paying taxes, but love Uncle Sam swashbuckling around the world promoting democracy and freedom. So applied Econ 101: make war more expensive, get less war.

Voila! Peace through paying up. I’ll take my Nobel Prize money in a lump sum. College tuition isn’t getting any cheaper.

Well, it looks like my genius life-saving cess is now being put into practice. And as its proud intellectual father, I couldn’t be happier. Or broker.

The average price of gas just hit a new record, coming in at a nick over $4 a gallon. The GasBuddy app company estimates that it costs about $4.10 for a few quarts of vroom-vroom juice. Many blue metros feature $5 a gal. for plain, old unleaded, which, despite being a fiscal nuisance, is a double whammy due to the smug smile stretching across Prius owners’ faces.

So why the pricey petrol? Well, there’s war in Europe, if you haven’t heard. And the conflict is bleeding over into the energy markets because one side—the bad, evil, maleficent, Nazi-friendly, not-so-goodnik side—is a major oil exporter.

Russia’s bombardment of Ukraine has set oil-market pandemonium in train. Following Putin’s forceful wooing of its former satellite, the West as a near body (thanks for the assist, Jerry! Not.) imposed a surfeit of sanctions. After much deliberation, President Biden proscribed imports of Russian oil. Not to be outclassed by a doddering back number with liver spots growing on his liver spots, Putin countered with his own ban on commodity exports—which could include much-desired crude.

The tit-for-tat embargo is pushing the price at the pump higher than Hunter Biden with a bag of fun dust. Granted, gas prices were marching upward before Ukraine’s front door got the battering-ram treatment. But the concurrent cut off of Siberian oil to global markets will invariably push your Shell station price ticker to daring new heights.

Call it the Bastiat inverse: when soldiers cross borders, goods won’t.

But, hey, at least I got my war tax. American GIs aren’t shipping off to Kherson. AVAV drones aren’t pummeling Russian field artillery officers. Rocky Balboa isn’t having a rematch with Drago in Olympic Stadium. CIA operatives are training Ukrainian soldiers—but when is that not the case anywhere blood is spilt?

Just as well, the U.S. isn’t formally engaged in warfare. But Americans are feeling the sacrifice of supporting a (kinda, sorta, if you squint your eyes enough) democratic country against an autocratic maniac trying to resurrect the USSR. The White House, not without media assistance, is trying to brand the pinch at the pump as Putin’s doing. If PolitiFact hadn’t immolated its integrity by being a partisan narrative spinner, its fact-checkers would rank Russia scapegoating as “mostly false” or at least half-true. The Biden Administration stanched new domestic energy cultivation as a sop to mean-green activists. Gas prices were already on the climb before Putin’s stratonic reclamation. Sanctions, tariffs, and prohibitions only stepped-up the rise.

So how do famously selfish Yankees feel about the war premium at their local fuel spot? Pretty jazzed apparently! A Wall Street Journal poll found a whopping 79% of Americans are willing to dole out more for dough for flow in order to assist Ukraine. It’s like the old war bonds pitch: every $20 you drop at your filling station is another dead Ruskie. Even little Jimmy is doing his part to spill Russian blood, filling his motor scooter with his allowance. What an inspiration! Help win the war—fill up and kill more today!

The sacrifice is about to get redder, in both the sanguinary and fiscal sense. Larry Summers, the (White) house economist for every Democratic administration going back to Slick Willy, says he “would not be surprised if we saw $5 gasoline.” Has Larry not been out to Cali lately? Anyway, he dismisses the hike by evoking a higher cause: “if you think about the sacrifices that are being made by the people of Ukraine, if you think about our stake in stopping a tyrant who is trying to expand, that is a price that is very much worth paying.”

Easy for the former head of Harvard to say! But in war, no good deed goes unpunished. The iron law of supply and demand makes sure of that.

The question is, how long will Americans accept paying through the nose to help a country half-the-world over beat back an irredentist tyrant? Americans are generous, but only in the short-term, heat of the moment. Vacation season is fast approaching. The tourism industry is banking on a sunny boom. Nobody talks about… what was that big bug again? COVID? Well, the pandemic is all but kaput. President Biden’s “summer of freedom” is on the way. But it’s hard to be free when a fill-up costs more than a shoreside Airbnb.

The war tax is finally here. We aren’t dying for Kyiv, but our checking accounts may as well be.

It looks like my grade-A scheme for peace is another casualty. Americans are footing the fuel bill to keep up the fight in Europe. What can you say: our country is still full of surprises. Let’s hope we don’t surprise the world further by inciting a nuclear winter.

And the Norwegian Nobel Committee comes dunning me for its prize money back, I might even welcome a few Tsar Bombas. Anything to keep the moneymen at bay. War makes people irrational, and sometimes subverts the hardest of economic laws.

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Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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