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I've come across a number of articles, such as Americans Have Spent Enough Money On A Broken Plane To Buy Every Homeless Person A Mansion, that suggest that if we took all the money that we spent on the F-35 jet, every homeless person in the US could have been given a $600,000 home:

With the vast amounts spent so far on the aircraft, the United States could have worked wonders, including providing every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home.

It’s hard to argue against the need to modernize aircraft used to defend the country and counter enemies overseas, especially if you’re a politician. But the Joint Strike Fighter program has been a mess almost since its inception, with massive cost overruns leading to its current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion

Could this be true, or is someone twisting the numbers somewhere along in the calculation?

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    To the answerers: As usual, we don't allow theoretical answers. Go find the source of this claim or some economist that disputes it. Do not attempt the "cost/number of people" division. 3 answers have been deleted because of this.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:15
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    @Sklivvz if we give a reference explaining how division works, then can we divide?
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:31
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    Just out of curiosity- why is the division forbidden?
    – ARM
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:34
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    Is Are there enough unused houses in America for each homeless person to have six? a good example of an answer to this type of question? It sources the number of houses, the number of homeless people, and works out the actual ratio. Or is that type of answer now verboten?
    – Bobson
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 21:25
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    @Sklivvz It sounds like you want us to work out, or find a paper on, the cost of a govt program to give houses to the homeless. While that would be best, I think division is fine for a first order approximation when the numbers are backed up with primary sources (F-35 budget, housing vacancies & prices, homeless demographics). Mass deletion of well-sourced, up-voted answers that laid out their assumptions is very heavy handed. Deletion was not required, discussion was. I did not understand the moderator's issues with my answer and so could not adapt to them before it was deleted.
    – Schwern
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 22:51

1 Answer 1

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The reference linked in the OP says:

With the full amount spent on the F-35 at its disposal, the U.S. could afford to purchase every person on the streets a $664,000 home.

the reference states:

On any given night in 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded, there were an estimated 600,000 homeless Americans living on the streets.

The reference states that:

current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion

$398.6 billion divided by 600,000 = $664,333

So it is clear that the reference is arriving at the statement "the U.S. could afford to purchase every person on the streets a $664,000 home" by dividing the total acquisition cost by the estimated number of homeless people.

The flaw in the statement is the $398.6 billion is not money that has been spent. Instead, this is the money expected to be spent through 2037. As explained in the Reuters article Pentagon needs $12.6 billion per year through 2037 for F-35:

the Pentagon was expected to shell out $316 billion through 2037 on the remaining development and purchase of the radar-evading warplane, on top of billions of dollars already spent, for a total program cost of around $400 billion

So, the fact that only $84 billion (not $398.6 billion ) has been spent so far makes the value $664,000 (or $600,000) be an exaggeration.

In summary, that fact that the OP is written in past tense terms ("vast amounts spent on the airplane so far", "money spent" and "could have been given a $600,000 home") but then uses future spending through 2037 to arrive at the $600,000 figure, makes the claim in the OP false.

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    Is your thesis that the claim is false because they confuse the total price with the currently paid amount? If so, this answer would be much better focusing on that, instead of attempting to guess how they arrived to the 600k figure. Unless the spend is correct, the rest of the answer is relatively irrelevant.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 9:08
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    @Sklivvz Yes, my point is that the values "$600,000" and "$664,000" are false because they use the past tense word "spent" and the total acquisition price "$398.6 billion" which is mostly future spending.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:13
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    Indeed, with the updated figure of $84 Billion, we could only buy every homeless person a measly $140,000 house, not a $600,000 one. Commented May 2, 2015 at 8:30
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    @JeremySalwen - since this is a real economy and not an arithmetic cost, not likely. Buying THAT many homes would drive up the house prices significantly, so you can't simply purchase $140k houses in unlimited quantities in a real economy. In addition, we have an offset that this $84B wasn't just thrown down the toilet - it was spent. Into the US economy (e.g. used to purchase labour and materials, which paid people's salaries). If you take that out, you're taking that amount of the economy with complicated results.
    – user5341
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 18:14
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    I think what you mean to say is that $140k will buy you smaller/lower quality houses as time goes on. Considering 14 million homes are vacant in the US, buying 0.6 million homes is in no sense "an unlimited quantity" of homes, and would not raise the price of homes an "unlimited" amount. And I have no idea why you think F35 spending is the only spending that is "spent" into the U.S. economy. Buying homes, for example, would be another way to spend it into the US economy... Commented May 7, 2015 at 2:43

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