Big wasted money

January 4, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More

I know I’ve quite recently written about the immense amount of money the United States is pouring into Afghanistan, but this terrible waste of money simply must stop. It occurred to me that the huge amount of money we are spending to fight poor people in Afghanistan needs to be described in terms that make it more understandable to the average American.

Imagine that the federal government made a big announcement tomorrow that it would start funding large-scale improvements for each of America’s largest 100 cities. In accordance with this new program to build bridges, hire teachers, convert buildings to high energy efficiency and retrain workers (in addition to other things), the federal government would pay each of America’s biggest 100 cities $20 million.

Imagine this celebration! The citizens of each of these cities would be treated to ribbon-cutting ceremonies complete with large replicas of checks, each of which contains the number $20 million. The mayors of these cities would tell their citizens about all the great things they will be able to do with $20 million.

Image by Wildkatphoto at (with permission)

Now imagine that while this celebration is going on, a 10-year-old child walks up to a reporter on the street, tugs at his sleeve, and tells him that something is wrong. The cameras keep rolling as the surprised reporter asks the child what could possibly be wrong with each of America’s 100 biggest cities getting a grant of $20 million. The child pulls out a calculator and explains that $20 million times 100 equals only $2 billion. The reporter asked the child what could possibly be wrong with this. The child explains:

$2 billion is what America spends in Afghanistan each and every week. In order to spend a big amount of money on America’s 100 biggest cities, an amount equal to the amount we waste in Afghanistan each year, we would need to pay each of America’s biggest 100 cities $20 million every week for a year.

The reporter blurts out, “Think of the huge number of teachers and police officers we could hire for that kind of money. $20 million times 50 weeks means that each of American’s biggest cities would get $1 Billion. Think of the crumbling bridges we could fix with that. Think of the improve schools, the improved health care and the collective relief we would feel knowing that our hard-earned tax dollars are being used wisely.

At that point, the child would again tug at the reporters sleeve and remind him, “We are not spending tax dollars in Afghanistan. It is all borrowed money we are blowing over there. In fact, 42 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government in 2010 is borrowed money.

At that point, the reporter might look at the camera and say something like, “That’s it from here tonight. I’m speechless.”


Category: Media, Military, Politics, 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.

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  1. Mike M. says:

    The US Government seems to put almost no limits to spending for the "Death Sciences" (technology developed for faster, more efficient killing methods), but will endlessly resist and argue against increased spending for the "Life Sciences"(education, healthcare, famine relief, herbal cures, longevity research, etc). Trying to figure out American culture is sometimes like looking into one of those funhouse carnival mirrors – everything is distorted, and nothing seems to make sense.

  2. Ben says:

    Ending our imperialism would obviously entail a major shift in economics and ideals. What would happen to the enlisted folks in terms of employment? Would the soldiers be able to blend in to the existing economy, or would America be(come) unsustainable without continued exploitation of other countries and peoples?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Ben: The bottom line is that we can certainly think of more productive things for all of those soldiers to do rather than achieving "ten years of progress" where the situation is worse than ever, and where we keep pretending that there is a military solution to a complex social problem, especially where that problem is driven along by ghosts and greed running rampant in the American psyche.

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Ben & Erich:

    You guys are both right. There would be no way a significant number of soldiers serving in a foreign theater could be repatriated and integrated into our economy given currently elevated levels of unemployment. This is especially true if those who argue that this high unemployment is structural rather than cyclical are correct.

    And of course we *could* think of more productive and constructive things for those soldiers to do, if we were so inclined. But we are not. As Ben notes, it would require a major realignment of our "economics and ideals."

    Ben says: "would America be(come) unsustainable without continued exploitation of other countries and peoples?"

    I submit that America is already unsustainable. What cannot be sustained, will not be. The only question then becomes one of timing. As Erich points out, our military forays are funded largely through a combination of debt and ignoring domestic spending on basics like infrastructure and education. This cannot continue forever.

    One could envision a world in which we stopped our imperialism, repatriated our soldiers and set the country to work on a massive program of renewal and investments in infrastructure, R&D, and education to lay the foundations for future prosperity. Instead, we continue to choose to mortgage our future to pay for our past mistakes.

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