The U.S. government’s military ventures in Iraq are now costing $400 million a day–$533 million a day if you add Afghanistan–according to Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz in Sunday’s Washington Post. They write:
Why doesn’t the public understand the staggering scale of our expenditures? In part because the administration talks only about the upfront costs, which are mostly handled by emergency appropriations. (Iraq funding is apparently still an emergency five years after the war began.) These costs, by our calculations, are now running at $12 billion a month — $16 billion if you include Afghanistan. By the time you add in the costs hidden in the defense budget, the money we’ll have to spend to help future veterans, and money to refurbish a military whose equipment and materiel have been greatly depleted, the total tab to the federal government will almost surely exceed $1.5 trillion.
Read the whole op-ed, which is based on the authors’ 2006 academic paper and new book (excerpted here). Bilmes and Stiglitz are far from classical liberals–they bemoan this spending because its opportunity cost (as they see it) is less spending on domestic and foreign welfare programs. But their argument does attempt to get beyond accounting costs that are still largely off-budget, based (as they note) as an emergency appropriations some five years after the first bombs were dropped. Some of the full costs in their analysis include the lifetime disability and health care benefits for injured troops and the impact on the U.S. economy, including its cost in terms of debt financing and oil prices.
Although there are better reasons to oppose preemptive war than its economic inefficiency, Bilmes and Stiglitz’ analysis shows how far we have come from Lawrence Lindsay’s firing in 2002 for publicly estimating an “upper bound” cost of $200 billion.