On this 10th anniversary, the country reflects on the events of 9-11. Ceremonies are being held nationwide to honor the victims of the attacks and the media coverage is constant. Consider for a moment, the pivotal decisions that were made as a result of that one profoundly unfortunate day and the consequences those decisions bear. One way to view those consequences is through what economists call "opportunity cost." It is the basic relationship between choice and scarcity; for every dollar spent on guns, there is one less dollar to spend on butter.
According to a March 29, 2011 Congressional Research Service report, Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for "military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans' health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks." Those three operations include Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan; Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF); and Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), which provides enhanced security at military bases.
In the burgeoning field of conflict resolution, there are many theories on the causes of conflict. Some common causes cited are poor communication, scarce resources, lack of education, poverty, limited access to basic healthcare, a corrupt government and inequality and fundamental ideological differences. Consider how the world would be different today, if the US had spent $1.283 trillion dollars on any of these causes instead of funding what turned out to be the longest military conflict in US history.
At the calling card rate of 14.3˘ per minute, every person in the US could call Afghanistan and talk for nearly 500 hours. Since the US population is ten times that of the Afghan population each Afghani would have to talk to an American for almost 5000 hours. That means an American could keep every Afghani on the phone 8 hours a day for 625 days. Since very few Americans speak Afghan Persian a face-to-face meeting could be more fruitful. Every single American could travel, on a commercial airline round-trip, from New York to Kabul 4 times. The communication opportunities are similar for Iraq. Since the population of Pakistan is 60% that of the US, there would be more people to talk to. However, since the rate to call Pakistan is so much less at 2˘ per minute, an American could keep every Pakistani on the phone 8 hours a day for 714 days.
According to the 2006 Human Development Report, "… at the start of the 21st century one in five people living in the developing world—some 1.1 billion people in all—lacks access to clean water. Some 2.6 billion people, almost half the total population of developing countries, do not have access to adequate sanitation." While there is no clear number on the amount of money it would take to provide clean water and sanitation worldwide, the World Health Organization (2004) estimates that the return on investment for each dollar spent on sanitation is between $3- $34, when you account for the costs of healthcare and days missed from work and school due to dehydration and infectious disease. This means, speaking very conservatively at a $5 ROI, that 1.283 trillion dollars spent on clean water could free up more than 6.4 trillion dollars for healthcare, education and productivity.
UN reports indicate that 862 million people are starving and a child dies from malnutrition every six seconds. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that the annual cost to end world hunger is $30 billion (2011). If the $1.283 trillion was allocated to these proposed hunger programs, they could have been funded for almost 43 years, far longer than it would take for them to become self-sustaining. This does not even account for what ten years and 1.283 trillion dollars cost innovations in conservation and sustainability. Even if the US invested domestically, imagine what patents US companies could hold on inventions in energy efficient products alone.
Karen Zeitvogal of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (2010) states, "The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics." The military expenditures of $1.283 trillion dollars could have purchased a full-ride to a four-year university for 15.7 million Americans or approximately 83% of those between the ages of 20-24 (US Census, 2000). The US is not only lagging behind in education, but recent cuts to the NASA program will abate future advances in science and technology. NASA could have been funded at its 2012-requested budget for nearly 70 years (Whitehouse Federal Budget).
The US Census estimates that in 2009 13.8% or about 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty. The adjacent chart shows that the number of Americans living in poverty has continued to increase since around 1999. Despite the growing number of poor Americans, recent congressional debates have brought entitlement programs under great scrutiny. Welfare programs including assistance and subsidies for families and children and housing assistance combined, could be funded at their 2011 budgets for just over 33 years. At its 2012 requested budget amount, social security benefits could be funded for just over a year and a half. The congressional debates also illuminated one of the core issues facing Americans: the steady heightened unemployment rate. At the US annual median wage of $33, 842 (US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011), the US could employ all 14 million unemployed jobseekers for almost 3 years.
The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (2004) estimates that the cost to repair or replace the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon and the 4 commercial planes could have been accomplished almost 250 times.
The Virtual Library on Microcredit estimates, "The world's seven richest men could wipe out global poverty. Their combined wealth is more than enough to provide the basic needs of the poorest quarter of the world's people." The combined wealth of the seven richest people in the world, according to Forbes (2011) is roughly $323 billion. This means that the poorest of the working poor could have been provided with loans to lift themselves out of extreme poverty 4 times. Grameen Bank, the first to expand the microfinance model, charges an average 15% interest rate on microloans and maintains a 98% repayment rate worldwide. This means that $1.283 trillion would not only fulfill the basic needs of 25% of the world four times over, but would also generate almost $163 billion in repayment revenues.
On 01/02/11, President Obama singed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which allocates $4.2 billion in medical care for those who became sick, primarily heroic first responders, as a result of being exposed to toxic chemicals at ground zero. "An estimated 16,000 first responders, 2,700 living near ground zero have become sick and are seeking treatment; another 40,000 first responders are under medical monitoring (Associated Press, 01/02/11)." This does not account for the people who have already died awaiting medical treatment that they were denied. The bill has also come under scrutiny because it does not cover cancer treatment, one of the most severe and common health problems experienced by the first responders. The 4.2 billion approved just
|$2 million for the life of each American soldier who died in combat in every war since 1775.|
this year is only 1/3 of 1% (0.33%) of the ten-year expenditures for this war of attrition. In other words, all the people currently alive and seeking treatment, plus the 40,000 people under medical monitoring, could each have received nearly $22 million in medical coverage.
Government & Equality
Seemingly, US citizens will never know the kind of absolute poverty experienced by so many in developing countries, but poverty and wealth distribution have inequitable effects on the majority of unwitting US citizens. The United States has the second largest economy in the world, just behind the entire European Union, which is comprised of 27 different countries (CIA, 2007). Further, the US ranks 11th in the world for per capita GDP (CIA, 2010). Nevertheless, the US ranks 98th in the world for income equality, putting the US behind such non-democratic countries as Egypt, Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran (CIA, 2001, 2008, 2007. 2009, 2006, respectively) and behind all 27 countries in the EU. Similar data on income inequality is not available for Iraq or Afghanistan.
An updated 2011 study by G. William Domhoff, Professor of Sociology at UCSC, demonstrated that in 2007, the top 1% controlled 43% of the financial wealth in America. The bottom 80% controlled only 7% of the financial wealth in America. These ratios have remained relatively stable since 1983, when Dr. Domhoff began comparing them. Based on a Federal Reserve study conducted by Arthur B. Kennickell (Pond and Streams: Wealth and Income in the US, 2009), $1.283 is roughly the total net worth of the bottom 40% of the US population.
Military service is a noble endeavor, but is only truly revered when it is in service of an equally noble cause. According to Rod Powers (about.com, 03/02/2011) military personal between the ages of 18 and 30 account for 77.5% of all deaths in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the greatest contribution of lives being between the ages of 18-21 at 28.2%. The $1.283 trillion could pay more than $2 million dollars for the life of each American soldier who gave his/her life in combat in every American war since 1775. According to the 2011 military pay scales for enlisted personnel, each soldier between the ages of 18-21 is paid between $17, 367 - $34, 067 for each year of service. It is cold to measure lives in dollars, but it is colder still to not respect what they are actually worth. On the flip side, $1.283 trillion dollars, 10 years, 6142 combat casualties and the multitude of unquantifiable forfeited futures, is the price tag for the life of one Osama Bin Laden.
It seems the answer to bridging the gap in fundamental ideological differences is at worst tolerance and at best genuine interest and deep compassion. It is difficult to determine how to generate tolerance, genuine interest in another person's worldview or compassion. For argument sake, consider this could be achieved in part through a tolerance or transformational training program. Roughly 41% of the world's population or about 2.9 billion people could complete one such training program at their average tuition rate of $450. Conversely, any company would likely be thrilled to accept the $184.31 which constitutes the dollar amount that would be available for every human being on the planet at this moment (6,961,011,155: U.S Census Bureau, 09/09/2011; 5:26pm, EST).
The shock of 9-11 caused Americans to reflect on what was most precious to them; it was a pivotal moment to define ourselves as a nation, as the rest of the world watched. Ten years later, the country is bloated with debt, downgraded in credit, haunted by unemployment, rivaling 3rd world countries in fiscal inequality, lagging behind in education and divided by petty arguments over personal ideologies.
We have misspent our most precious resources… dollars, lives and futures of unquantifiable potential. These statistics indicate that America is not a nation scarce of resources, but misguided in allocation and priorities.
What can I do?
Today it is easy to remember what tomorrow will be so quickly forgotten. So tomorrow and once a month for the next year, thank someone who has volunteered to make the ultimate sacrifice (military personal, first responders, etc.) or the family of someone who has already made the ultimate sacrifice.
Sign the petition to have cancer treatment included for first responders.
Ask the hard questions, be prepared for the hard answers and demand elected officials make decisions that create real opportunities for future generations. Whatever your politics, vote.
Ask yourself what really matters- the past or the future, a dollar for education or a dollar for revenge, the lives of 6142 people or the life of one aging terrorist, your personal pettiness or leaving a better world for your children?
Make all the difference in the life of someone in the US by donating to Grameen America: Or do me a favor by designating your tax-deductible donation for the next Grameen America branch to be in Charlotte by typing "Charlotte" in the comment box, where I serve on the advisory board.