Before people start getting too excited about the reported $60 billion price tag for President Obama's proposal for two years of free community college, let's see if we can make that number more meaningful. Sixty billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. Usually when critics want to complain about some government expenditure or another, they start describing the size of the stacks of hundred dollar bills it would take to add up to that amount. I for one don't find those kinds of comparisons very helpful, however, because they don't translate the overall expenditure into each person's share. So let's keep in mind that since there are more than 300 million of us, each of us is only being asked to cough up a small percentage. Let's remember also that the $60 billion is over ten years, so the actual cost is only an average of $6 billion per year. That is about $18 per year for every man, woman and child in the United States.
If that still sounds like a lot (maybe you have a big family), let's try a few other comparisons. Americans reportedly spend nearly $60 billion per year (that's ten times the cost of the community college program) on our pets. Do we care at least one-tenth as much about having an educated work force as we do about our pets?
Halloween candy. I'm not saying this is not a worthwhile investment. Dentists especially obtain a huge multiplier effect from this expenditure. I'm just pointing out that for one holiday every year we all run out and purchase the equivalent of approximately one third of the cost of providing free community college to everyone who wants to go for two years.
We spend about $11 billion per year on bottled water. Imagine if we could give that up; we could pay for almost four years of free community college for everyone who wants to go, and we wouldn't be any the poorer.
Almost $100 billion on beer, $7 billion on ATM fees, $11 billion on coffee, $34 billion gambling. The list goes on and on.
When I start seeing a lot of complaining about these kinds of expenditures, then I will start to take seriously the complaints that we can't afford to provide free community college for people willing to work for it.