Saturday, February 3

Trillions, billions, thousands -- what's the difference?

The Washington Post reports that "President Bush will ask Congress for close to three-quarters of a trillion dollars in defense spending on Monday, including $245 billion to cover the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan…"

It would be helpful if the Post did some math for us. How much is $245 billion? How much is three-quarters of a trillion dollars? Those numbers are abstract. The article throws around more numbers that are so large as to be meaningless: $170 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this fiscal year and at least $145 billion next fiscal year, and $745 billion in war costs since Sept. 11, 2001.

That $745 billion comes out to about $2,500 for every man, woman and child living in the United States. In my family of three, that's $7,500 to pay for five years of war.

In 2003-4, there were 95,726 elementary and secondary schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) in the United States, and 48.4 million students. (Census) If we hadn't shipped that money to Afghanistan and Iraq, we could have kept it here and given it to schools -- for an average of $7,782,630 per school, total, over the five-year period. Or the federal government could have handed the schools $15,392 for each student. That's a student subsidy of $3,078 a year.

In 2004, there were 3.1 million public school teachers in this country. Instead of going to war, we could have given them $240,322 each. That would be an average annual raise of $48,000, which would more than double the average teacher's salary of $45,800. If we did that, we would probably end up with better teachers.

Does that put these numbers into perspective?