A Brown University study released today estimated the cost of the Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan wars at $3.7 trillion. This amount is equivalent to the entire FY 2012 budget. To bring it home (literally), that's $31,000 for every family in America. Do you feel you got your money's worth? Tell us in How Much Should the U.S. Spend on National Security?
The $3.7 trillion estimate includes expenses that aren't part of the Defense Department budget, and so usually aren't counted. It counts benefits to disabled vets -- nearly half of the 1.25 million who served have made health or disability claims. It also counts the interest on the debt incurred to finance the wars -- $185 billion so far.
The study doesn't include the opportunity cost of not investing those funds in other ventures. Two areas that significantly affect most of the people I know are jobs and housing. Although military spending does create jobs, there are better uses of government funds if your goal is to create jobs.
A U Mass/Amherst study showed that $1 billion of military spending created 8,555 jobs and added $565 million to the economy. That sounds great until you compare it to other ways the money could have been spent. That same $1 billion given back to your family as a tax cut would have created 10,779 jobs and put $505 million into the economy as retail spending.
The best way to create jobs? Spend $1 billion on building mass transit. That creates 19,795 construction jobs and puts $880 billion into the economy. If you want to leverage that $1 billion in government spending into the best bang for the buck, try spending it on education. It puts $1.3 billion into the economy, while creating 17,687 jobs.
Even more important than the money are the lives disrupted. A quarter of a million people were killed, half of them Iraqi civilians. The wounded total 365,000, while 7.8 million have been displaced.
As put so well by Reuters reporter Daniel Trotta:
In one sense, the report measures the cost of 9/11, the American shorthand for the events of September 11, 2001. Nineteen hijackers plus other al Qaeda plotters spent an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 on the plane attacks that killed 2,995 people and caused $50 billion to $100 billion in economic damages.What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on September 11, another 73 have been killed since.
America has been through the worst recession since the Great Depression. Let's tell our legislators that it's time to turn our attention back to what's important -- our families, our jobs and our homes. Perhaps it's time to admit we can no longer afford the true cost of war.
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chris Hondros (Who was killed while covering on assignment in Libya)