What We Could Have Done With The Money

What We Could Have Done With The Money

Rob Simpson, author of What We Could Have Done With The Money, has asked what the US could have had for that trillion dollars if it hadn’t spent it on war. Some of his answers are sad (pay every Iraqi 3X their average income to stay peaceful), some are tragic (rebuild and protect New Orleans for only 213 billion), others are comic. But they all put into perspective that was lost wasn’t just lives, it was opportunity. Money used to kill people, drive up the price of oil, violate human rights and destroy the US’s international reputation could have bought a heck of a lot. And Simpson has been conservative, he puts the cost at a trillion, but when you take into account deferred costs (like looking after Vets who are amputees) economist Joseph Stiglitz put the cost of the Iraq war at 2 trillion.

And Stiglitz doesn’t add in certain other costs. For example, military hardware is obsolesced very quickly by warfare, because enemies get to see how it works and what its weakness is. The Abrams was once thought invincible but today foreign governments and guerillas alike know how to defeat them. A generation of military hardware will have to be replaced if the US wants to keep its edge.

It’s the lives not lived, the paths not followed that make us weep the most. Rob’s book invites us to imagine some very different worlds, not just worlds without the war, but worlds with what the Iraq war cost us, such as:

  • Pay off every American’s credit card debt. And hey, still have a couple hundred billion left for a night on the town.
  • Pay off those Bush tax cuts. Nope. But you could pay, er, pay the interest on their cost for about 10 years.
  • A solar power build out big enough to generate enough energy for two-thirds of all American homes.
  • $10,000 subsidy on hybrid cars, leading to 40% of the US auto fleet being hybrid, and reducing gas use by 56 billion gallons a year.
  • Give every single American a full $600 makeover. Because aren’t you all just stressed out dahllling?
  • The World Sings As One! Stage 40,000 3 day music festivals each with 125 acts on 9 stages.
  • Send 5 years worth of high school students to university, with fully paid tuition.
  • Clean up and revitalize 667 rivers.
  • Mass Transit! Create 6,667 miles of monorail or subway systems (about New York to Tokyo, or 60 miles in each major city).
  • Pave every highway with 23.5-Karat gold leaf!

As Rob writes at the end of his book, the US could have done amazing things with that money. Instead it chose not to, to pour the money into a hole in the desert. And in a democracy that means that everyone failed, not just the politicians. This is a book that drives that point home, in plain figures and cold facts. It is, I think, the perfect gift for the Republican friend who’s beginning to have a few doubts, because it’s non-partisan, even-handed, and it’s just the facts, ma’am.

And hey, the roads really could have been paved with gold!