Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

The Economist: Iraq cost US $25K per household

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-03-14

Calculations for Australia would be interesting… a piece in "The Economist on the dollar impact of the Iraq war.

" (2008-03-13)

Suppose that, five years ago, George Bush had asked every American household to stump up $25,000 to pay for an imminent war on Iraq.  How would they have responded?

The article considers the direct costs, plus care and compensation to dead/wounded soldiers and their families, etc, etc, as well as…

It would also have allowed America to subsidise the price of oil by $10 a barrel—offsetting the disruption to Iraq’s supply.

The costs weren’t calculated by yet another peacenik group, but by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winner in economics, and Linda Bilmes, a budget and public finance expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  The list of things he examines to arrive at the $3 trillion cost is extensive, and rather than merely adding a host of things, they They do subtract the cost of enforcing the no-fly zones over the country.

Keeping a big force in the region—big enough to cow the dictator into letting weapons inspectors do their job—would not have been cheap, although with hindsight the strategy looks like a bargain…For example, the world now knows for sure that Saddam will never lay his hands on weapons of mass destruction. That knowledge may not be worth $3 trillion. But it is surely worth something.

One thing I cannot see in the list is some of the more consequential damages hinted at by recent "Tourism Competitiveness", which looks not only at exchange rates, facilities, but cultural items including the attractiveness of the population to international tourists.  It’s worth noting that the just-released calculations had Australia skyrocket to number 4, from number 13 when Howard was PM.  Perhaps the world’s opinion of Australians has changed knowing we voted, in large part, on signing Kyoto and moderating the extent to which we bend over and drop our strides for the pleasure of US presidents.

The final word on Stiglitz’s book by The Economist is a beauty, and has implications for all countries, all politicians, and by extension, all peoples.

But a government contemplating war should surely provide a credible advance estimate of the final bill, akin to what Mr Stiglitz and Ms Bilmes have done. If they cannot, it is a good sign they have not fully weighed the implications of their venture. If so, perhaps they should not undertake it at all.


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