Cost of our new high-speed trains is dwarfed by the tax dollars we waste in our Afghanistan and Iraq “wars.”

January 31, 2010 | By | 15 Replies More

President Obama has recently announced that he will allocate $8 billion ($4 billion each year, over two years) to develop a new system of high-speed passenger rail service. This is an excellent idea. The new rail lines will be created within 10 geographical corridors ranging from 100 to 600 miles long.

Note, however, that the high-speed rail line system will be an extremely expensive project, and that the $8 billion bill will need to be paid by 138 million tax-paying Americans. Dividing the $8 billion cost by the number of taxpayers, we can see that, on average, each taxpayer will pay almost $60 ($30 per year, for two years) to support this massive new high-speed rail service.

Again, this high-speed rail project will cost an immense amount of money. Consider, though, how small this pile of rail money looks when compared to the amount of money we are wasting in the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. For 2009, the United States spent approximately $87 billion for Iraq and $47 billion for Afghanistan. The fiscal 2010 budget requests $65 billion for Afghanistan operations and $61 billion for Iraq. the cost of these two “wars” together is $126 billion for 2010.

Compare these expenditures on a bar chart:

Graph by Erich Vieth

Graph by Erich Vieth

Keep in mind that these two “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan have accomplished almost nothing. They go on and on, draining the federal treasury in the hope that we can someday concoct a good reason for having our troops there. The many billions of dollars we are pouring into these “wars” is, for the most part, a futile attempt to minimize and repair the damage we’ve done by going into these “wars” in the first place. The most notable thing we’ve accomplished in these two “wars” is causing numerous countries to lose respect for the United States. We have also caused thousands or millions of individuals to hate us for the indiscriminate killing we’ve done (including the deaths of many thousands of children). Before you protest that we need to have soldiers in Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda, keep in mind that, according to US intelligence officials, “there are only about 100 Al Qaeda fighters in the entire country.”  We have just recently committed 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan (in addition to 68,000 US troops and a comparable number of United States contractors personnel already there) to help contain those 100 Al Qaeda fighters. Also keep in mind that under the nine year US occupation, the drug trade has flourished in Afghanistan and, in fact, many suspected drug traffickers are now top officials in the Karzai government.)

The high-speed rail project is just one of many good things we can do with our limited and valuable tax dollars. Every time we waste a tax dollar, it is not available for a worthwhile project. Tax dollars are fungible—dollars do not come pre-designated to be spent in particular ways. Each tax dollar wasted is a tax dollar that is now longer available for a worthwhile project such as high-speed rail.  There are so many non-funded and under-funded worthwhile projects out there that it is a wonder that we could justify any wasteful projects like waging “wars” that lack military objectives.

Note also that the bar graph is the tip of the iceberg. Official government figures indicate that $653 billion in tax dollars was spent on the US military in fiscal 2009. Credible sources have suggested, however, that this number is extremely misleading, and that massive military expenses are hidden in other government departments ($150 billion) and other military expenses (“past military expenses”) have also been peeled away from current expenses incurred due to prior military adventures.  In actuality, 54% of our tax dollars are spent on current and past military expenses. According to the website of the War Resisters League, the United States accounts for 47% of the world’s total military spending [with 12 of the top 15 military spenders being allies of the United States], and the U.S. share of the world’s GDP is only 21%. The U.S. outspends Iran and North Korea on military expenses by a ratio of 72 to 1.

For fiscal 2010, then, the United States will spend $4 Billion on a high-speed rail project that will actually benefit Americans, while the United States simultaneously wastes 31 times that amount on the military debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and far more than that for “reasons” the Pentagon works hard to conjure up.

When President Obama announced the high-speed rail project, it was announced with great fanfare. To be consistent, each year that we continue to waste 31 times the cost of high speed rail on extended military occupations that are injurious to our national interest, we should arrange for a proportionately larger anti-celebration, a slow-speed funeral train that would wind around the country announcing to Americans that each taxpayer is forking over another $913 each year to support a fruitless display of military might, plus ever-more military and civilian deaths and dismemberments.


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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Economy, Military, Politics, Science, Social justice, Uncategorized, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (15)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    War spending dominates Obama's upcoming budgets.

  2. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Yes, the infrastructure is crumbling, foreclosures are at a record high, millions of people here go hungry, but the war machine grinds on! Reminds me of <a href="; rel="nofollow">Chris Floyd's analysis of the so-called "spending freeze" proposed by Obama:

    Obama's spending "freeze" is a disastrous, cynical farce whose only real result will be an increase of suffering and hardship for the most vulnerable in our society. It will certainly produce no real budget savings, given the voracious, ever-widening maw of the militarist apparatus. Obama claims his freeze on spending that might actually enhance the quality of life of the American people will "save" $250 billion over three years. But where will this money go? Straight into that militarist maw, which devours that amount of cash every few weeks, and is always demanding – and receiving – more, more, and still more.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    A perceptive person posting at recently asked why we call it "defense" spending when the U.S. spends as much on its war machine as everyone else in the world COMBINED. Good question.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Cindy Sheehan:

    Any idea that any of us may have had about "sacrifice" flew out the window after 9/11 when we were told to "go shopping and travel." Instead of pulling together with a common goal, we were told to look away, to go about our lives and tune out while the military-corporate empire machine continues to churn out blood and money.

    Consumerism is our holy state religion and the mall is our Mecca. Everything will be OK as long as we are surrounded by material comforts, even if those comforts are purchased with debt and are making the banksters richer.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a portrait of George W. Bush comprised of fallen U.S. Soldiers.

    It's time to start thinking about the Obama version. Based on his approach to "winding down the wars," he will get there soon enough.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Here are some staggering numbers regarding the money the U.S. pours into its military.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    From James Zogby:

    "[A]s painful as it may be to look at reality, head on, we must. After seven years of the Iraq war and nine years of Afghanistan, it must be clear that these were not wars to defend "our Constitution." One of these wars was designed to depose and punish those who cruelly attacked us on 9/11, murdering 3,000 innocents. The other was based on a series of fabricated motives, none of which could be construed as playing a role in making America safer or defending the Constitution."

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    General Stanley McChrystal:

    "We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there's danger, they're asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn't mean I'm criticizing the people who are executing. I'm just giving you perspective. We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    Work your way to the dramatic graph at the bottom of this Daily Kos post by mcjoan. The graph at the top tells an important story too.

    I wonder how many Americans have any conception of how their tax dollars are spent. What if they realized that very few of their tax dollars were being spent on the things they want to cut the most.

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