Weighing in at just 97 pages with a cartoon cover, Rob Simpson’s What We Could Have Done With the Money: 50 Ways to Spend the Trillion Dollars We’ve Spent on Iraq on Iraq is a short explanation of what is an incredibly serious topic that will have consequences for years to come. The Iraq War has cost $1 trillion according to the Congressional Budget Office (a conservative estimate) and as much as $3 trillion by other estimates.
Simpson understands the seriousness of the war when he writes that the book was written to help people contextualize exactly how much is being spent on the war:
“But the book, frankly, seeks to do more than help you understand how much money we’re spending. It was also created to provoke action.
This is our money. We could be doing great things with it–for ourselves and our families, for America and for the world. This is the sort of money that launches New Deals, that builds interstate highway systems, and pays for Marshall Plans.”
In the best of the short sections (they tend to be around two to three pages), Simpson outlines how the money could be used to provide affordable hosing, offer affordable college education, pay for veterans’ care, fix Medicare, expand broadband Internet access, foster investments in green energy, and restore the United States’ polluted waterways.
However, these sections are overshadowed by a number of incredibly ridiculous ideas. Simpson mentions that the money could be used to pay for TV for everyone in the world (export American culture), fly all Iraqis to the US and treat them to a baseball game (show them real American values), buy iPods for everyone in the world, and a $3,200 clothing allowance for everyone in the United States. While the money could technically be used for these things–and they might provide an interesting way of quantifying and conceptualizing the amount of money that is being talked about–they primarily function simply as distractions.
Overall, Simpson’s book is too simplistic to really be taken seriously. While he is right in arguing that the money spent on the Iraq War could have been used in a number of more positive ways, his simplistic analysis and hair-brained ideas–such as makeovers for everyone–discredit his argument. Readers who want to understand the cost of the Iraq War would be much better reading The Three Trillion Dollar War and consulting the numbers at CostOfWar.com to see what it could have bought in terms of progressive social policies.
Rob Simpson, What We Could Have Done With the Money: 50 Ways to Spend the Trillion Dollars We’ve Spent on Iraq, (Hyperion, 2008).