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Middle-class peeves cost more money than exists

Statistics confirm our worst fears

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With state budgets we need to be more cautious. States are partly supported with federal money, so here we want only their combined income from taxes, which we estimate at $557bn.

Next we have the ongoing social cost of crime: that is, what we've got to spend on courts and trials and and cops and prisons and so on. That comes in at $1.7 trillion. But there seems to be some overlap here with items we're cataloging elsewhere, especially in the illegal drugs trade, so we're going to whack off $500bn - quite generously we might add - and calculate it at $1.2 trillion. That figure does not include the cost to businesses of theft and fraud, so we will be adding some (though not all) of those costs later.

So, let's recap the fixed costs of existing: we've got $6.74 trillion to work with, and inevitable expenses of $3.96 trillion. But surely, our remaining $2.78 trillion should take us a long way toward enjoying the good life.

Ah, but we are weak creatures, much given to human frailties, foibles, and vain desires. Our tendency to enjoy tobacco costs us $167bn per year in health costs and lost productivity. And mere second-hand smoke costs $10bn more.

Our penchant for alcoholic drink, a nourishing indulgence without which civilization itself would be impossible, robs us of $185bn in health costs and lost productivity. That alcohol also gave us the most important thinkers in human history should be a bonus, but as no one has bothered to calculate the monetary benefits to society of their various contributions, we remain unable to challenge these data. We've got to accept the loss.

Fast foods, and overeating in general, are a major problem that cost us $13bn in lost productivity, and $102bn in additional health costs. No word on the social windfall from all those McJobs keeping the illiterate busy.

Meat consumption, Puritanical psychotics want us to know, costs $1 trillion in medical expenses. But we're rejecting that outrageous bit of lunacy in favor of some barely-less outrageous lunacy, and are calculating the price at $61.4bn in medical costs.

Gambling is draining us too, but we need not calculate the actual sums wasted at the tables because, as the Grateful Dead observed, "one man gathers what another man spills," and no place better illustrates this postulate than the casino. Vegas losers create hundreds of thousands of decent jobs, and vast profits for casino stakeholders and shareholders. So we'll calculate only the downside of gambling: the bankruptcies, suicides, thefts, and frauds perpetrated by the newly-destitute, which comes in at a cheerful $54bn. A bargain if ever there was one.

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