Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Santa's Little Helper

I was thinking this morning about how we really don't do a very good job when discussing the cost of the Iraq war. People don't really understand numbers of dollars in the billions. It doesn't have any context in their day to day world.

I went looking for some answers and Googled the website of the National Priorities Project. It is a fascinating site that allows you to put some context around the horrendous monies we are wasting in Iraq.

A little background is in order and then we'll play with the numbers a little.

In October of this year, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that $251 billion had been obligated or appropriated for the Iraq War. The research was based not just on Congressional appropriations, but on the Department of Defense's (DOD) DFAS monthly obligations reports.

So let's pretend that this money is ours to spend on something other than killing Iraqis and ourselves and making Halliburton et al richer. It is coming up on the Christmas season, after all, so let's take this $251B out for a spin and see what we can do with it.

We could go crazy and drop the whole wad in one place. What if we decided to tackle something huge like world hunger. Is that big enough? Here are some facts:

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003 estimates that over 800 million people worldwide are hungry and undernourished. The FAO has also stated that an annual increase of $24 billion in anti-hunger efforts would reduce world hunger by half (to 400 million people) by 2015.

There you go...we could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by half over the next 10 years. Not so bad.

Maybe we should spread it around a little more? How about immunization? Here are some facts:
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has estimated the additional monies needed to immunize every child in the developing world at $2.808 billion annually. The report (Table 8) calculates that 3 million children die annually from vaccine preventable diseases.

Rounding off to $3B annually we could immunize every child in the world every year for the next 10 years and only spend a lousy $30 Billion. Chump change for Dubya and we still have $220B in the bank. Such a deal.

Think we should spend a little in the neighborhood?

How about we build 500 thousand units of affordable housing? Estimates are that it would cost about $100 thousand a pop so it would cost us a cool $50 Billion so that will leave us with only $170B. (Just ignore the jobs created.)

Let's throw in some health insurance for kids. Estimates are that it would cost 1,800 bucks or so a year per child. Let's do a million kids for ten years and squander another $1.8B per year for a total of $18 Billion and we are left with only $152 Billion.

Maybe we need some more teachers if we are going to have all these healthy kids? How about 50,000 and we pay them what they are worth and say $75K a year and we guarantee them a 5 year contract. There's another $3.75B per year for total of $18.75B and we have spent all but about $130 Billion.

Whoops! Forgot Public Safety. Let's do the same with First Responders like Fire Fighters and Paramedics. There goes another $20B or so. Still money left over!

You can see how this is going and I'll leave it up to you to spend the remaining $100B.

Before some bean counter or economist jumps up and down. Yes, I know this is unsophisticated and that this is just funny money and that we really don't have this money to spend since all of it has been borrowed from the Asians in the first place. I'm just rying to put the cost of Iraq into human terms and opportunity lost. Somebody else can figure out the true economic impact of spending this kind of dough at home on jobs and the quality of life.

If you go the National Priorities Website you can see how the cost of the war is impacting your state specifically. Very interesting.

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