Money for schools, not bombs

Apparently the Bush regime feels the opposite approach makes sense.

From an op-ed piece by Donald Hepburg in yesterday's NY Times:

So, how much is this experiment in nation-building going to cost the American taxpayer? First, let's consider what has already been spent. According to the Pentagon, the cost of preparation, aid to noncombatant allies and the invasion itself amounted to $45 billion. Then there is the much-bandied "billion dollars a week" phrase, which seems an accurate estimate of military expenses since the end of serious fighting in May. Assuming a five-year occupation, that's some $300 billion.

But these familiar figures are only part of the story. First, as these are borrowed funds, they are already incurring interest charges. More important, according to material released by American officials, the United States must meet an estimated $5 billion in initial humanitarian aid and $8 billion in Iraqi government salaries, as well as about $7 billion for repairs to public utilities and to restore vital services over the next two years.


It will also most likely cost $3 billion to re-settle nearly one million Iraqi refugees who are returning from exile (there are also an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who were displaced within the country and will need aid to rebuild their communities). Ordinarily, assistance could be expected to come through United Nations and nongovernmental groups, but in this case the diplomatic difficulties surrounding the invasion leave the situation unsettled.

Still, the biggest problem facing Iraq is that after decades of corruption, economic stagnation and declining productivity, it faces at least a decade's worth of reconstruction and improvements. This will include rebuilding ports, farms, roads, telecommunications systems, power plants, hospitals and water systems, as well as introducing a medical benefit plan, a national pension scheme, and new laws for foreign investment and intellectual property rights. The country needs a revised criminal code and judiciary system, a new tax code and collection system, and an electoral voting system with appropriate technology. Using postwar American and United Nations estimates for these and many other tasks, the total bill is likely to be at least $200 billion over a decade.

Clearly, such a program cannot be financed entirely by Iraq's oil reserves. Those who accused the Bush administration of instigating a "war for oil" certainly hadn't done the math. Before the war the hope was that Iraq's annual production could relatively quickly rise to $15 billion to $20 billion per year. However, the system is far more decrepit than such estimates assumed, and combined with the near-daily sabotage of facilities and pipelines, it appears that oil revenues will rise only slowly over the next three years, from approximately $10 billion in 2004 to $20 billion in 2006.

Major international oil companies are expected to invest $40 billion in joint ventures with Iraq's state oil company, but this will be for exploration and new development, not to rehabilitate the existing facilities. By 2010, even in the best case, production would increase at most to six million barrels a day, bringing total revenues to about $40 billion a year.

I did not include the section about Iraq's $350 billion in foreign debt. Do we think the countries we derided as chocolate makers and Old Europe are just going to forgive the debts? Do we think anyone is going to loan money to a new U.S.-approved government without a plan to repay the current debts?

Also in the news yesterday were the results of a new study from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the state of U.S. infrastructure a grade of D-:

The report blamed the deteriorating infrastructure on a weak economy, limited federal programs, population growth and the threat of terrorism, which diverted money to security.

“Americans’ concerns about security threats are real, but so are the threats posed by crumbling infrastructure,” Thomas Jackson, ASCE president, said in a statement. “It doesn’t matter if the dam fails because cracks have never been repaired or if it fails at the hands of a terrorist. The towns below the dam will still be devastated.”

There was no progress for schools, which received the worst grade - D-minus - from the engineers in 2001. The report said three out of four school buildings are inadequate. They estimate it will cost more than $127 billion to build new classrooms and modernize outdated schools.

Energy transmission earned a D-plus two years ago, and the engineers said the trend is getting worse. Investment in transmission fell by $115 million annually, to $2 billion a year in 2000 from $5 billion in 1975. Actual capacity increased by only 7,000 megawatts a year, 30 percent less than needed to keep up with power demand.

Roads didn’t fare much better. “The nation is failing to even maintain the substandard conditions we currently have,” the report said, adding that the average rush hour grew by more than 18 minutes between 1997 and 2000.

The engineers’ report also saw no improvement on bridges, noting that 27.5 percent of U.S. bridges were structurally deficient or obsolete in 2000.

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This page contains a single entry by published on September 5, 2003 10:58 AM.

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