The Price of Conflict: War, Taxes, and the Politics of Fiscal Citizenship

This Review proceeds in four parts, paralleling the chronological organization of War and Taxes. It focuses mainly on the book’s analysis of the leading modern American wars, from the Civil War through the global conflicts of the twentieth century, up to the recent war on terror. Part I contrasts the tax policies of the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War to show how the Lincoln Administration was able to overcome Yankee resistance to wartime tax hikes to wage a war against a Southern Confederacy that resolutely resisted any type of centralized taxation until, of course, it was too late. Part II investigates the two world wars, which together may arguably represent the “golden age” of shared wartime sacrifice. During both of these conflicts, Americans seemed willing to embrace the need for greater fiscal and other sacrifices. They appeared to trust their political leaders, who exercised newly coercive powers, to try to spread the price of conflict evenly across the populace. Consequently, the two world wars were critical to the development of the modern American tax regime and the idealized meanings of fiscal citizenship. With the world war experiences as a pivotal background, Part III turns to an examination of the early Cold War. The contrast between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts illustrates the importance of timing and how acute political leadership, attuned to contemporary social conditions, can be vital for the making of effective wartime tax policy. Part IV explores the more recent war on terror, and how it became subsumed by the Republican Party’s ideological commitment to tax cuts and supply-side economics. As the authors of War and Taxes duly note, the immediate post-9/11 period remains too close to our own experiences to permit objective, detached historical judgment. Still, the recent inability of our political leaders, on both sides of the aisle, to reconcile the price of conflict with the need for shared sacrifice demonstrates the sea change in thinking about tax policy that has occurred over the course of the twentieth century. This essay concludes with some closing observations about the main scholarly contributions of War and Taxes, including how the Bush Administration may have permanently transformed American thinking about wartime tax policy and the meaning of fiscal citizenship.