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Drug War Cost Clock updated for 2011
(Also available as Macintosh Dashboard Widget)

Updated March 2, 2011

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If you're concerned about the the government's continuation of the failed War on Drugs and its enormous and growing cost to taxpayers, you might want to watch our Drug War Cost Clock, located near the top of this page and each page in our Drugs Section.

If you have a Mac, you might also want to download our Drug War Cost Clock widget (v2.0.11). It's the widget form of the clock that appears near the top of this page. The widget will automatically update itself from the web each year, based upon the new budget numbers, for the year.

Note: In the widget's version number, the last two digits represent the two digit budget year upon which the text that is to be found on the back side of the widget is based. The first part of the version number represents the actual software version. I note this, because the version number has nothing to do with the calculations. That means that you can continue to use any version after v2.0.11 for many years, without it being necessary to download a new widget each year. The only thing that changes is the text on the back of the widget.

Using data from the two most authoritative sources available, on the the monetary cost of the Drug War, the Drug War Cost Clock displays in real time, the amount of money that the government has spent, in the bogus name of fighting the War on Drugs, since the beginning of the current year, to the current second. Unfortunately, there is no way to calculate the devastating social costs of the government abuses that the Drug War has spawned, like making the United States the nation that imprisons a greater percentage of its population than any other nation on Earth.

Based upon state and federal data for fiscal year 2011, every second that the page is open the Drug War Cost Clock registers another $1,716.77 that is spent by our government each and every second of every day, as a visual reminder of just how much of our money the government is wasting on a Drug War that has only resulted in an increase in the availability of drugs to our children, a significant increase in drug related violence and a severe reduction in our rights. The widget version counts the Drug War Cost as long as the Dashboard is open. The back side of the widget has a scrollable window that details where the data for these calculations originated (an abbreviated version of what's on this page).

Some might notice that the number that we use for our calculations is slightly lower than other drug war cost numbers that you may find, cited by various sources. This is because it is our policy at Action America, to use only the most conservative numbers that we can positively stand behind. When two equally authoritative sources disagree by a small number, as often happens, we will always use the number that helps our position least. It's not that we want to help the government look any less incompetent. We just don't want to leave any room for big-government types to accuse us of injecting our bias into the numbers. Besides, even the most conservative numbers are still overwhelming.

We encourage you to follow the links on this page and learn, for yourself, where the numbers come from, so you can make up your own mind on how bad the situation really is.

The Drug War Cost Clocks will all automatically reset every January. However, that will not update the new budget numbers that climb higher every year. For that, we try to update the Drug War Cost clock budget numbers every year, soon after the new budget numbers are made available. At that time, all of the Drug War Cost Clocks, including the Macintosh widget version, will find the new data and update its calculation base.

The federal part of the Drug War budget number comes directly from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, including the National Drug Control Strategy Budgets (2002-2009) (adjusted after 2003, for budget structure changes implemented in 2004), and subsequent budgets, the latest of which is the 2011 budget, which indicates that the federal government will spend at least $23.44 billion on the War on Drugs in 2011.

It's important to note that after a 2003 federal budget calling for more than $19.2 billion dollars for the War on Drugs kindled a significant public outcry, the Bush White House decided that they had to down-play how much the government was wasting on the failed War on Drugs. So in February of 2002, the same month that the White House issued the FY 2003 Drug War budget, they revised the drug budget structure, effectively hiding a significant portion of future Drug War costs in other areas of the budget. The result was as follows.

The FY 2003 federal drug control budget called for $19.2 Billion for drug control spending. The FY 2004 federal drug control budget called for only $11.7 billion, yet called it an increase of $440.3 million over the President's FY 2003 request of $11.2 billion. Notice the difference?

The president's FY 2003 budget actually "requested" $19.2 billion, yet the FY 2004 budget "claims" that only $11.2 billion was "requested" in 2003. Hmmm? By just "saying" that they requested less money for the Drug War, than they really spent in the previous year, they magically make $8 billion in real drug war funding disappear into other areas of the budget. Can you say, "spin"?

Since the budget items that were moved off of the drug control budget were costs that were definitely related to the War on Drugs (such as travel expenses for DEA agents), we had to come up with a reasonable means to get those numbers back into the total. So that you may understand the validity of our numbers, here is what we've done.

We started with the accurate $19.2 billion, requested in the FY 2003 budget and calculated the difference between that number and the number that the 2004 drug control budget "claimed" was requested in 2003 ($19.18B - $11.24B = 7.94B). We then added that $7.94B back into the 2004 requested amount. Then, to be even more conservative, when the government later stated that they used $19 million less than expected, in 2003, we subtracted that number from the earlier calculated difference and recalculated the 2004 total. I know that was not necessary, but being that conservative with the number, makes arguing against our number even more difficult.

From that point forward, we simply added the stated annual actual increase to the previous year's total, to get the current years's total. The last year is always that year's "requested" amount, until the next year's budget gives us an "actual" amount.

For 2011, the federal portion of the Drug War budget will amount to
$23.44 billion.

You must realize that we have no way of knowing just how much the cost of the items that were removed from the drug control budget have increased. But, since the cost of everything has increased, we know that those costs have also increased. However, since we have no way of knowing what those increases amount to and we do not want to be accused of injecting our own bias, we have once again, taken a conservative, no-growth assumption on those costs, in our calculations. If we were to be able to determine the actual growth of those other costs and include them, the Drug War Cost Clock would certainly tick at a much faster rate.

Take a look at the Historical Drug Control Funding table for FY 2002 to FY 2009 and you will see most of the numbers to which I have referred. However, you have to look back at the actual 2003 and 2004 budgets, to see where the government waved their magic wand and made $8 billion in drug war costs disappear. But as with slight of hand, those costs didn't disappear. They're just hidden in the other hand.

The state portion of the Drug War costs comes from a report titled, "Shoveling Up: The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets", authored by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, in 2001, which in its press release and on page 3, shows that states spent $30.7 billion in 1998 on "the burden of substance abuse on the justice system -- for incarceration, probation and parole, juvenile justice and criminal and family court costs of substance involved offenders". In other words, that $30.7 billion represents only "justice-related" (Drug War) expenses in state drug budgets.

Simply due to inflation, that number has probably gone up significantly, since 1998. But because we want to stick with only solid numbers and stay conservative in any assumptions, we use only that $30.7 billion number for our calculations. Should more recent information become available, it will be included in a future release of the Drug War Cost Clock.

So, add that $30.7 billion that the states will spend, to the federal amount of $23.44 billion and you'll get $54.14 billion total, which means that the War on Drugs will cost American taxpayers...

$1,716.77 each and every second of 2011.

The Drug War Cost Clock, at the top of this page, will click over that amount every second, as long as this page is open. The Macintosh Drug War Cost Clock widget is designed to be CPU friendly. In order to maximize functionality and minimize overhead, the widget recalculates every time you open Dashboard and continues to count up only for as long as Dashboard is open. As a courtesy, even though the calculations use a trivial amount of CPU time, this widget stops calculating, when the Dashboard is hidden.

If you have a Mac and you are running OS-X 10.4 or later, just download the zip file here (592kb), unzip it and drag the widget to your widgets folder. That's all there is to it. It will be instantly available on your Dashboard. As you move the cursor over the widget, you will see an italic " i " appear in the upper right corner. Click on the " i " to flip it over and see information about the widget. That information is what changes with each annual version increase.

Also, if you don't have a Mac, but just happen to know someone who does and is concerned about the terrible turn that the War on Drugs has taken, direct him to this page.

For more information on the failed War on Drugs and what can be done to improve matters, read our article The War on Drugs - Solution or Problem?

You might also want to check out the other widgets that Action America has produced. Visit our Downloads page.

Check out these excellent sources of information and commentary on this subject:

Drug War Facts - Just the Facts, but well sourced
America Locks Up 2 Millionth Inmate - It's a World Record!!!
Adolescent Drug Use and Drug Control Efforts
The War on Drugs Clock - It's ticking a shameful total
Recommendations of New Mexico Governor’s Drug Policy Advisory Group
The Effective National Drug Control Strategy 1999
Justice Policy Institute
Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR)
National Center for Health Statistics - recommended only for experienced researchers
Bureau of Justice Statistics Report on Prison Population


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