How much of your taxes go to war?

Published on April 11th, 2013 | by

The cost of war, tax dollarsIf you’re anything like me, you’ve waited til the last minute to do, and pay, your taxes. (I had far more important things to do, like write an April Fools post about Monsanto inserting rabbit DNA into human babies to eliminate their tear duct and get them to quit crying all the darn time). When I finally tallied everything this afternoon and wrote my check to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, I was forced to wonder: how much of my money is going to fund the 12 year long Afghanistan war effort that began shortly after September 11th? The war has dragged on longer than any of us would ever have imagined, and tapped the federal budget to the tune of at least $641 billion in direct spending, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Those are just the direct costs. But even if you count the indirect costs of sending young, productive workers abroad to fight a war instead of working at home, creating jobs, and paying taxes, the countless cases of post traumatic stress disorder and the other long term costs of veteran health care, it still pails in comparison to the estimated $3 trillion we spent on the war in Iraq. But since that war is now over, I wanted to just look at the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and figure out just how much of my tax check is going to fund that war.

So let’s run the numbers.

The CSIS report (PDF) estimated that the FY 2012 budget for the Afghan War is roughly $100 billion (and expects similar expenditures in 2013, with the war winding down for completion and troop withdrawal finally scheduled in 2014). Total government revenues (citizen and corporate taxes) in 2012 are estimated at $2.4686 trillion, according to the nonprofit Tax Policy Center. So the total direct cost of the Afghan war in FY 2012 is 2.63% of our total government expenditure (recall that there are many billions more that we’ll be paying for many years to come, long after the war is over: for simplicity sake, we’re just looking at direct costs here).

Thus, if you made about $51,413 (median U.S. income, 2011), you would pay $8,886 in total taxes this year. A simple quick and dirty analysis would suggest that 2.63% of your $8,886, or $209.70 to the war effort. (according to IRS Form 1040 tax tables)

A slightly less quick and dirty analysis would include the cost of money we’ve borrowed to pay for the war as well. If you subtract the total costs in FY 2012 (The Tax Policy Center estimates expenses at $3.7955 trillion) from the total receipts, we borrowed $1.3269 trillion to cover our debts last year, or roughly 35%. Thus, more than 1/3  of government programs were funded by debt. Assume that all expenses are treated equally by the government, which means that 35%, or $35 billion, of the Afghan War’s cost was borrowed last year, to be paid back by future taxes (with compounding interest). So just roughly, let’s say that we’re paying 3% interest on that $35 billion. In one year, that amounts to $1.05 billion and adds an extra few bucks to each person’s tax tab. Add that back to the cost of the war in FY 2012 and it doesn’t change things much for each taxpayer, but a billion dollars is still a billion dollars right?

In the grand scheme of things, $209.70 (plus a few bucks for interest) per person may not seem like much. But let’s look at it another way.

What else could we have done with $3.7 trillion?

War costs could have created 9 million homes' worth of clean energyWith the $3.7 trillion we’ve spent on the combined wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could have built 2,919,615.38 MW of utility scale wind power (cost of installed MW of utility scale wind farm from Windustry.org). Assuming conservatively that 1 MW of wind could power 300 U.S. households, and offset 2,600 tons of carbon dioxide, that means we could have powered 8.758 million U.S. homes and offset 75.91 million tons of carbon dioxide. For those nearly 9 million U.S. households, the price of electricity would be stable. For those nearly 9 million U.S. households, we’d never have to drill for natural gas or mine for coal ever again.

Portugal surpassed 70% clean energy recently. The U.S. lags behind, and as a result, we’re always scrambling for solutions that are both short sighted and inefficient. Would we really be concerned about energy sources from Keystone XL or anywhere else if we would have nearly 9 million more U.S. homes powered by wind?

Afghan war image courtesy of DTN News on Flickr Creative Commons. Wind farm photo from Shutterstock.


About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.