War Spending Alternatives: What else we could do with $611 Billion

The United States seems to have little problem with spending billions of dollars – as long as it’s for war.  When it comes to issues like healthcare for children or education, it seems that we just can’t afford it.  The Bush Administration seems to think this is fine.  Recently, Dubya has requested even more funding for continuing our disasters in Iraq.  That would bring the current toll to $611 billion (current estimates show that the “real” cost will amount to at least 2.5 trillion dollars).  Most Americans would have a hard time trying to understand these numbers.  So it’s always good to see articles like Boston.com’s What can $611 billion buy?  From the introduction:

If the Bush administration succeeds in its latest request for funding for the war in Iraq, the total cost would rise to $611.5 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research group.
The amount got us wondering: What would $611 billion buy?

If you want the quick version (without stock photos), here are highlights from the list:

    1. Nearly 4,000 Newton North High Schools
      Tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts, at $154.6 million, the construction design for the new Newton North High School could be replicated almost 4,000 times using the money spent on the war.
    2. 3. Almost 18 months’ worth of free gas for everyone
      US drivers consume approximately 384.7 million gallons of gasoline a day. Retail prices averaged $3.00 a gallon in early November. Breaking it down, $611 billion could buy gasoline for everybody in the United States, for about 530 days.
    3. Many, many environment-friendly cars on the road
      With $611 billion, you could convert all cars in America to run on ethanol nine times over.
      TheBudgetGraph.com estimates that converting the 136,568,083 registered cars in the United States to ethanol (conversion kits at $500) would cost $68.2 billion.
    4. Nearly 14 million years’ worth of tuition, room, and board at Harvard
      At published rates for this year, $611 billion translates into almost 14 million free rides for a year at Harvard University.
      Tuition and fees at the University of Massachusetts-Boston could be paid for over 53 million years.
    5. More than a year’s worth of Medicare benefits for everyone
      In fiscal 2008, Medicare benefits will total $454 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation summary. The $611 billion in war costs is 17 times the amount vetoed by the president for a $35 billion health benefit program for poor children.
    6. A real war on poverty
      According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.
      At the upper range of those estimates, the $611 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world’s poor for seven years.

What a tough decision:Fighting poverty or attacking countries unprovoked?  In fact, I think a better question might be whether there’s a worse way to spend this amount of money.  Sadly, history shows that the United States will likely get involved in yet another disaster like the war on Iraq.  Media companies have spun up their dramatic logos and theme music for attacking Iran. 

It seems unlikely, but if enough people start to realize the financial burdens and opportunity costs of going to war, perhaps the U.S. could become a more respectable nation.

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