The Cost Of War VS. The Cost Of College


The concept that is at the foundation of the study of economics is scarcity. When I first studied this subject in high school -- and later taught it as a social studies teacher -- I learned that we had an unlimited number of wants in a finite economic reality that could only fulfill a small fraction of these desires. One of the ways this concept of scarcity is expressed is in the inverse relationship between guns and butter. Guns represented everything the economy generates in terms of war or defense, while butter represents consumer goods and services. To the extent that any society has more of one they necessarily have less of the other.

As a practical application of these functions, one might look at the failure of the old Soviet Union. The Soviet Union could not keep pace with the arms build up of the post war that the Cold War required, because the base of its GNP was much smaller than the of the United States. The United States could rebuild its economy after the Great Depression and WWII because it spent a much smaller percentage of its GNP on guns than it did on butter, even though this amount was equal to or greater than what the Soviets could afford given their GNP.

The coup de grace came when the Soviets went into a protracted war in Afghanistan where no power, from Alexander the Great to the British Empire, had ever won a sustained victory in a country that seemed to have been designed for successful guerrilla warfare prosecuted unceasingly by 25 million fearless Pashtun. The denouement of this ill-advised endeavor was the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of a Russia that still remains somewhat of an enigma.

The hallmark of an uneducated person or one who at the very least has no curiosity is rarely asking  the question -- why? These folks find it more comforting to deal with the dismal reality of a $640 million budget shortfall in California without ever seeking to understand why it exists and most importantly what we could do to avoid this problem in the future? For this mentality, there is no logical conflict between slashing $640 million from public education and parroting vacuous slogans like No Child Left Behind or all LAUSD students are going to college.

Brave New Films
has just posted the following video on its Facebook page, which seeks to connect the obscene costs of waging two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the clearly avoidable consequence of having to cut public education budgets at all levels in California to the bone. There are several questions that educated citizens of a democracy must ask themselves in concluding whether the expenditures on war are regrettably justifiable given the reality that we faced after 9/11:

1. Do wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make us any safer?
2. Do the expenditures we continue to incur in fighting these wars do more harm to us than Al Quaeda and other bad guys could ever hope to do to us?
3. What is the best defense against a dangerous world?

The direct 2009 cost in California tax dollars that was spent on Afghanistan was $7 billion.

1 soldier per year in Afghanistan costs $1 million
1 year of college at the California State University for a state resident costs $9,285

1 anti-tank missile in Afghanistan cost $85,000
1 year of college books and supplies costs $1,608

1 Predator drone in Afghanistan costs $4.5 million
1 full Pell Grant for a California college student is worth $5,350

For those predominantly minority students of limited financial means who have not had to drop out of school altogether, they are being asked to take on more debt in lieu of grants to assure that they leave school saddled by debt that will limit their options.

Does investing in the future of the next generation of Americans mean fighting two endless wars of questionable justification while maintaining 1000 military bases around the world, or does it mean educating our future citizens to a level where they can be up for the task of determining government policy, which is their job under the constitution?


04 2010


Thanks for your best input and i have read this article twice.

Lenny -
Historically Islam has been on the march since inception. They invaded Europe, were pushed back in various places and the struggle according to them goes on. One culture temporarily overpowering another is common in history. At some point members of a society have to decide whether what they have is worth defending. This is not the format for that discussion. Iraq is a mess, but it's interesting that they (powers that be) could turn it off in a year and did if they wanted to (re - surge) and the current administration is going along with the same play book in spite of campaigning against it. Suppose someone was shown something or new truth? Hmm. I can carry that debate by email. At this point you are not in possession of enough of the facts.

Yes, money could better be spent on education. Agreed. Equally important is cutting out the waste. My site is rife with it and rank incompetence.

I generally enjoy your education perspective.

This article I do not. You fail to understand the cost of no war. We were attacked... and would continually be so until we finally stopped. People with your frame of reference assume we are always wrong, big, driven by greed, etc. In the 1930's and 1940 we stopped shipments of materials, food and oil to Japan. Why? They were murdering the Chinese. Some like you argued then that our trade practices and other policies lead directly to being attacked, hence our fault.

I've been overseas - to Iraq as a reservist teacher. There really IS a movement under foot to violently promote jihadist takeover. At what point is fighting ok? Before or after you personally submit? Should I wait to get involved before you or your family are victims or after?

FWIW - the antitank weapon is a bargain compared to the death benefits a soldier's family gets if he didn't have that weapon when he needed it!

Stick to LAUSD bashing, please.

Islam like anything else is not monolithic. We got attacked on 9/11 by predominantly Saudi Arabian extremists- think Left in the Moslem bell curve. Iraq under Sunni minority Saddam Hussein- think Right- had been put in power by U.S. aid and had beliefs that were at the other side of the political spectrum from Al Quaeda. Treating all Moslem alike is like treating the KKK and the Black Panthers alike because they are both Americans.

Invading a Moslem country in the light of the crusades, colonialism, and support of repressive feudal and anti-democratic governments that sell out the country to American and European interests only galvanizes opposition to what was initially sympathy after we were attacked. In a democracy the citizens through their representative in Congress declare war, not a president based on verified lies of yellow cake uranium from Niger in much the same way my generation got hung out to dry in Vietnam with a Gulf of Tonkin lie or blowing up the Maine in Havana harbor in the Spanish-American War. People in other parts of the world are entitled to the same self determination that we are and the benefit of their own natural resources. I don't think that I am fighting for this country by decimating its public education system which is crucial in a democracy to assure that future citizens actual have enough intelligence to wield the power that the U.S. Constitution gives to them unless we are becoming a monarchy or an oligarchy. From Alexander the Great to the British Empire, nobody is going to win a war against 25 million Pastun in a land that Allah made for guerilla warfare. Multiply the cost of a weapon times the number of ignorant Pastun that think it is worth dying to rid Afghanistan of infidels and you will come up with a figure far superior to our GNP for many years.

Leave a comment