TIME Military

Paying for the Military Like the Ruby Slippers

Smithsonian + Getty Images

If crowdfunding can work for the Smithsonian, why not the Pentagon?

If the Smithsonian can raise $300,000 in a week for the ruby slippers Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz, why can’t the Pentagon take the same approach when it comes to raising armies to wage the nation’s wars? It may sound goofy, but it makes about as much sense as allowing the nation’s physical infrastructure to rot amid the current $3.6 trillion maintenance-funding shortfall, or relying on a billionaire to patch the cracks in the Washington Monument following D.C.’s 2011 earthquake.

In the internet age, no need to count on tax returns to raise cash for a military. About 85% of Americans have access to a computer, far more than the roughly 55% who actually pay federal taxes. Crowd-funding apps—like GoFundMe, Kickstarter (the one the Smithsonian used to buff up those ruby slippers) and Indiegogo—are popping up all over the Web. So why bother writing (how quaint!) a check (how 20th Century!) to mail in with your IRS Form 1040 every April to send off to Uncle Sam (how archaic!)?

Let’s just fight the wars we think are worth fighting by going online to a place, let’s call it WebWars.com (the domain name is available for a paltry $5,000), and deciding how much we’d like to contribute. After all, it’s not like Congress takes seriously the requirement that only it can declare war; heck, they haven’t done that since World War II. Why should hard-working Americans fork over money to fund conflicts that the nation’s lawmakers feel can be fought without their declaration? Bottom line (pun intended): if they don’t need to declare it, we don’t need to pay for it.

Practically speaking, there’s not much wrong with the scheme. The Pentagon and its allies on Capitol Hill have been doing something similar since 9/11. They have been cramming extra dollars into the military’s budget to wage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even though much of that spending has nothing to do with the conflicts. They’re doing this because such purported war-fighting funds aren’t subject to the budget ceilings passed by Congress in 2011. It has become Washington’s favorite way of lifting that ceiling while complying (wink-wink) with the law that set the ceiling. And in a grim reminder of war’s real cost, associates of those killed in action have begun setting up crowdsourcing web pages for their families.

Of course, if you want to get technical, there are a host of problems associated with the idea. First of all, it takes time to build up a military. It can’t be turned on like a light, to be used only when it’s needed. Even when it’s stored away safely on the national shelf, it needs to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. So maybe there could be sustaining memberships, for those Americans who believe a strong defense is worth investing in and paying for. Kind of like supporting an orphan overseas with a monthly contribution.

So how much would that cost you? For simplicity’s, let’s assume the $573 billion the nation is spending this year on defense boils down to the 2.6 million combat boots worn by the 1.3 million members of the active-duty military. That works out to about $440,000 per soldier, sailor, airman and Marine.

Sure, that’s a hefty 47% premium over the ruby slippers.

But if you assume the boots last for two years, they’re a steal at $220,000 a pair.

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