The way to come to grips with $1.2 trillion is to forget about the number itself and think instead about what you could buy with the money. When you do that, a trillion stops sounding anything like millions or billions.
For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for 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.
Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn't use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.
The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban's recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.
All that would be one way to spend $1.2 trillion. Here would be another:
The war in Iraq.
Leonhardt says his estimate of the eventual cost of the Iraq war is conservative, noting, "I didn't even attempt to put a monetary value on the more than 3,000 American deaths in the war." And, one could add, the value of the more than 20,000 physically wounded.
Another news story in USA Today highlighted a different aspect of the war: "An experienced Navy psychologist warns that the U.S. military does not have enough mental health professionals to meet the growing number of emotionally damaged war veterans." Navy Commander Mark Russell says that "Mental health trauma is on the rise. … Training for mental health professionals is inadequate. … Staffing is down."
The war goes on; the cost in money and lives continues to grow. As I ended my last blog on Iraq, unjust wars cause massive human suffering. When will we ever learn?