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Looking for a Glass of Water and a Place to Shit

Photo by woodleywonderworks | CC by 2.0

A recent Brown University Study showed that, between 2001 and 2016, the cost of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan has cost the US $3.6 trillion.

~ Ramzy Baroud

Imagine if you will that the U.S. had instead put $3.6 trillion into measures to improve infrastructure around the world. It has been estimated by the UNDP that to give the entire world fresh water and sanitation would cost half a trillion. That leaves $3.1 trillion for further projects. Now what would the U.S. have gained by being the country known for giving the entire world a glass a water and a place to shit? Think on it.

The first obvious effect would be a tremendous uplift to U.S. prestige. That is so obvious as to be unnecessary to argue. The public relations value of such an act would echo for generations. In addition, it would give the U.S. reputation a saintly glow that would render it all but immune to attacks of any kind. Who after all would sympathize with any who attacked such a country? Who would not come to its defense?

This of course would only be the beginning as there is $3.1 trillion still to go. The next thing the U.S. could do would be to give light to the world. I.e. To create small scale solar and wind power along with battery storage so that every village of the world no matter how remote would be able to light their way through the night. One of the biggest obstacles to schooling in the undeveloped world is that the children cannot read and study after sundown. I know of no studies as to what this would cost. What one can say with assurance is that as compared to the massive infrastructure requirements for water and sanitation the costs would be less for such an initiative. Let’s say $300 billion just to be safe. That leaves $2.8 trillion.

So now the U.S. is the country that has given the entire world a glass of water and a place to shit and the country that has lit the night. Again the goodwill that this would create is hard to overestimate. Again the U.S. would massively enhance its reputation and further immunize itself as a target. Again, who would sympathize with anyone who struck such a country?

And still there is $2.8 trillion left to spend. It was properly pointed out long ago that you can feed a man for a day if you give him a fish but feed him for life if you teach him to fish. Simultaneously we are as a species in dire need of sequestering carbon. So imagine that the U.S. funded a global program for biochar and soil remediation as well as anti-desertification and reforestation programs. This could be combined with programs for algae ponds and the sustainable harvesting of vegetation for the creation of biofuels. This would allow over a billion people without the means to afford fossil fuels to power machines to increase the efficiency of their work thus greatly increasing their quality of life. Let us wildly overspend on these programs to reflect the speed at which they need to be implemented. After all a recent paper in Nature put our chances of staying below 1.5C at 1%. So let us imagine the U.S. tossing a trillion into these pots.

Now the U.S. is the country that gave the world a glass a water, a place to shit, lit the night and taught humanity how to fish – sustainably! Such a country would not only now be fully immunized against attack but would find itself widely viewed as a true paragon. A country that not only led the world but was lauded by billions for doing so. A country feted around the world as truly exceptional. And still there is $1.8 trillion more to spend. What to do, what to do? Imagine again I suppose.

Imagine the U.S. turning a helping hand towards its own populace. Seeing among its young a voracious yearning for meaningful work, for adventure and travel, so it sets up a U.S.O style program that agrees to pay all post-secondary education for anyone agreeing to serve a five-year period as a teacher either overseas or in under-served areas at home. It was recently pointed out that every student in the U.S. could go to school tuition free for the cost of the increase in the Pentagon funding that was just approved. ($80 billion) The program just suggested would only be a fraction of that. Even at $20 billion a year that barely dents the remaining $1.8 trillion.

So, the U.S. further agrees to match funds for any government that sets up a similar national program. The goal would be to create 100% literacy and numeracy in the U.S. and around the world within a generation. How many Einstein’s, Newton’s, Mozart’s, has the world lost because they had the misfortune to live and die without the skills needed to learn, to better themselves and to contribute to us all? How many have turned to crime, violence, suicide because they faced a future with no hope? So much lost human potential So much wasted genius. So let’s spend it all.

The U.S. is now the country that turned its hand to maximizing the potential of all of its citizens as well as contributing to maximizing the potential of every human on the planet. Now the U.S. is the nation who has given a glass a water and a place to shit, lit the night, taught humanity how to fish, and given every person in the world a ladder with which to climb. It is impossible to imagine that the rest of the world could allow such a public relations offensive to go unmatched. The rest of the world at a minimum would be forced by its own populations to contribute to this effort. Meaning the $3.8 trillion would grow by trillions. Even so the U.S. would gain the lion’s share of the credit as these countries would be seen as followers of the exceptional nation. Forced into following and so remaining in the shadow of the now in fact leader of the free world. All by following one of the oldest precepts in the books, leading by example.

All of this for the same amount as has been spent bombing some of the poorest nations on the planet. A program of hellfire and destruction that has seen terrorism increase globally by seven-fold since 9/11. A program that has seen every country touched by the U.S. war machine made immensely poorer. None of which were rich to start with. What does one imagine is the view of the U.S. by the citizens of these countries. What does one imagine is the reputation of the U.S. by the citizens of those countries that are neighbor to this destruction? Overwhelmed as they are by the flood of millions of refugees. Safe to say the answer is, “Not good”. So not only did the U.S. spend trillions of its treasure, and shed buckets of blood, the net result was rubble, misery, and at the very least much of the blame laid at the U.S. door for a poorer and more dangerous world.

This doesn’t even include the $5 trillion spent on nuclear bombs since WWII plus the $1 trillion more that Obama committed on his way out the door. $6 trillion and the best we will ever be able to say is that we never made use of it. Why? Why would the U.S. spend its money so unproductively, so counter-productively when there are so many obviously better ways to spend the money? Ways that both raise the image, prestige, and influence of the U.S. at the same time as making the country immeasurably safer?

There is unfortunately a very simple answer. One that is as straightforward to list as it is hard to change. The trillion spent on war and weapons goes into the pockets of a very small number of people. Large fortunes for small numbers. The $3.6 trillion that I imagine spending does no such thing. It is instead spread very widely and so offers no opportunity for the creation of large fortunes.

This is our world in a nutshell. Our governments, our business classes, our entire economic and social order is dedicated to creating and defending large fortunes for small numbers. Nothing is allowed to stand in the way of this outcome. No matter how mutually beneficial, how morally obvious, how easily within our reach. The reality of ecological collapse will change this dynamic sooner or later. I can’t say I am any more optimistic than that paper in Nature that we will do so on the timeline required by physics and biochemistry. But whether we do it voluntarily or we are forced to it by scarcity, either way it will be done. That is not in question. What is in question is how many of us will still have access to a glass of water and place to shit by century’s end.

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