Monday, August 3, 2009

A Trillion Dollars Over 10 Years is Chump Change

One claim that keeps surfacing in the debate over national healthcare is that it "could cost as much as a trillion dollars over the next decade." This has been uttered for weeks now by everyone from GOP senators to pro-reform liberals. And it is always uttered with a certain hushed emphasis that seems to imply that this is a gargantuan amount of money, an amount of money so large that Americans dare not contemplate it.

What gets me is that no one on the receiving end of this claim ever questions whether "a trillion dollars over 10 years" is actually a lot of money, taken in context. Look at the Defense Dept. appropriations request for the upcoming year -- some $640 billion, which includes, by the way, systems both the Secretary of Defense and the President say they don't want, but which our national legislature insists on including.

Now suppose we expressed the defense budget using the "over the next 10 years" accounting method. We would be looking at Six and a half trillion dollars (!) assuming that the defense budget stays the same for that entire period. And whom does the defense budget benefit? Well, obviously it provides a certain amount of direct employment as well as generating jobs in the private sector for behemoths like Boeing and Raytheon. But do its benefits reach every American, as universal healthcare would do?

Or let's look at the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- these will have cost well over the trillion dollar mark by the time their 10 years of fame are up. Who have those benefited? I would argue that they have been almost entirely a net negative in every way that matters: politically, strategically, fiscally, and most of all to the people who have died in those 2 countries since Bush started the wars.

Compared to the amounts of money squandered on killing just in my lifetime, the cost of healthcare reform is chump change.