‘Has the US Defense Department killed a million Americans since 2001?’

John Quiggin crunches the numbers for us and puts the actual estimate of foregone domestic health and safety due to spending on armaments and war at somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 lives in the last decade:

The numbers are quite striking. The ‘peacetime’ defense budget is around $500 billion a year, and the various wars of choice have cost around $250 billion a year for the last decade (very round numbers here). Allocated to domestic risk reduction, that money would save 150000 American lives a year.

So, since 9/11, US defense spending has been chosen in preference to measures that would have saved 1.5 million American lives. That’s not a hypothetical number – it’s 1.5 million people who are now dead but who could have been saved.

More seriously, it’s not really plausible to think of eliminating defense spending altogether. But if the US spent 2 per cent of GDP like other rich countries (around $250 billion a year) and didn’t engage in wars of choice, it could have saved a million US lives over the past decade.

A still more serious objection is that money saved on defense wouldn’t be used to save lives anyway. …

First, even if the money was just handed back in tax cuts, around 15 per cent would probably be allocated to health care and more to things like education that are positively correlated with health status. Rounding to 20 per cent, that would still have saved something like 100,000 lives over a decade.

Just to put those numbers in context, that is somewhere between 27 and 274 lives at home per day. If you spent the money saving lives abroad, you get a lot more bang for the buck. Well, actually, less ‘bang’ as such since military spending is down, but it costs less — 100 time less he tells us — to save lives in poor countries, so the savings could have saved a million lives in a decade after all.

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3 Responses to ‘Has the US Defense Department killed a million Americans since 2001?’

  1. dfc says:

    Prof. Froomkin,

    I have been a long time (since the habermas and APA/ICANN articles) reader/fan of your blog. I’m a little surprised by the sensationalist title. When did DoD appropriate the power of the purse? I thought that power was held by another branch of the federal government.


  2. dfc says:

    Prof. Froomkin,
    I recognize that you used quotation marks for the title. However in the post you place the numbers in a context devoid of any discussion of the power of the purse or that DoD follows the orders of the Commander in Chief. I apologize if my comment was nit-picky.

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