Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative forgone (that is not chosen). -Wikipedia
So when you buy a vehicle for your police department that costs $33k when you could have bought one that costs $4k, the $29000 is your opportunity cost. It is not often thought about or talked about and not for no reason. It is not natural to look around yourself and wonder what the other options were and how much they cost.
But I recently spend a week in Iceland and I saw more guns, more cops, and more security people in the time it took to get out of Logan than I did in a week in Iceland. Further more, every last customs agent had a side arm. These were not rough and ready men standing at the doors with hard eyes scanning the room for terrorists. These were folks looking at produce to make sure there weren't any invasive species getting into the country. And aside from the side arm itself think about the cost of training, certifying and insuring all those glorified bag inspectors. At every international airport in the country, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I'm not much in the way of a smaller government kind of guy, but for fucks sake, these guys look at incoming bratwurst for a living.
I live in the 17th most densely populated incorporated place in the country and my police department saw fit to buy police interceptor SUV's. Not electric cars, or regular police cars or more bikes, but big shinny, Manly trucks. To what end? What is the benefit? Aside from the masculine pride of my local constabulary? How many kids could we feed, how many families could we put in shelters?
And these are just the illustrations that point at the larger issues in this country. Eisenhower warned us of this in 1961 but our current media-political system can't tell if adultery or the longest war in our history is more important. So I can't say that I'm surprised that they cant figure out how to talk about the opportunity cost of our overblown military budget.
**Watch this space for edits from my economist friends who will have to correct me on how I characterized the concept.**