Thursday, January 05, 2006

Re-Tracing Footprints

Back in November, I cited Linda Bilmes' article in the Atlantic which predicted that the costs of the Iraq war would eventually enter the $1-2 trillion dollar range. Over at the TPM Cafe, there is a bit more explanation of the nature of the work done by Bilmes, together with Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, which is being presented at a conference of academics.

A new study by two leading academic experts suggests that the costs of the Iraq war will be substantially higher than previously reckoned. In a paper presented to this week’s Allied Social Sciences Association annual meeting in Boston MA., Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes and Columbia University Professor and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz calculate that the war is likely to cost the United States a minimum of nearly one trillion dollars and potentially over $2 trillion.

The study expands on traditional budgetary estimates by including costs such as lifetime disability and health care for the over 16,000 injured, one fifth of whom have serious brain or spinal injuries. It then goes on to analyze the costs to the economy, including the economic value of lives lost and the impact of factors such as higher oil prices that can be partly attributed to the conflict in Iraq. The paper also calculates the impact on the economy if a proportion of the money spent on the Iraq war were spent in other ways, including on investments in the United States

“Shortly before the war, when Administration economist Larry Lindsey suggested that the costs might range between $100 and $200 billion, Administration spokesmen quickly distanced themselves from those numbers,” points out Professor Stiglitz. “But in retrospect, it appears that Lindsey’s numbers represented a gross underestimate of the actual costs.”
One thought other than the obvious issues raised in terms of what this price tag should do to the financial costs/long term benefits analysis: naturally, the media producers and watchers tend to focus on the death toll suffered by American soldiers which, tragically, is currently at roughly 2,190 and counting. But one thing flagged in this excerpt, which a focus on the death toll elides, is the fact that over 3,000 soldiers have suffered "serious brain or spinal injuries." Add to that figure the number of soldiers who have lost a limb, lost the use of vital senses (hearing, sight, etc.) and have suffered severe mental illness as a result of their tenure, and the actual human costs, like their financial counterpart, begin to take on a larger dimension than what some reporting might reveal.

And this says nothing of the human toll on the Iraqis themselves - which includes many tens of thousands dead, with commensurate numbers suffering from the massive mental and physical injuries short of death listed above.

(cross-posted on American Footprints)

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