Monday, June 13, 2011

6 Billion Stolen, 823 Billion Wasted

I know I only talk about climbing here, but as an economist, and a citizen, I feel the need to make some comment on this issue:

Following our successful invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US govt began to transfer billions and billions in cash to the country, in an effort to start rebuilding. Amazingly, the cargo bay of a C-130 can carry 2.4 Billion USD in $100 Bills. 20 such flights were made, delivering roughly $12 Billion is USD (apparently not all the flights were full).

Now, eight years later, the Petagon admits that it cannot, despite years of effort, account for $6.6 Billion of those dollars.

"The mystery is a growing embarrassment to the Pentagon, and an irritant to Washington's relations with Baghdad. "

"Embarrassment"? "Irritant"? To say the least!

Yes, the US Govt mislaid 66 Thousand Million dollars, big news...

BUT, it gets MUCH WORSE!

In addition to the 6.6B USD lost, there's the estimated 823B USD for which we CAN account. That is the total cost of military operations so far in Iraq. (Estimate by, including FY03-Requests for FY12)

There are many many estimates out there for the total cost of the Iraq War. Leading up to the invasion, White House adviser Lawrence Lindsey was fired for, among other things, predicted that the war might cost up to 100B USD. Administration estimates ranged from 50-60B USD.

So, as any economist might do, I figured I'd construct a cost/benefit analysis for this spending:

823,000,000,000 USD

Saddam Hussein is dead, and Iraq is a democracy

*This is obviously an EXTREMELY rough, and almost entirely insignificant, estimate. I based it off Wikipedia, estimating that Saddam killed ~1M of his own civilians during his 24yr rule. If he continued at that pace, he would have killed an additional 1/3M in the past 8yrs.

OK, obviously there's a ton more at play here. The COSTS list should be much longer:

What about the opportunity costs for US citizens who could have spent an average of $2,743 per person, had that money not been taxed and spent on Iraq?

The 823B USD cost estimate was actually the lower estimate I found in a few minutes of surfing the net. I don't have the time, resources, or inclination to do more research, but there were estimates of the total costs up to 3T USD.

Maybe the BENEFITS should be longer too? Surely,the increased defense spending has spurred domestic industry. But so would spending that amount of money on nearly anything, or simply leaving it to American citizens to spend themselves.

Furthermore, the "Benefit" of Iraqi democracy to America is questionable. If they choose to elect Islamists and ally themselves with Iran, does that not provide a training ground for anti-American terrorists?

I have intentionally left out any discussion of the inherent morality of the war. In 2003, I argued that we (the US and our allies) did have the moral right to invade Iraq. This was based on the fact that Saddam was an illegitimate ruler who massacred his own people, and appeared to pose a threat to the rest of the world.

There is a huge difference, though, between having a moral right to do something and having an obligation to do it. Any rational actor may morally pursue any number of actions, but should consider the costs and benefits of those actions.

I would argue, with the benefit of hindsight, that while we may have had the right to intervene in Iraq, we should not have, given the massive costs, and unclear benefits, of that action.

-Scott Bennett


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