Monday, April 30, 2007
Opportunity Costs
In my freshman economics course we learned about opportunity costs, which are the cost of something in terms of what else you could have done with the money - the opportunities foregone.

Right now the War in Iraq is costing approximately $200 billion per year. Some conservative estimates place the total costs at $1.2 trillion. That's a lot of opportunities foregone. Imagine what else we could have done with $1.2 trillion.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote an article a few months back exploring this question. He suggests "an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives"; or universal pre-school for 3 & 4 year olds; or reconstruction funds for New Orleans; or actually implementing the national security recommendations of the 9/11 Commission; or sending peacekeepers to end the genocide in Darfur; or winning the war in Afghanistan.

When you're dealing with as large a figure as $1.2 trillion the possibilities are almost endless. Leonhardt's ideas are all good suggestions. In addition to those here's my own short wish-list:
  1. Ending extreme global poverty (cost: $193 billion)
  2. Eliminating the federal deficit (cost: $300 billion)
  3. Universal Health Coverage (cost: $90 billion)
  4. Equalizing disparities between rich and poor schools in the US and improving overall quality of education (like lowering class sizes and funding the arts, music, and other extra-curriculars).
  5. Banning campaign contributions altogether and instead funding our national elections entirely with public tax dollars - with each candidate getting an equal amount - so that we can stop being governed by whoever can raise the most money from corporate special interests.
  6. Replacing much of our current prison system with more extensive rehabilitative programs.
  7. Funding research, development, and implementation of green technologies.
  8. More need-based federal grants for college tuition (with "need" being defined even higher up the income scale, since college tuition is currently outpacing most middle-class incomes).
  9. Building better roads and especially public transit systems in places that need them (like here in Chicago) so that people can spend less time commuting and more time in their communities and with their famillies.

That's just a starter list. I might add more ideas as I think of them. What would you add?

My guess is that with $1.2 trillion we could probably do at least half of these or more. But instead we are spending this obscene amount of money on an unprovoked and seemingly endless war that has killed thousands of our own men and women and hundreds of thousands of the people we came to "liberate". Do you suppose this "opportunity" was worth the costs?


posted by Mike Clawson at 1:13 PM | Permalink |


At 4/30/2007 03:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Oh God, why can't I own $1.2 trillion?


At 4/30/2007 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Connie


Off the top of my head, I would live to see money spend on the development of sustainable energy solutions for a sustainable planet.

We are sitting at the edge of a dire ecologiacl situation.


At 4/30/2007 07:23:00 PM, Blogger M James

I would like to see that money better invested in space travelling/colonization. While that may seem far-fetched, I agree with Hawking that humanity cannot survive on this planet.

Humans’ years only number in the thousands, pitiful when compared to this universe. We are not even a blip on the evolutionary radar. We are doomed to go extinct, through no one’s fault but our own. Every day we require more and more resources that we don’t have. And it’s not a matter of finding better/reusable energy. We are going to literally run out of room.

One of the few things I liked about The Matrix was Agent Smith’s diatribe against humanity:
“I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure. “

It’s time we start spreading to another area.


At 4/30/2007 08:51:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson


I think that's true of humanity right now - i.e. modern capitalistic humanity does act like a parasite. Our economy right now is premised on continual growth, but eventually we will just run out of room and resources to grow. If we want to keep up our capitalistic ways then yes, we will need more areas to expand to.

But pre-capitalism I think we were much less rapacious. There was an equilibrium of sorts. I wonder if it would be possible for us to get back to that, i.e. for us to stop acting like parasites.

I'd hope that we could do that willingly - that we could make the necessary adjustments to our economy and society to restore an equilibrium. But the cynical side of me says its not going to happen. My guess is that (barring the discovery and colonization of other planets) our society will eventually hit an ecological wall and be forced back into a pre-industrial, pre-capitalistic equilibrium. I'm predicting another Dark Ages to start sometime in the next 100-200 years - maybe sooner depending on how quickly global warming does its work on the ice caps.

So yeah, those are the options: either 1) space colonization, 2) restoring an equilibrium willingly, or 3) being forced back into it by nature and a societal collapse.


At 5/01/2007 03:38:00 AM, Blogger Richard Wade

The root cause of all these problems is our numbers. We have built a six and a half billion member house of cards. We will either reduce our numbers or nature will do it for us. I don't know if all those billions of dollars can be spent effectively to encourage people to not have babies.

One good puff from Pinatubo, Krakatau or a half dozen other volcanoes and a "year without summer" will bring billions to starvation. It happened in A.D. 535 and 1816. Crops failed world wide because volcanic ash in the upper atmosphere cooled the earth. Most of humanity is one crop away from famine. Nations will war over dwindling food supplies, war will spread influenza as it did in 1918, the whole four horsemen thing. History will be utterly changed. World population will drop to less than one billion. That's one seventh.

Our species will survive and civilization will recover, but it won't be the same. It will have new, very strict rules about offspring and use of resources. Societal values will be completely different, in ways we can't imagine. All this could easily happen before 2100. The puff could come tonight.

Forget about other planets. Science fiction is mostly fiction and not much science. Mars would take a thousand years to "terraform" and more money than has ever been spent through all time. The nearest star is 80,000 years away at our present top speed. Light speed travel requires an infinite amount of energy. That's a lot of gas. The money will be needed at home.

Do your part. Stop at one child.

So now that we're thoroughly depressed, what's for dinner?


At 5/01/2007 09:43:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good points Richard, though I do think that lifting people out of poverty can help to reduce population. It's a well-known fact that economic prosperity lowers the birth rate (for a variety of reasons - not the least of which is that the more education women are able to get, the fewer children they tend to have).

Which to me is all the more reason to end extreme poverty NOW!


At 5/02/2007 05:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

One thing I think we can all agree on is that just about anything is a better investment of the money than the war in Iraq.


At 5/03/2007 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I wish that were true Jon (i.e. that we could all agree), but unfortunately there still seem to be people out there who think that invading other countries without provocation is a good idea and that a large defense budget is the best use of our money. (Even my current favorite presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has expanding the military as part of his platform. :(


At 5/05/2007 02:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Hi Mike, here's a fun "game" to play done by Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's) to show how much $$ the Pentagon alone drains from our budget ... and that was BEFORE the war.


At 5/05/2007 09:31:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

So, what I see is that the war is making us neglect other parts of the world. So, let's go focus on them and neglect the people who were being raped, tortured, mutilated, murdered, etc. simply for the pleasure of a sick dictator and his twisted sons. I agree that more has to be done around the world, and it will be done. But to say that it was wasted money is ridiculous. Praise God you live here in Beautiful Illinois! Man, what if this was Irag? Would you care about the money then?


At 5/05/2007 09:34:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

By the way, I love that your favorite candidate openly supports homosexuality and abortion. Pastor Mike, I guess that falls into the whole "fluid truth" thing that God has you teaching the saints you're equipping. C'mon man.


At 5/07/2007 09:17:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dan, as a follower of Christ, I personally believe that his way of non-violent peacemaking is a more effective way to combat the evil and injustice of this world than to simply return evil for evil. We may have removed one evil dictator, but at what cost? (By some estimates, we've killed just about as many Iraqis as Saddam ever did.) And have things really gotten any better over there? Hasn't our violence just bred more violence? (And didn't Jesus tell us it would? "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.")

Nothing will ultimately stop the injustices in this world until we learn to overcome violence with peace, evil with good, and hatred with love (cf. Romans 12:21).

As for Obama's positions, I don't think a candidate exists with whom I completely agree, but neither am I a single issue voter. In this day and age I think there are plenty of other important issues than the ones you just mentioned. How many injustices are we willing to put up with a from a president just because they happen to share our opinion on those two issues? (Assuming I even share your opinion on those, which I doubt.)


At 5/08/2007 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

I appreciate your response, Mike. I agree about the war that it has come at great cost. PEaceful measures had not worked however. It is a very sad situation.
On Obama, I personally believe he will win. I won't vote for him, but I do think he'll win. I'm curious though, what would be your stand on those two issues and why? I'd be interested in a discussion on it. Thanks Mike. Please also accept my apology for being rash in my previous comments. I was out of line the way I commented. I attacked you and I'm sorry for that.


At 5/08/2007 08:54:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dan B, thanks for the apology. I'm interested in conversation, but not so much in personal attacks. I'm glad you're willing to engage in dialogue.

As for peaceful measures, I don't think they had really been given a chance to work. In the months leading up to the war religious leaders from Britain and America put forth a 6-Point Plan to defeat Saddam without resorting to war. Many experts said it would work and reportedly Tony Blair himself was very interested in it. However, according to those who tried to present it to him, President Bush wouldn't even hear it. He was already bound and determined to go to war and was not interested in any alternatives.

But regardless, IMHO there is never an ethical justification for pre-emptive war. According to the Just War theory put forth by St. Augustine 1600 years ago, and upheld by nearly every branch of the church since then (besides those who remained outright pacifists like Christians were in the Early Church), war must always be a last resort and may only be defensive. The Iraq War was neither. We were the aggressors, we attacked without provocation, and we did not exhaust every other option for reaching our goals.


At 5/08/2007 09:14:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dan B,

As for abortion and homosexuality, I'm not sure I really want to get into an in-depth conversation about it right now. I'll just give you my short answers and brief rationale.

Homosexuality: I fully support equal civil rights for gays under the law and in society, including gay marriage. I see no reason why they should be treated any differently than anyone else. There is a difference between public and private morality, and sexual behavior between consenting adults is an issue of private morality. I don't see that the government has any business making laws about it.

And as for marriage, I don't even believe in State-sponsored heterosexual marriage. IMHO, marriage is a sacred event that should be left up to faith communities and other cultural institutions to define for themselves. (So if some churches want to marry gays and some don't, it's their own choice.) Let the government issue Civil Unions to heterosexual or homosexual couples, I don't care, but why should the State be allowed to dictate what marriage is or is not? It's none of their damn business.

Abortion: I am both pro-life and pro-choice. That is, I don't think abortion is a good thing and want to reduce the number of abortions that occur, however, I don't think that the most effective way to do that is to outlaw abortion. I think that would simply drive the abortion industry underground and result in just as many abortions but at far more serious risk and danger to the mothers.

Rather I think a far more effective way of dealing with abortion is to treat the systemic issues that lead people to get abortions in the first place: e.g. scarcity of affordable alternatives (like adoption), assistance for young mothers (especially those whose families and boyfriends disown/abandon them when they become pregnant), dysfunctional families, lack of female education and empowerment, inadequate sex education, and especially poverty (this is huge - numerous studies have shown that as income and educational level goes up the number of abortions goes down).

So I want to keep abortion legal, but do whatever we can to make it rare.


At 5/11/2007 07:19:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

I agree with the scarcity of alternatives. This does need to be a focus. However, the gov. is to be for the people, right? Well, if life begins at conception, this baby should be "the people". This is the catch that stops the law from protecting the unborn. A baby is not a citizen of the US until it leaves the birth canal. But, to keep it legal is just wrong. Murder is illegal, but unborn kids don't seem to fit the criteria of victims of murder. We may as well just do away with the law against murder. But wait, isn't a Christian to uphold God's law? Exodus says very clearly, "You shall not murder." Abortion is not a not good thing, it is a horrible, sick murder. One thing positive I've heard is that they are putting ultrasound machines in CPC's across the country, and the turn around rate of abortve mothers after seeing the ultrasound is close to 95%.
On the gay rights, you said you don't agree with state marriages. How do you explain you yourself being married? I don't see the consistency.


At 5/11/2007 11:21:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"On the gay rights, you said you don't agree with state marriages. How do you explain you yourself being married? I don't see the consistency."

We're married in the eyes of God and the church. The State just gave us a piece of paper and some tax benefits. Beyond that, I couldn't care less what the the State thinks about our relationship.


At 5/12/2007 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

I agree on that, but why should a church recognize a marriage of two men or two women? God designed it for one man and one woman. Why should a church decie otherwise? Sodom and Gamorra(Pardon spelling) were destroyed for this type of stuff. If a church recognizes it as ok, then we are no better than they were.


At 5/12/2007 09:54:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

A church doesn't have to recognize gay marriage if they don't want to. Those churches who still believe that homosexuality is a sin are free not to perform gay marriages. And those churches who believe that it is not sinful are free to perform them. That's what it means to live in a free society - each different cultural and religious group is free to practice their own beliefs as they see fit without the government or other religious groups telling them what to do.

But religious groups should not be free to tell other groups what they can or cannot do. Christians don't have a right to tell Muslims how to pray or Jews what to do in synagogue - so why should anti-gay Christians have a right to tell pro-gay Christians who they are allowed to marry?

As for Sodom, the Bible never says their sin was homosexuality. Scripture is very clear that the sin of Sodom was their lack of concern for the poor (cf. Ezekiel 16:49).


At 5/12/2007 10:06:00 AM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

***so why should anti-gay Christians have a right to tell pro-gay Christians who they are allowed to marry?***

Because homosexuality is a sin, and we as christians are to uphold scripture and those christians who don't.


At 5/12/2007 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Lots of things are sins, but it's not my job to play the role of the Holy Spirit and try to tell everyone where they've gone wrong.