What would *you* buy with a trillion dollars?

Via Jonah comes this (depressing, as he notes) NY Times article on what else we could’ve bought with $1.2 trillion:

For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.

Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.

More after the jump…

Of course, just because the money could have funded these things doesn’t mean, if we’d had $1.2 trillion just sitting around, that it would have. Public health is difficult to get funding for, because when it’s working, it’s essentially invisible–it’s when it breaks down that it makes news. Education also can be a tough sell. But everybody likes security, right?

The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban’s recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

The focus of the article itself isn’t necessarily all these things that we could have done with the money spent on the war in Iraq, but on the underestimation of war costs at various points in history, and more of the specifics of the analysis and number-crunching. Interesting in its own right, but not my cup of tea–the money could have been better spent whether it was $1 trillion (the low end of the estimate) or $2 trillion (the higher end). As noted:

Whatever number you use for the war’s total cost, it will tower over costs that normally seem prohibitive. Right now, including everything, the war is costing about $200 billion a year.

Treating heart disease and diabetes, by contrast, would probably cost about $50 billion a year. The remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations — held up in Congress partly because of their cost — might cost somewhat less. Universal preschool would be $35 billion. In Afghanistan, $10 billion could make a real difference. At the National Cancer Institute, annual budget is about $6 billion.

And these are just some examples, of course–one could come up with worthy projects all day long that could have been funded for a pittance of what has been spent so far on the war, with arguably a bigger payback.

17 Replies to “What would *you* buy with a trillion dollars?”

  1. Coming on the heels of MLK’s birthday, this is doubly depressing. His spoke of the waste of money in Vietnam that could have funded social goods such as education. We haven’t learned anything in 40 years, except that there is always money for war.

  2. Universal health care would actually save you money. Unless you’re an insurance company or an HMO. The USA has surely the least efficient healthcare system in the world.

  3. A trillion bucks would buy alot of beer. I don’t think i could drink it all myself. So, it’d be one heck of a party.

    And i don’t even like beer.

    At 5 inches and a buck a can, a stack of these (held together by superglue, or some other form of magic), would reach 80,000,000 miles, and we could climb the stack to reach Mercury (though i have enough fear of heights that someone else will have to do the climbing, and there may be other minor engineering problems to solve).

  4. Firstly I think I would have to pay Vicki some bucks to tell me her secret. Then I’d have to go visit my friend Frederick. He’s in Hollywood. Priscilla is right here in town, but I’m sure she could use a bit of spending cash.

    After that and an old 60s style Jaguar, Universal Health Care would be nice.

    Just so y’know.


  5. I would buy an army and liberate America from despotism and apathy and bring democracy and education to all…and try not to break too much shit while doing it. 😉

    oh, and universal health care and a free deck of poker cards.

  6. [rant]

    At the risk of being a wet blanket – I know the NYT article is not meant as a rigorous financial treatment – the comparison is flawed. It’s great having a huge hypothetical pot of money, but for things like universal healthcare to be effective, you need to be able to fund them indefinitely, which requires an ongoing source of revenue.

    However, it seems to me there is a way to find that money. Maybe one day the USA (more accurately, its government) will realise that a consistent and even-handed foreign policy would ameliorate many problems of global security better than maintaining a huge nuclear arsenal and going to war over access to oil supplies; that actually talking to other states (the UK would be a good start!) would produce better political solutions than bombing runs and bugging offices at the UN, and make other countries more willing to contribute military personnel. Both these changes would enable your country to significantly reduce its armed forces expenditure without any decrease in security.

    I think that would easily provide the ongoing costs for this admirable wishlist!


  7. Strange to make a mistake about the ‘biggest killer in the world’ on this blog. However, if you choose African children under 5, then the answer is malaria. The following is for children world wide under 5, reported by WHO in 2005.


    1 Neonatal causes 3,910 37
    2 Acute respiratory infections 2,027 19
    3 Diarrheal diseases 1,762 17
    4 Malaria 853 8
    5 Measles 395 4
    6 HIV/AIDS 321 3
    7 Injuries 305 3
    Other causes 1,022 10
    Total 10,596 100.0

    Sorry, preview show that my table attempt is going to be butchered. Last number on a line is %, second last is deaths in thousands per year.

    When adults are included, malaria drops down to 7th or 9th, depending on the population examined.

  8. One thing we probably wouldn’t get if the trillion plus wasn’t being spent on Bush’s war is an outbreak of Acinetobacter baumannii.

    “She discovered that an autopsy was performed shortly after her son’s death. The coroner recorded the “manner of death” as “homicide (explosion during war operation)” but determined the actual cause of death to be a bacterial infection. The organism that killed Gadsden, called Nocardia, had clogged the blood vessels leading to his brain. But the acinetobacter had been steadily draining his vital resources when he could least afford it. For weeks, it had been flourishing in his body, undetected by the doctors at Haley, resisting a constant assault by the most potent antibiotics in the medical arsenal.

    “No one said that my son had anything like that,” Zeada says. “I never had to wear gloves or a mask, and none of the nurses did either. No one had any information.”

    Since OPERATION Iraqi Freedom began in 2003, more than 700 US soldiers have been infected or colonized with Acinetobacter baumannii. A significant number of additional cases have been found in the Canadian and British armed forces, and among wounded Iraqi civilians. The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology has recorded seven deaths caused by the bacteria in US hospitals along the evacuation chain. Four were unlucky civilians who picked up the bug at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, while undergoing treatment for other life-threatening conditions. Another was a 63-year-old woman, also chronically ill, who shared a ward at Landstuhl with infected coalition troops.

    Behind the scenes, the spread of a pathogen that targets wounded GIs has triggered broad reforms in both combat medical care and the Pentagon’s networks for tracking bacterial threats within the ranks. Interviews with current and former military physicians, recent articles in medical journals, and internal reports reveal that the Department of Defense has been waging a secret war within the larger mission in Iraq and Afghanistan – a war against antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”


  9. Another one: for the $15 billion utterly wasted (unless you’re a Halliburton executive, in which case the new yacht is really quite nice) on “reconstruction” of the Iraqi infrastructure that the Bushites bombed into oblivion, we could (according to civil engineers) repair the majority of the infrastructure in the U.S. that is currently in disrepair. $1.2 trillion? It boggles the mind — even the minds of astronomers, who should be used to that many zeros. Sigh.

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