a photograph of Donald King

A More Convenient Unit of Measure

This is a short piece that I posted on Google+ in 2012. Now that Google+ is shutting down, I’m re-posting it so I don’t lose it. The numbers are based around things that were topical at the time of the post; in particular the Curiosity rover had landed on Mars in August of that year, and some people were complaining that it was “too expensive”.
a photograph of former US President George W. Bush giving a speech
Who put this guy in charge?

From today forward, all federal government expenditures will be priced in “Iraq War Days” (IWD) or “Iraq War Years” (IWY). For quick reference:

  • MSL mission w/ Curiosity rover: 3.5 IWD
  • Cost of giving $10 to all 312M US citizens: 4.33 IWD
  • 2012 “General Science, Space and Technology” budget: 43.04 IWD
  • Cost of giving $100 to all 312M US citizens: 43.3 IWD
  • 2012 Welfare budget: 210.3 IWD (0.6 IWY)
    • Computed as 26% of the 2012 “Income Security” budget
    • Includes TANF (22%) welfare, SNAP (70%) and WIC (8%) food stamps
    • All ratios from 3rd party analysis of 2010 data; see “How much do we REALLY spend on Welfare?
  • 2012 “Medicare” budget: 672.9 IWD (1.8 IWY)
  • Cost of giving $2250 to all 312M US citizens: 975 IWD (2.7 IWY)
  • 2012 “National Defense” budget: 994.9 IWD (2.7 IWY)
  • 2012 “Social Security” budget: 1081 IWD (3.0 IWY)
  • 2012 Total budget: 4986 IWD (13 IWY)

Source: “United States Federal budget, 2012” and “Mars Science Laboratory” pages on Wikipedia for budgets, google.com/publicdata for US population, National Priorities Project via “Cost of War” Wikipedia page for IWD exchange rate.


Some 2018 notes:

Something worth mentioning: Social Security is huge, but it’s basically self-funding: it’s a retirement investment fund paid for by payroll taxes, and those payroll taxes fund the Social Security program and nothing else. Person A pays in, person A cashes out, net cost to taxpayers is $0 over the lifetime of person A. The only reason we have a budget problem with Social Security is that Gen X is so much smaller than the Boomer generation that the cash flow is temporarily messed up. It’ll fix itself automatically as the population distribution returns to normal over the next 30–50 years. All Congress needs to do is let Social Security take out a long-term loan, which it will easily pay back in a few decades. The Republicans want an excuse to kill it, but they can’t say that openly, so they stamp their feet and pretend that it’s long-term insolvent and a loan wouldn’t work.

The bigger deal is the defense budget. A full 25% of your taxes go to the military, and almost none of that is soldiers’ salaries. The US military is basically a giant kickback scheme to funnel money from the middle class to the rich, one $1200 coffee mug at a time. Consider the F-35A: the full cost is budgeted as $1.5 trillion over the lifetime of the program (2070), yet it’s only sheer luck that the major mechanical failures haven’t killed anyone yet and the maintenance is much more expensive than originally planned due to shoddy construction. (Originally, the F-35A was promised to require 20% less maintenance time per flight hour than the F-16, but it is now estimated to require 12% more than the F-16, and that ratio might well grow as the planes age.)