Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meanwhile, the meter is still running

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber points to this excellent article by David Leonhardt in the NYT regarding the costs of the Iraq War. See What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy.

The NYT article links to two estimates by Wallsten and Kosec and Bilmes and Stiglitz. It also links to this 2002 paper, War With Iraq, by William Nordhaus. I love this prescient opening of the Nordhaus paper written before hostilities began.

The major benefits of a war are reckoned to be disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and removing a leadership that is unrelentingly hostile to the United States.

But what of the costs? Even asking such a question may be thought a sign of insufficient resolve at best and appeasement at worst. However, while cost estimates are often ignored when war is debated, most people recognize that the costs in dollars, and especially in blood, are acceptable only as long as they are low. If the casualty estimates mount to the thousands, if oil prices skyrocket, if a war pushes the economy into recession or requires a large tax increase, and if the United States becomes a pariah in the world because of callous attacks on civilian populations, then decisionmakers in the White House and the Congress might not post so expeditiously to battle.

Nordhaus then goes on to predict that a protracted war could cost as much as $1.9 trillion, a number consistent with the above cited estimates.

This may sound callous, but the Nordhaus paper absolutely convinced me the Iraq War was a gut shot gamble and that the folks in Washington did not have a clue as to what they were doing.

Meanwhile, sending 21,500 additional troops will cast around $200 billion dollars.

Let’s make the tax cuts permanent anyway. After all, the bill will not come due tomorrow. Let somebody else worry about their wallet rather than go through the painful exercise of emptying ours.


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