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Thursday, February 28, 2008


The cost of war

Faced with the latest estimate that the final cost of the war in Iraq will be a whopping $3 trillion, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto says:
"$3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn't his slide rule work that way?"
Well, personally I would use a calculator to solve this problem, not a slide rule, which isn't very good at addition and subtraction. 3000 people (more or less) were killed on 9/11 in the most spectacular terrorist attack we're likely to see, an attack that surely succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of any terrorist. A few hundred a year, most of them not Americans, would have been the likely result of doing nothing (beyond the "norm"). A reminder similar to what I've said before:
Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.
As for the "attacks that have already been prevented," I'm personally unconvinced that any of them rose to the level of anything even remotely resembling "attacks," rather than just wishful thinking, but even if it were true, none of those attacks were prevented by the invasion of Iraq.

On the other side, there are the 5000 dead Americans and "friends" (British, etc.) from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (I know that neither Bush nor Fratto, nor, sadly, the vast majority of Americans, give a rat's ass about the million dead Iraqis and Afghans). So the equation is $3 trillion + 5000 (and counting, clearly) - some probability of a few hundred dead a year (plus a much smaller probability of a larger number killed). If we like, we can convert the $3 trillion to the number of people whose lives would have been saved had the money been spent on better health care, and perhaps we'll even allow for some of the $3 trillion having been spent on, e.g., better airport and port security. We do not subtract out the 9/11 dead, by the way, because the invasion of Iraq (nor of Afghanistan) didn't prevent those; that horse had already left the barn.

All in all, a pretty poor "investment."

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