cost of war

The Iraq War has cost the United States almost 457 billion dollars as of today, not to mention untold military and civilian lives. The price this nation will pay may be enormous for future generations. Whether the war was justified or not will be a question for the historians, most likely, and I will steer clear of that debate – this is not a political blog. But consider this: the average American’s life expectancy is 77.9 years. The average median household income is $48,200 per year. Most Americans are aiming for retirement at age 65 and expect to live off of 80% of their pre-retirement income. So for the cost of the war to date, 918,000 Americans could have 80% of the median US wage paid to them every year from their retirement at age 65 to age 78 (some would die sooner, some later). By the time President Bush leaves office, assuming the war is not over by then (and there is no reason as of today to assume it will be), that number will grow to 1.2 million Americans.

I will leave it to others to argue about whether the cause of fighting a war on terror should have been brought to Iraq or not. But while that war continues, every 36 hours more Americans die of heart disease than died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Cancer, while treatable, still cannot be “cured.” More than 11% of the children in the US have no health insurance. Every day we spend enough money on the war in Iraq to provide full health insurance for 200,000 of those kids for a year. Yet we are told that the greatest risk facing our nation is terrorism. In the long run it may be as terrorists acquire more deadly weapons, but there are far greater threats to our lives than terrorism today such as heart disease and cancer. The US ranks last in the industrial world in infant mortality. The value of the dollar continues to decline. Education in America is becoming less and less effective. Even great ideas like a “baby trust” are pipe dreams due to our nation’s pinched wallet. The money spent on this war could have funded 91 million such trusts – approximately the next 18 years of births in the US. Or it could have provided free public day care for all children from 3 years old to kindergarten age.

You have to wonder how soon the long-term health of our society will be affected by its spending priorities. To have a strong and growing society you need healthy, well-educated citizens who can expect to be able to stay out of poverty as long as they work hard. If you have a society filled with sickly citizens who have fewer and fewer skills to compete with highly-educated Europeans and Chinese and Indians, and who live in fear of approaching old age without adequate health insurance or retirement savings, what exactly are we defending?

5 Replies to “cost of war”

  1. It is sad that billions of taxpayer’s money are wasted on this. I wanted to write an article on this recently, but I guess I am late! Very nice post, I will link it from my blog because people really need to read this.

  2. For not being political, you sure snuck in plenty of issues. 🙂

    The only one I’ll comment on is your comparison of natural causes of death to murder. I’m more upset by things like 9/11 than by diseases that, for the most part, affect people who have already had full lives. My grandfather died of cancer, but he was over 90 years old. I don’t feel angry about his death. If someone I knew died in 9/11, I would still feel angry about it. If someone I knew was killed by a drunk driver, I would feel angry about it.

    Now if there were some new disease that randomly killed a million people a year, every year, without regard to age or health, then yeah that would be a bigger threat than terrorists, murderers, and drunk drivers all combined. That’s probably not going to happen though.

    Okay well one more comment. I hadn’t heard of baby bonds before, interesting idea!

  3. Thanks for the comments!
    @USAindebt: I would just take issue with the word “wasted” – I think it’s entirely dependent on whether you view Iraq as a critical step in defending America against terrorism. “Wasted” is a point of view rather than a fact. If it does, in fact, divert the terrorist’s efforts away from the US then it was money well spent. If the other efforts (spying, increased monitoring of terrorist groups, etc.) could have accomplished the same goal without the war in Iraq, then “wasted” would be more fair. But either way it’s hard to say what could have been, other than to point out black-and-white dollars spent one way versus another.

    @Jon: Fair enough, although I would argue that cancer certainly strikes at a lot of people in the primes of their lives who lived at least adequately healthy lifestyles and were blameless for getting it. 3500 people, the great majority of them women, die from breast cancer every month and many of them are not elderly. I know several people who didn’t smoke, ate normally and were otherwise fairly healthy who got cancer and suffered terribly or died because of it – which means, to me, no matter how old they are there would be value in eliminating that pain for people if possible.

    I really was trying not to be political! I’m simply comparing the costs of one thing (a war) to costs of another thing (health care, pensions, baby bonds). I imagine it comes across as political since the country is so firmly divided into “for it/against it” camps on almost every issue, which is unfortunate. A rational discussion of pros and cons of any issue should be possible in the political arena, and I’m afraid that increasingly it isn’t because of emotions.

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  4. War is pretty much always a waste of money. By definition, you spend a lot of money blowing things up, and then peace breaks out and you spend a lot of money money rebuilding it.

  5. I just had to do a paper on propaganda from WW One and I couldn’t get over the amount of rationing done by U.S. civilians. Can you imagine if we had actually rationed for this war and stayed without a deficit? How much would the American public appreciate the war (or even pay more attention) if they had to ration or even if there were a draft? Just my two cents…

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