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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Friday, December 23, 2005

A more efficient weapon

Just an off the cuff observation, before leaving town Congress approved a new $453 billion defense bill. That money, of course, doesn't include Iraq spending, but that's a longer discussion. I have this bizarre semi-compulsion when I see big budget numbers like this, I feel the need to do some quick "head math" to see exactly what they mean.

So, leaving out Iraq, having the standing military that we do costs roughly $1,500/person in the US.(population 'more or less' 300 mil.) If you do it by taxpayer, about 100 million, or ration it out relative to income, it gets even scarier.

Also, taking that $453 bil and divide it into the world population, minus the US, and you get about $75 per person per year. I don't have a sense what it should cost to protect me from every citizen but, somehow, the long dormant engineer part of my brain tells me that $75/person/year isn't particularly efficient.

Think about what it could mean if you chopped off 25% or so and dedicated it to world health or education. Let's just make it a round $100 billion for easy math.

We could go the Cuba route and train doctors to send around the world. Much like the rural doctor programs in the US, we could pay their schooling then rotate them abroad for four years. Figuring $100K for schooling(25k/yr) then another $100K/yr in support. That's 800,000 doctors working around the world every year if my math is right! And that's assuming that we didn't take a smarter, and far cheaper, long term approach of training locals as doctors who would then remain in their country of origin.

Or, we could do the same with teachers, and there the math gets really crazy because of the lower expense. Let's figure $40K for schooling(10K/yr) and $40K/yr in support. That's 2 million teachers a year worldwide(again assuming solely US personnel.)

Now, I'm not advocating turning our swords into plowshares, for geopolitical reasons, beyond the threat of invasion, a strong military is a reasonable investment. The question to me is how strong is enough, and could that money be spent more efficiently to effect our ends.

Just for examples' sake, let's cut my numbers above significantly and put together a mix of doctors and teachers. Let's say that the US made a worldwide commitment to send 50,000 American doctors abroad, and trained another 100,000 local doctors(figuring half the cost of US personnel.) And let's pick a random number of 125,000 US teachers with another 250,000 local teachers trained.

For $37.5 billion, about 7.5% of current military spending, our country could transform the world increasing world health substantially and also increasing the futures of hundreds of millions of children. The US, I would argue, would end up far more secure deploying 150,000 doctors and a 500,000 teachers around the world than we would be spending that 7.5% on a couple of weapons programs.

I don't have a way to quantify it, but, I would argue that, in a fairly immediate way, the US would gain enough benefit and goodwill to far outweigh the current benefits of that top 7.5% of the military budget. Tell me that the poor countries of the world, Togo for instance, wouldn't cooperate more with a United States who was offering them 5,000 development personnel, than one that possessed some high end military toy.

Also, the long term benefits to the US economy would be huge. Think about the spike in the world economy that would follow on by ten to fifteen years as the children who were brought up through this program, healthy and educated, reached their productive years. Maybe the US slice of the production pie might grow a little smaller in relation to the rest of the world, but the overall production numbers would explode upward and the US economy would benefit hugely as large segments of the world's poor were lifted up to such a level that they could buy goods beyond a subsistence level.

Oh, and also the US would go down in history as the most beneficient country in the history of the world.

You want a legacy, Mr. Bush, how 'bout that one.

(There are other potential goodwill roles that could be served. I chose doctors and teachers for the simplicity of this example. But, quite frankly, there are many other specialties that would have great benefit if included in such a program. Agriculture experts, for example could teach methods and irrigation to greatly increase the living standards of hundreds of millions. Public health specialists could travel from town to village consulting on safe water practices, disease prevention and food and waste handling. Engineers could be deployed to help build roads, irrigation projects, etc. You get the idea.

And I do recognize that some of that money could be better spent in the US on the same issues, but for the sake of this post, I am simply trying to discuss the use of money for international defense and influence.

Also, if my math is wrong somewhere in here, sorry. My semi compulsion is to do the math, not always to do it right.)

4 Comments:

  • You are making way too much sense, Mike. You are hereby banished to the land of It Ain't Never Gonna Happen. And that is the major tragedy of our time and of our so-called "leaders."

    By Blogger Newsguy, at 12:04 PM  

  • Great post.

    For $3.2 billion, we could eliminate malaria which kills 1 million children/year.

    http://greyhairsblog.blogspot.com/2005/11/malaria_19.html

    Or how about this handy/dandy site which gives some priority options and what they would cost:

    http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182

    Good work Mike.

    By Blogger Greyhair, at 12:32 PM  

  • I told ya, I switched into Christmas mode last night. I'm giving myself three days here to just spew whatever comes out so long as it is not ill tempered or mean.

    And Greyhair, for whatever else I think about the guy, that Bill Gates Malaria campaign is a huge benefit. I spent some time doing community service work down in southern extremely underdeveloped Panama, and it would make a huge difference.

    Spread the cheer.

    Merry, merry, if that's what you believe.

    Mike

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 1:00 PM  

  • Loved this post, Mike.

    By Blogger Sini, at 7:06 PM  

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