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How Iraq War Sucked Billions Out Of Rhode Island Economy

By Sherwood Ross

14 November, 2008

Apart from the tragic human cost, Americans are wising up to the fact it’s not just Iraq that’s suffering economically from this war.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents to a New York Times/CBS News poll April 2 said the Iraq war had contributed “a lot” to our economic problems and 22 percent more said it contributed “some,” while only 10 percent said “not much” or “not at all.”

President Bush’s war is, in fact, driving up the price of oil and the cost of oil-dependent activities as trucking and agriculture, hitting Americans at the checkout counter as well as the gas pump, sucking jobs out of the economy, depressing wages and emptying family bank accounts.

Rhode Island taxpayers, for example, will be parted from $622 million this year to finance the war, according to the National Priorities Project of Northampton, Mass., which tracks the impact of federal spending on states and localities. The total bill just to Rhode Island since Bush invaded Iraq is $2.1 billion.

Spent in Rhode Island, that same money instead might have bought health care for 713,083 people for a year or paid for a year’s worth of scholarships for 270,844 students or hired 30,286 elementary school teachers or provided 3.5 million homes with a year’s worth of renewable electricity, the Priorities Project said.

As for the full $572 billion Bush spent on the military last year — that’s 44 cents out of every tax dollar — it breaks down to $1,800 for every resident of America, writes economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts in the March 31 issue of The Nation.

President-elect Obama is familiar with these costs. He earlier put the cost of the war to each American household at about $1,200 a year. Whichever figure you use, we’re talking big bucks.

Economist Pollin asserts that money spent at home on education, health care, energy conservation and infrastructure “creates between 50 and 100 percent more jobs than the same money going to Iraq.” So the $138 billion funneled just into Iraq last year cost American workers 1 million jobs, he says.

And, for comparison purposes, that $138 billion could have instead provided Medicaid-level health insurance for all 45 million uninsured Americans, Pollin said, as well as built 400 schools and hired 30,000 more K-12 teachers. What’s more, “channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into areas such as renewable energy and mass transportation would create a hothouse environment supporting new technologies,” he asserted.

As for the lost 1 million jobs, there’s more tragedy here than meets the eye. Putting a million people to work would have reduced unemployment to close to 4 percent. When it gets down that low, Pollin says, good help becomes harder to find so employers raise wages and improve working conditions, meaning American workers would be better off generally. In recent years, U.S. workers made heady productivity gains for employers, yet few of the fruits fell into their pay envelopes.

America, especially after World War I, had a fierce “isolationist” streak. There were millions of rock-ribbed Republicans, particularly in the Midwest, who didn’t want any part of Europe’s wars. Now President Bush can easily induce interventionist congressional Republicans and Democrats alike to spend for an endless war that is benefiting defense contractors and oil producers and few others.

Imagine if the benefits to Rhode Island of the $2 billion taken from this state (under false pretenses, I might point out) and squandered in Iraq were put back into the hands of the people of Rhode Island and devoted instead to modernizing factories and implementing new technologies, to lifting the skill levels of the work force to make it more entrepreneurial and competitive! Imagine the benefits to America!

(Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based columnist and public relations consultant who covers military and political topics. He worked formerly for the Chicago Daily News and wire services. Reach him at [email protected] This essay first appeared in The Providence Journal.)

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