Feb 24, 2008

The Cost of Moral Corruption: $3 Trillion,

As we used to say in the insurance business, and that's just the minimum.

I can remember a little over two years ago that Joe Stieglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist, former chief economist for the world bank, and Linda Bilmes, an economist at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard projected the costs of the Iraq war at between $1.2 and $2 trillion dollars in their paper “The Economic Costs of the Iraq War: An Appraisal Three Years After the Beginning of the Conflict.” Just to establish context, this was in response to official government estimates that the cost of the war was going to be about $500 billion dollars. (The paper can be found here.)

What I found most important in their analysis back then was that they had included estimates of costs to take care of returning military casualties from the war, and other costs unrecognized by the usual government or mainstream media commentators. For example: hiring contractors to do work previously considered “soldierly” has increased costs, as have the cost of bonuses to retain trained soldiers who are thinking they could leave the army and become a contractor; or in another area, the loss to society of the full employment and productivity that would have been contributed had a soldier not been wounded and disabled; another was the money paid to oil producing nations for the oil to keep the war vehicles running: money which does not go into the economy of the US.

According to Stieglitz, he and Bilmes even adjusted their estimates downward a bit to account for the “benefits” of the war, such as that we no longer had to patrol the “no-Fly Zone” since Saddam was defanged. (For a good commentary on the paper, here's an excellent interview of Stieglitz by Charles M. Young in Rolling Stone.)

But of course, that was 2006. Two years later, it's not surprising to see that the estimated cost of the war has increased, but the increase appears to me to be disproportionately large. In the latest estimate, Stieglitz and Bilmes project the cost of the war to be $3 trillion dollars.

Their estimates are presented briefly in the Times (London) online in a guest editorial called “The Three Trillion Dollar War”. The piece is a quick view of their new book, of the same title, to be published in March, 2008 in the US. (It comes out this month in England, which accounts for the Times online including the cost of the War in Iraq in terms of the cost to Great Britain.)

What is astounding is that the direct costs of the war—not including the costs of taking care of the injured veterans, for instance, or other items yet to be accounted for, now exceeds the cost of the 12 year Vietnam war by about 30%, is ten times the cost of the first Gulf War, twice that of the First World War and is exceeded only by . . . well, let Stieglitz and Bilmes tell you in their own words :

The only war in our history which cost more was the Second World War, when 16.3 million U.S. troops fought in a campaign lasting four years, at a total cost (in 2007 dollars, after adjusting for inflation) of about $5 trillion (that's $5 million million, or £2.5 million million). With virtually the entire armed forces committed to fighting the Germans and Japanese, the cost per troop (in today's dollars) was less than $100,000 in 2007 dollars. By contrast, the Iraq war is costing upward of $400,000 per troop.

But remember, this is only the DIRECT cost of the war: the equipment, the ammo, the fuel, the bombs, the planes, the payment of salaries to the soldiers. The information that the Pentagon does not account for, the information that we can estimate by taking into account the overall impact of the war and our commitments to our soldiers—disability payments for the rest of their lives and the cost of medical care, for instance, or the cost of borrowing money to finance the war, to finance those disability payments, is tremendous.

You get the picture.

(Always keep in mind that The Bush administration--unlike FDR, and just like LBJ--has refused to raise taxes on those who could afford it (and the majority of whom probably strongly supported the war).

The information that is not entirely revealed, is not made transparent to us, must be ferreted out and highlighted by Stieglitz and Bilmes. Thank them for detailing the lack of transparency in our government on this criminal war.

The saddening thought is what Stieglitz and Bilmes say at the very end of their update:
A $3 trillion figure for the total cost strikes us as judicious, and probably errs on the low side. Needless to say, this number represents the cost only to the United States. It does not reflect the enormous cost to the rest of the world, or to Iraq.
Of course. Our government omits and forgets and disregards much. The candidates for President forget to talk about it—or they consciously avoid talking about it.

Only Dennis Kucinich, the conscience of the Democratic Presidential race, mentioned it when he had his limited chances to speak. Only Dennis Kucinich, for instance, mentioned that we have an obligation to pay war reparations to the people of the country we illegally invaded.

And how do you begin to calculate these reparations we owe in the greatest moral sense but will never ever get around even to calculating? What has been the cost to the Iraqi people? What will be the cost?

Here's one of them. Back in September Bill Moyers interviewed George Packer and Debra Amos, and Packer talked of the plight of Iraqi immigrant families:
When you talk to Iraqis now compared to at the beginning of the war they no longer say in six months things will get better as they used to or in a year things will get better. They now say in two decades. In other words, for an Iraqi, not really in my lifetime. It will be my children that see a better Iraq. That means they're making decisions now about what they have to do with their families in order to ride out a 20 year horror. And that means they're not going back to Iraq.
No, left out of the cost, as Stieglitz and Bilmes write, is the cost to the families of the dead Iraqis, the cost of the destroyed infrastructure, the cost of corruption and murder, the uncountable costs to the over Four Million refugees and internal refugees. It brings tears to my eyes to think of the injustice we are responsible for. There is no end to it. The accounting is obscured at the same time that it is open ended.

More to come . . .

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