Apart from over $400 billion, the Iraq War is costing Americans much more than the dollar amount would seem to suggest.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as of October 2006 an estimated 660,000 Iraqis have died due to the war, a number that has definitely increased in the last year.
Over 3,500 American soldiers have died, and another 25,000 plus have been wounded. It is also estimated that 2 million Iraqis are now refugees.
But this article is about the opportunity cost of the war in terms of tax dollars, which signifies what our government decided was not as important as fighting the Iraq war.
To keep it simple, I will not talk about the human cost. The full impact of that will have to be determined by future historians with a clearer view.
So, in what did we NOT spend our tax dollars on when we opted to spend them in Iraq? What must now wait in line for funding that may never come?
One of the first things that comes to mind is health care. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that over 47 million people in the U.S. had no health insurance in 2006. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, universal health care for everyone without it would cost the U.S. $100 billion annually.
Tax dollars could have been used to create new sources of renewable energy, such as wind turbines, solar energy, ethanol from corn, etc. Investing in alternative energy sources could have not only been environmentally friendly but also could have helped reduce our dependency on foreign oil, espespecially from countries in the Middle East.
Education is another sector in which tax dollars could have been well invested.
According to a study conducted by UNICEF to determine how effective educational systems are in developed countries, the United States is number 18 out of 24.
Other studies suggest that American high school students lag behind in areas such as science and mathematics compared to most industrialized nations.
National security is yet another area where the money could have made a tremendous difference.
David Leonhardt from the New York Times reports that implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, such as tracking terrorist financing and better screening of cargo and baggage, would cost approximately $10 billion.
The environment could have benefited. According to William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyter from Yale University’s Economics Department, the estimated global cost of the Kyoto Protocol is about $716 billion, of which the U.S. would have to pay almost two thirds.
Hence, the U.S. could have covered its part of the estimated cost of the Kyoto Protocol with the money that is now being spent on the war.
There are a number of alternatives we sacrificed to fund the Iraq war. Of course, the money has already been spent, but the war is not over yet. I think politicians need to start doing cost-benefit calculations and determine if the money spent in Iraq is being allocated efficiently, and ultimately decide if this war is really worth the cost.