I’ve discussed before how reducing childhood exposure to lead affects everything from IQ and academic performance to crime rates. It is arguably one of the most crucial and successful environmental efforts in the U.S. of the twentieth century. So, if you’re the U.S. Congress, and the CDC’s Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is up for renewal, you:
1) fully fund the program to the tune of $30 million dollars.
2) enact the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation (pdf) that a one-time $28 billion dollar expenditure to remove all lead from the 4 million homes still containing it, a move that would pay for itself as a result of increased economic performance by healthier workers.
3) cut the CDC program by 94 percent.
The failure to solve the problem of toxic lead seems particularly odd because billions of dollars each year could be gained by eliminating lead from housing. A 2005 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed several cost-benefit analyses, all showing that eliminating lead from housing would save billions each year because I.Q. translates into earning power which, in turn, translates into tax revenues.
Here are some numbers from the Academy’s 2005 statement. There are 4 million homes in the U.S. needing lead removal or encapsulation. At $7000 to clean an average home, eliminating the lead paint problem would require a one-time investment of $28 billion. The savings would be $43 billion in the first year and each year thereafter because children with higher I.Q.s tend to get more schooling and then jobs with higher pay. So lead remediation would pay for itself in less than one year and would then save tens of billions each year thereafter (Grosse, 2002; Gould, 2009). An investment of $28 billion is less than the U.S. has spent every six months in Iraq for the past 8 years.
Other recent studies make the same point, but you get the idea — there’s a huge amount of money to be saved by ceasing to poison our children (Gould, 2009).
To state the reverse: We are forgoing billions of dollars in income and taxes each year in order to keep our urban children poisoned.
This is why misunderstanding the basics of how a fiat currency system matters. There is no need to worry about reducing deficits per se. It only matters if we outstrip the capacity of the real economy. Here, we would actually be improving the real economy in the long-term by increasing the capabilities of our future work force (as well as imposing a lower burden on current workers–who are also parents).
Or we can fixate on deficit reduction, and poison our children.