This Just In: Wars Are Expensive

May 18th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

A thoughtful piece in the latest New Yorker by David Remnick on the death of Bin Laden got me thinking about the costs of war.  Remnick wrote*:

“Bin Laden’s death underscores the question of why we go on losing young men and women daily in the defense of an indefensibly corrupt government in Kabul.”

I’ve heard people of all political stripes raise this question.  It’s a good one.  I don’t claim expertise that would offer deep insights into the decision, but like many people, I thought we were in Afghanistan to get OBL and Al Qaeda.   Those kick-butt Navy Seals dispatched the former and there are allegedly hardly any Al Qaeda left in Afghanistan.  At this point, I for one can’t even really say what winning would look like.

But what I do know is what we’re spending on the Mideast wars.  The President’s budget includes the numbers (see Table S-3), as shown in the chart below.  2010-2012 sums to about half-a-trillion, and the “out years” include a placeholder of $50 billion per year, which is likely to prove highly optimistic, at least for the next few years, unless we quickly change gears.   (Stiglitz/Bilmes’ estimates of these costs, which are much more inclusive, are in the trillions.)

Source: OMB (link above)

So, add “opportunity costs” to Remnick’s question.   With everyone in this town clamoring for spending cuts, this one looks a lot better to me than most of the others.

*Word’s spell checker recognizes Bin Laden but not Remnick, which I found slightly unsettling.

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2 comments in reply to "This Just In: Wars Are Expensive"

  1. Simon says:

    Look at what we created the last time we rushed out of Afghanistan when we thought the job was over.. maybe it makes a little sense to invest in the future instead of setting ourselves up for another multi-trillion dollar (and thousands of lives) terrorist attack.

  2. mere mortal says:

    “*Word’s spell checker recognizes Bin Laden but not Remnick, which I found slightly unsettling.”

    I doubt that your computer has a predilection for terrorists, it’s more likely due to the fact that the terrorist’s name is also two common words.

    The bin I bought to hold my socks is now laden with my dirty laundry.

    Welcome to the conversation, I look forward to reading more of your insights, which so far have been excellent.