advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Monday, February 18, 2008

On The Cost of War, Or, Do You Know What We Could Have Bought?

There will be a great debate as November approaches over who is a “fiscal conservative” and who is a “tax and spend liberal”.

It is highly likely someone will throw the words “transcendent challenge” into the conversation, and that got me to thinking…what if there were other “transcendent challenges” besides “islamo-facism-scary-monster-gonna-get-us”?

Then my thoughts went further (always a dangerous step), and I found myself asking: if we hadn’t of spent that $2.4 trillion on one transcendent challenge, what else could we have done with the money?

Some of today’s answers are serious, some are maddening, some are silly…and all of it is our tax dollars in action. (Well, to be fair, it’s not all ours. Our kids and grandkids will be chipping in, too.)

Before we start, a warning: don’t believe that $2.4 trillion will be the end of it.

Remember, we still need to replace or “trade up” virtually all our now worn out military rolling stock (maybe $300 billion or so), and there are aircraft to replace as well (adding about $500 billion more to the cost); making my “back of the envelope” guess an additional $800 billion for the two…meaning we’re really looking at some total number in the $3.2 trillion range--even if we came home right this very minute.

So, what else could the money have bought?

Well…who thinks education is important?

For the same $2.4 trillion we’ve spent so far on the war we could have given a $25,000 educational grant to 96 million Americans.

Who among us has entered the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes?

The Prize Patrol would need to hire some help, but you could afford it—because even if you gave 2 million people $1 million each, you’d still have $400 billion left over for payroll.

Ever been to Vegas?

You could not lose this much money if you tried. I figured it out—if you lost $10 million every day for the rest of your life…well, to lose this much you’re going to have to figure out how to live 657 years. Of course, with $2.4 trillion, you might.

Speaking of which…they tell me if you buy in bulk you get big discounts. Well, if you decided to buy everyone’s health insurance, you could pay a $500 monthly premium for 300 million Americans for a year—and still have $600 billion in your pants pocket to go back to Vegas with. (This, by the way, is about enough to buy the entire place…lock, stock, and “gentleman’s clubs”. And you might as well. After all, you’ll be there 657 years.)

Wanna buy something else in bulk? With that kind of money, you can shop at the “corporate Costco”…so let’s really think “supersize”:

Let’s grab something from the Halliburton aisle…and maybe an Exxon/Mobil, too…and a GM, and why not a Starbucks while we’re at it? Toss in a Nike, and how about we grab Costco, too.

The total market capitalization of all of them put together?

Not even $500 billion.

Fort Knox? You could buy 18 of them, based on the current estimate of US gold holdings at the site and a $900 per ounce price of gold.

Or you could buy 4.8 trillion Jack-in-the-Box tacos. (By the way, if you ate two of those daily it would take about half the estimated history of the universe to finish them all-more than 6.5 billion years.)

That $350 iPod? You could give one to just about every human on the planet…and some download cards to go with them. Think of it as hooking up 6 billion of your closest friends. You, for all intents and purposes, would be Santa for a year.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that 100,000 Americans will be sleeping in their cars tonight. You could buy those 100,000 people 365 Cadillac Escalades (at $50,000 each…again, bulk discount), so they could sleep in a different one every night--and it would still leave you with more than $500 billion to play with.

You could take everyone in the US to the Old Country Buffet—a thousand times.

Spring training is starting. You’ll want good seats…why not buy 30 teams a $500 million Arizona or Florida training facility? And why not do it again every year for 160 years? After all, you can afford it.

Why not go really nuts?
Take the team out for a movie after practice.

For $2.4 trillion, you could have bought 9 movie tickets, 9 large tubs of movie popcorn and 9 large drinks—and you’d still have had $1.63 in change left over.

I once proposed in these pages that we convert surplus aircraft carriers into “Peace Ships” with hospital and other emergency supplies for use during disasters worldwide. At $3.5 billion each we could buy a fleet of 685.

If you split the $2.4 trillion evenly, you could be as rich as Bill Gates ($50 billion, more or less)—and so could 47 of your friends.

In the wake of Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers is spending about $25 million to build a mile of levee. Instead of flooding Iraq with US troops, we could have bought 96,000 miles of flood control. (If we built just a bit less we could afford the $50 billion it would cost to build each of 250,000 Louisiana residents a $150,000 house…and $50,000 worth of stuff to go in it.)

Who in this group is a golfer? How about $150 green fees, $100 cart rental, $100 for lunch and cocktails…every day for 18 million years. (If you pay the same for your other 3 deadbeat friends you can only go every day for 4.6 million years; but that’s the price of friendship, I suppose.)

Does art grab your fancy? Maybe a nice $150 million Van Gogh to spruce up each of the empty looking walls around the old mansion? You better have 16,000 empty walls…you’ll need ‘em.

Would you like to buy the world a Coke? At $1.00 each, you could—every day for a year, with money left over.

Or instead, shoes?
There’s money in the budget for 24 billion pair at $100 each-that’s roughly 3 pair and a left foot for every person alive today.

So what’s the bigger point here?

It’s simple.

As we mentioned at the top of this story, someone is going to tell us all about what a fiscal conservative he is…at the same time he’s telling us about a “hundred years’ war”.

Well, if you listened to me and spent the money in some of the ways I’ve illustrated here you’d be a damn fool—but you’d have more to show for the $2.4 trillion than what we have today…and we’d probably all feel a lot safer, too.

So when the fiscal conservative is peddling his rhetorical wares, let’s be sure to remind him of this conversation…and let’s watch him squirm.


jmb said...

It is very hard to conceive of these numbers it's true. But apparently the mad spending has not all gone on the war. This is very interesting.

fake consultant said...

the gentleman to whom you refer is actually one of the usa's great unsung heroes.

not unlike al gore, he has been giving this same lecture for more or less two years...and it's finally gaining some traction.

those who feel social security is our big unresolved fiscal problem clearly have not considered the cost of health care, either...and just as canada and the uk have had to face funding issues of their own, so shall we--and soon.

by the way, the biggest disappointment so far of the presidential campaign: no one is left who supports single-payer health care, which to me is the most logical choice for this country...if a way can be found to "buy off" or otherwise dispose of the current insurers.