Iraq War Spending: What Could We Have Built Instead?

<p>Robert Pollin &amp; Heidi Garrett-Peltier writing in <em>The Nation</em> show that the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq that could have been much more productively invested in public goods like sustainable infrastructure.</p>
March 18, 2008, 12pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"There is no longer any doubt that the Iraq War is a moral and strategic disaster for the United States. But what has not yet been fully recognized is that it has also been an economic disaster. To date, the government has spent more than $522 billion on the war, with another $70 billion already allocated for 2008.

With just the amount of the Iraq budget of 2007, $138 billion, the government could instead have provided Medicaid-level health insurance for all 45 million Americans who are uninsured. What's more, we could have added 30,000 elementary and secondary schoolteachers and built 400 schools in which they could teach. And we could have provided basic home weatherization for about 1.6 million existing homes, reducing energy consumption in these homes by 30 percent.

[Yet] channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into areas such as renewable energy and mass transportation would create a hothouse environment supporting new technologies. For example, utilities in Arizona and Nevada are developing plans to build "concentrated" solar power plants, which use the sun to heat a liquid that can drive a turbine. It is estimated that this technology, operating on a large scale, could drive down the costs of solar electricity dramatically, from its current level of about $4 per watt to between $2.50 and $3 per watt in the sunniest regions of the country. At these prices, solar electricity becomes much cheaper than oil-driven power and within range of coal. These and related technologies could advance much more rapidly toward cost competitiveness with coal, oil and nuclear power if they were to receive even a fraction of the subsidies that now support weapons development (as well as the oil industry).

There are many good reasons government policy should now initiate major commitments to investment in the areas of healthcare, education, environmental sustainability and infrastructure. All these spending areas stand on their own merits. But moving the $138 billion spent on the Iraq War in 2007 into public investments will also increase employment, adding up to 1 million jobs. On top of this, expanding public investment spending is the single most effective tool for fighting the recession.

A great deal is at stake here. The Iraq War has been about death and destruction. Ending the war could be a first serious step toward advancing a viable program for jobs, healthcare, education and a clean-energy economy. "

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Published on Thursday, March 13, 2008 in The Nation
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