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Putting the Cost of COVID-19 in Perspective

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Cost of COVID-19

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Putting the Economic Cost of COVID-19 in Perspective

When it comes to the toll on human life, mental well-being, and any long-term complications, the true cost of COVID-19 can be difficult to quantify.

That said, from a purely economic angle, researchers can and do examine these things—as well as economic data like unemployment and lost GDP, to assign dollar figures to the pandemic.

Using data from a study out of Harvard University, these visualizations focus on putting the economic cost of COVID-19 in the U.S. in perspective. To help us understand the immense price associated with a pandemic, the study looked at other comparables like the costs of running America’s longstanding war on terror.

Cost of COVID-19 vs. post 911 wars

The Cost of COVID-19

Since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March 2020, job loss has been one of the most significant consequences. Unemployment claims in the U.S. have recently reached a total of 60 million, while lost GDP is estimated to be around $7.6 trillion.

Unemployment, uncertainty, lost loved ones, and lost social connections, have led to spikes in depression and anxiety. In April 2020, around 40% of U.S. adults reported having at least one of these mental illnesses. Based on the sheer number of people struggling, the cost of mental health impairment could be as high as $1.6 trillion, according to these researchers.

CategoryCost (Billions)
Lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP)$7,592
Premature Death$4,375
Long-Term Health Impairment$2,572
Mental Health Impairment$1,581
Total$16,120

The economic value of a human life can be put in terms of ‘statistical lives’, a notion used in both American and global health policy. While human life is priceless, the value tied to one using this metric sits between $7-$10 million. Even when using the lower end of the scale, the cost of premature death due to COVID-19 is estimated to be $4.4 trillion.

Finally, when looking at the long-term healthcare costs that could impact people who contract COVID-19, the price comes out to almost $2.6 trillion. These costs will go on for decades as certain lifelong conditions can emerge out of COVID-19, like respiratory and cardiovascular issues.

Many of these conditions could also end up causing premature deaths, drawing out the total cost of COVID-19 even further.

The Cost of War

cost of war example

Both a global pandemic and a war have long-term health consequences and are extremely pricey.

The estimated cost of the post-9/11 wars rises to over $6 trillion. This is measured by the spending of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and USAID. The estimate also takes into consideration current and future spending on medical and disability care for veterans, the cost of war appropriations and spending, the estimated interest on borrowing for different departments, and the spending the Department of Homeland Security has done in order to prevent and respond to terrorism.

CategoryCost (Billions)
Department of Defense$1,959
State Department/USAID$131
Estimated Interest on Borrowing for DOD and State Dept OCO Spending $925
Estimated Increases to DOD Base Budget Due to Post-9-11 Wars$803
"OCO for Base” a new category of spending in FY2019 and FY2020$100
Medical and Disability Care for Post-9/11 Veterans $437
Homeland Security Spending for Prevention and Response to Terrorism $1,054
Total War Appropriations and War-Related Spending through FY 2020$5,409
Estimated Future Obligations for Veterans Medical and Disability FY2020 –FY2059 $1,000
Total War-Related Spending through FY2020 and Obligations for Veterans$6,409

Medical and disability care for veterans from the post-9/11 wars specifically comes out to $437 billion, with estimated future obligations for their care going up to $1 trillion.

The increases to the Department of Defense’s budget was $803 billion thanks to the post 9/11 wars, and the Department of Homeland Security has spent more $1.05 trillion on terrorism prevention and response.

While the costs associated with war are immense, and while the consequences of fighting in a war are usually lifelong, the estimated price is still about $10 trillion cheaper than the cost of COVID-19 in the United States.

Throwing Money at the Problem?

The short-term solution to COVID-19 seems to be vaccine investment, with the U.S. currently purchasing more than one billion doses. Vaccines could spell the return to a more normal life, both in terms of physical health and the health of the economy.

While economic recovery is on the horizon, the U.S—and other nations around the globe—will continue to pay the cost of COVID-19 for years to come.

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War

Visualized: Top 15 Global Tank Fleets

Heavily armed and armored, the modern tank is a versatile and mobile weapons platform, and a critical piece of contemporary warfare. 

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Teaser image for an dot matrix chart of the top 15 global tank fleets, broken down by main battle tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and storage, showing that the U.S. is number one, by a wide margin.

The Top 15 Global Tank Fleets

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Heavily armed and armored, the modern tank is a versatile and mobile weapons platform, and a critical piece of contemporary warfare.

This visualization shows the top 15 global tank fleets, using data from the 2024 Military Balance report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Let’s take an in-depth look at the top three fleets:

1. United States

As the world’s pre-eminent military power, it’s perhaps no surprise that the United States also has the largest tank fleet, by a wide margin.

In total, they have just over 45,000 armored fighting vehicles in operation, along with 2,640 main battle tanks (MBTs), and 12,800 vehicles in storage, of which 2,000 are main battle tanks.

CategoryVehiclesGlobal rank
Main battle tanks2,6404
Armored reconnaissance1,7451
Infantry fighting vehicles3,2623
Armored personnel carriers10,6441
Amphibious assault vehicles1,4011
Armored utility vehicles28,4451
Storage12,8001
Total60,9371

The U.S. is internalizing the lessons from the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, where Western-supplied anti-tank weapons and massed Ukrainian artillery have been cutting Russian tanks to pieces. As a result, the U.S. recently canceled an upgrade of the M1 Abrams in favor of a more ambitious upgrade.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is nervously eyeing a more confident China and a potential clash over Taiwan, where air and naval forces will be critical. However, a recent war game showed that Taiwanese mechanized ground forces, kitted out with American-made tanks and armored fighting vehicles, were critical in keeping the island autonomous.

2. Russia

According to Oryx, a Dutch open-source intelligence defense website, at time of writing, Russia has lost almost 2,800 main battle tanks since invading Ukraine. Considering that in the 2022 edition of the Military Balance, Russia was estimated to have 2,927 MBTs in operation, those are some hefty losses.

Russia has been able to maintain about 2,000 MBTs in the field, in part, by increasing domestic production. Many defense plants have been taken over by state-owned Rostec and now operate around the clock. Russia is also now spending a full third of their budget on defense, equivalent to about 7.5% of GDP.

At the same time, they’ve also been drawing down their Soviet-era stockpiles, which are modernized before being sent to the front. Just how long they can keep this up is an open question; their stockpiles are large, but not limitless. Here is what their storage levels look like:

Category20232024YOY change
Main battle tanks5,0004,000-20.0%
Armored reconnaissance1,000100-90.0%
Infantry fighting vehicles4,0002,800-30.0%
Armored personnel carriers6,0002,300-61.7%
Total16,0009,200-42.5%

3. China

China holds the third overall spot and top place globally for the number of main battle tanks in operation. Untypically, the People’s Liberation Army has no armored vehicles in storage, which perhaps isn’t surprising when you consider that China has been rapidly modernizing its military and that stockpiles usually contain older models.

China also has one of the world’s largest fleets of armored fighting vehicles, second only to the United States. Breaking down that headline number, we can also see that they have the largest number of light tanks, wheeled guns, and infantry fighting vehicles. 

CategoryVehiclesGlobal rank
Main battle tanks4,7001
Light tanks1,3301
Wheeled guns1,2501
Infantry fighting vehicles8,2001
Armored personnel carriers3,6045
Airborne combat vehicles1802
Amphibious assault vehicles9902
Total20,2543

This is equipment that would be integral if China were to make an attempt to reunify Taiwan with the mainland by force, where lightly armored mechanized units need to move with speed to occupy the island before Western allies can enter the fray. It’s worth noting that China also has one of the world’s largest fleets of amphibious assault vehicles.

End of the Tank?

Many commentators at the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, were quick to predict the end of the tank, however, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the tank’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

With the U.S. and China both developing remote and autonomous armored vehicles, tanks could be quite different in the future, but there is nothing else that matches them for firepower, mobility, and survivability on the modern battlefield today.

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