War’s Price Tag

The numbers keep changing – all in an upward direction.  When you first get on this web site your first impression may be confusion, followed quickly by amazement, and then perhaps anger.  What a waste of money.  Just as you are starting to wonder what the money could be used for instead of the war in Iraq, the web site answers this with more number that keep getting higher.  If you want to know what the money could be used for in your state or county or city, it is also there.


            I am referring to the National Priorities Project/Bringing the Federal Budget Home.  The web site is: http://www.nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home, which I have posted on the left side of my web site. Their mission statement is as follows:


National Priorities Project (NPP) is a 501(c)(3) research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent. Located in Northampton, MA, since 1983, NPP focuses on the impact of federal spending and other policies at the national, state, congressional district and local levels.


 Also, they state that this project:



They have a staff of nine highly qualified people.  Over the years they have used more than 100 collaborators representing dozens of organizations – some local, some national.  Examples include: NAACP, Children's Defense Fund, Economic Policy Institute, and United for a Fair Economy.  They have hundreds of “local partners” scattered around the country.


            The site provides an impressive array of data, which you can match with any area of the country, by state, county, city, school district and even zip code.  For instance, I brought up Clark County and was able to find information on basic demographics (e.g., population figures, poverty rate), housing (e.g., section 8 expenditures), health (e.g., Medicaid expenditures), income and poverty (e.g., head start expenditures), among others.  For instance, I found that in Clark County the percentage of people living under the poverty level was 11.2 in 1995 and 11.6 in 2004 (latest figures available).


            However, the most dramatic set of numbers is the costs of the war in Iraq, which the site keeps updating by the minute via the use of a kind of “ticker” (like the kind you used to see in Detroit that counted the number of cars manufactured).  Clicking on this as I write this (March 23, 2008) I see that the amount spent comes to more than $504 billion.  Even more interesting is that the folks managing this site have been able to estimate what this money could be spent for if we were not in Iraq. 


            One example is health care.  They inform us that during fiscal year 2007 the US will spend about $138 billion on the war.  This translates into providing health insurance for an estimated 40 million people, more than 80 million college scholarships, more than 4 million affordable housing units, and about 8.5 million elementary school teachers. 


            They even break this down by state and county levels.  For instance, the estimated $1.1 billion Nevada has paid for the war could have provided more than 23,000 elementary school teachers (and 111 new elementary schools), more than 310,000 college scholarships in Las Vegas and about 254,000 people with health care.


            And on and on it goes, for the entire nation, every state, every major city and county.


            Every time I think of what could be done to reduce our many social problems – crime being one of them – I glance at this web site and see where money could be better spent on things related to reducing crime (e.g., head start programs, affordable housing, health care, more schools, etc.). Then I study the constantly moving ticker and see that in the hour or so spent writing this (while moving back and forth between my computer and the web site) about $30 million has been spent.  A closely related web site has illustrated this waste in even more dramatic ways by noting the amount spent daily (roughly $720 million) and showing what kinds of things the money could be used for.  Here is that site: http://www.afsc.org/cost/


By the way, this does not include the human costs of lives lost and shattered families and communities.  A recent study puts the total price tag of more than $3 trillion (see Stiglitz and Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War, Norton, 2008).


 © 2008, Randall G. Shelden. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced without permission from the author.