2007 November 17 Saturday
Tyler Cowen On The Opportunity Costs Of Iraq Invasion

George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen, and co-author of the Marginal Revolution web log, has an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that the opportunity costs of the Iraq war are huge.

Set aside the question of what we could have accomplished at home with the energy and resources we've devoted to Iraq and concentrate just on national security. Here, the hidden cost of the war, above all, is that the United States has lost much of its ability to halt nuclear proliferation.

Tyler argues that failure in one intervention leads Americans to oppose future interventions for years and for foreign governments to feel more emboldened and less constrained by what decision makers in Washington DC might do. I emphatically agree.

The waste of the Iraq war has diverted money away from efforts that have the potential to deliver real improvements in our security. Tyler doesn't mention it but efforts to keep out illegal aliens - some of the 9/11 attackers were here illegally - would buy us a real increase in security by reducing terrorist risk and conventional crime.

1. We still haven't secured our ports against nuclear terrorism. The $1 trillion we've probably spent on the war could have funded the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security 28 times over.

Tyler argues that there has been no return on investment from the Iraq war. Some of the war's supporters would dispute this. But benefits of the invasion seem really hard to find. Some of the war's supporters expect some eventual benefit. But, again, I do not see this happening. At best, for even more expenditures we might eventually cause Iraq to develop in directions that we could at least pretend to claim we controlled. The goal then is to make us look efficacious by seeing the war through to some sort of conclusion where we can leave while claiming victory.

5. Above all, governing Iraq has, so far, been a fruitless investment. According to 2006 figures, U.S. war spending came out to $3,749 per Iraqi -- almost as much as the per capita income of Egypt. That staggering sum hasn't bought a lot of leadership from Iraq, or much of a democratic model for its Arab neighbors.

The US war effort costs more per Iraqi than the per capita GDP of dozens of countries. In fact, we are spending more per Iraqi than countries 125 (Saint Vincent and Grenadines) through 194 (Malawi at $600 per capita) in a table of countries ranked by per capita GDP using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).

That measure really understates the size of the war cost. Many of the economic costs show up in future years with care for disabled veterans, decreased work by disabled veterans, interest on money borrowed to fight the war, replacement of worn out equipment, and other costs that come due in the future.

We have weakened ourselves and reduced our influence by invading Iraq.

Following your lead, Iraq hawks argued that, in a post-9/11 world, we needed to take out rogue regimes lest they give nuclear or biological weapons to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. But each time the United States tries to do so and fails to restore order, it incurs a high -- albeit unseen -- opportunity cost in the future. Falling short makes it harder to take out, threaten or pressure a dangerous regime next time around.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 November 17 01:52 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs

Americaneocon said at November 18, 2007 9:02 AM:

Cowen's piece ain't so great:


SepteustheParanoid said at November 25, 2007 1:54 AM:

Of course Iraq looks like a fruitless when you are thinking about it in terms of crime prevention and political stabilization but those are not the goals. The goal is regional transformation via a regional war to literally redraw the map creating a political and cultural tabula rasa via violence.

The "need" for regional war flows from the neocon/neotrotskyite idea of creative destruction i.e. we must destroy the Muslim world totally in order to rebuild it into communities of safe for democracy and only the purifying power of warfare can America create this result. America according Neocon/Neotrotskyite mythology must have destiny to make the world safe democracy to bring about the end of history and no cost,risk, pain, sacrifice is too great for this end because this mythology is the source of American identity.

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