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David Swanson: What does $33 Billion look like?

David Swanson: What does $33 Billion look like?

May 12, 2010

The material below is taken from this fantastic article by Daybreak author David Swanson at Tom Engelhardt’s TomDispatch, on the proposed $33 billion that the Obama administration wants to spend on escalating the war in Afghanistan:

So, how much money are we talking about exactly? Well not enough, evidently, for the teabagging enemies of reckless government spending to take notice. Clearly not enough for the labor movement or any other advocates of spending on jobs or healthcare or education or green energy to disturb their slumbers. God forbid! Yet it’s still a sizeable number by a certain reckoning.

After all, 33 billion miles could take you to the sun 226 times. And $33 billion could radically alter any non-military program in existence. There’s a bill in the Senate, for instance, that would prevent schools from laying off teachers in all 50 states for a mere $23 billion. Another $9.6 billion would quadruple the Department of Energy’s budget for renewable energy. Now, what to do with that extra $0.4 billion?

And remember what this $33 billion actually involves: adding more troops, support troops, and private contractors, whose work, in turn, will mean ongoing higher costs to maintain the Afghan occupation, construct new bases there, fuel the machines of war, and provide the weaponry. Keep in mind as well that various other costs associated with the president’s most recent “surge” are hidden in the budgets of the CIA, the Department of State, and other parts of the government. Looking just at the military, however, this is $33 billion to be added to an unfathomable pile of waste. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress has already approved $345 billion for war in Afghanistan, not to mention $708 billion in Iraq.

According to the National Priorities Project, for that same money we could have renewable energy in 1,083,271,391 homes for a year (or every home in the country for more than 10 years), or pay 17,188,969 elementary school teachers for a year. There may be 2.6 million elementary and middle school teachers in our country now. Assuming we could use 3 million teachers, we could hire them all for five years and employ that extra $13 billion or so to give them bonuses. “Honor our brave teachers” anyone?

Even these calculations, however, are misleading. As economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz demonstrated in The Three Trillion Dollar War, their book on the cost of the Iraq war alone, adding in debt payments on moneys borrowed to fight that war, long-term care for veterans wounded in it, the war’s impact on energy prices, and other macroeconomic impacts, the current tax bill for the Iraq War must be at least tripled and probably quadrupled or more to arrive at its real long-term cost. (Similarly, the cost in lives must be multiplied by all those lives that could have been saved through other, better uses of the same funding.) The same obviously applies to the Afghan War.

The fact is that military spending is destroying the U.S. economy. An excellent report from the National Priorities Project, “Security Spending Primer,” provides a summary of research that supports these basic and well-documented facts:

*Investing public dollars in the military produces fewer jobs than cutting taxes.

*Cutting taxes produces fewer jobs than investing public dollars in any of these areas: healthcare, education, mass transit, or construction for home weatherization and infrastructural repair.

*Investing public dollars in mass transit or education produces more than twice as many jobs as investing in the military.

*Investing public dollars in education produces better paying jobs than investing in the military or cutting taxes.

*Investing public dollars in any of these areas: healthcare, education, mass transit, construction for home weatherization and infrastructural repair has a larger direct and indirect economic impact than investing in the military or cutting taxes.

Too broad a view? Then consider just the present proposed $33 billion escalation funding for the Afghan War. For that sum, we could have 20 green energy jobs paying $50,000 per year here in the United States for every soldier sent to Afghanistan; a job, that is, for each of those former soldiers and 19 other Americans. We’re spending on average $400 per gallon to transport gas over extended and difficult supply lines into Afghanistan where the U.S. military uses 27 million gallons a month. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bribe various small nations to be part of a “coalition” there. We’re spending at least that much to bribe Afghans to join our side, an effort that has so far recruited only 646 Taliban guerrillas, many of whom seem to have taken the money and run back to the other side. Does all this sound like a wise investment — or the kind of work Wall Street would do?

Again, this is only a portion of the article. Please go read the whole thing over at TomDispatch — and of course check out David Swanson’s Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.

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