A Little Perspective

Washington Post — Bush to Double Iraq Spending:

In a televised speech to the nation, Bush said he will ask Congress for $87 billion in military and reconstruction spending for next year, significantly more than the range administration officials had given lawmakers. That brings to about $150 billion the amount the United States is spending on the Iraq war and its aftermath — 50 percent more than officials had expected just a few months ago.

$150 billion! That’s such a huge number it can be too hard for us to comprehend how much that actually is. Just for reference, then, let’s look at that figure of $150 billion compared to the cost of another large government project — the Apollo moon landings.

Apollo was seen as a program whose success was vital to national security. Therefore, Congress did not pinch pennies in funding it. Whatever resources the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations asked for in respect to Apollo, they got. It was the ultimate price-is-no-obstacle program.

The result of all this spending was that, when all was said and done, NASA had managed to burn through $24 billion (in 1968 dollars).

Of course, that figure has to be adjusted for inflation before you can meaningfully compare it to current expenses. If you do that, though, you find that $24 billion in 1968 translates into about $124 billion in 2002 dollars (figures courtesy of the Inflation Calculator).

In other words, the rebuilding of Iraq now looks like it’s going to be at least 20% more expensive than it was to put a man on the moon. One can’t help but wonder if the debate over the war would have been different if the Administration had shared with us beforehand that we were committing ourselves to a project bigger than the moon landings. I suppose it’s too late for that now, though.

UPDATE (January 23, 2008): As of 2008, “we’ve now spent enough to buy six Apollo Programs”:http://www.jasonlefkowitz.net/blog1archive/2008/01/alittlemore_p.html.



September 8, 2003
3:15 pm

Actually, this might be a more revelant comparitor. We’re spending, inflation adjusted, about as much for this war as for Viet Nam despite the lower number of people involved.
Of course, our economy total several times bigger in real terms, so as a fraction of GDP it’s much less. On the other hand, the total share of government as a share of GDP is several times bigger still, and the national debt many times beyond that.


September 8, 2003
3:16 pm

Jason Lefkowitz

September 8, 2003
3:23 pm

Indeed — and Bush is running into the same problem Johnson did, namely that his attempt to run a foreign war under the budget radar, without adjusting domestic spending priorities to match, is catching up to him.