$300 billion in social costs (Cost of war, Part 4)

[The final post in the series by guest author Neta Crawford]

Now we come to the fourth reason our estimates for the dollar costs of these wars have been too low. Federal spending is not the entire cost of the Iraq war. There are several other huge categories of economic costs.

Targeting military spending

Targeting military spending; photo by Joe Mabel. Used under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. From Wikimedia Commons.

There will be at least $300 billion in social costs of these wars, much of it borne by the close family members of injured veterans.

There are the macro-economic effects of borrowing for war, namely increased interest. Further, there is the opportunity cost of military spending.

The two largest opportunity costs are the consequences of the deferred maintenance of U.S. infrastructure and the potential jobs created by other forms of federal spending.

We are constantly told that military spending creates jobs. Indeed, every $1 billion in military spending creates about 11,200 jobs. If there were tax cuts instead and people spent that money themselves, more than 15,000 jobs could be created.

Indeed, military spending produces fewer jobs compared with spending on housing or non-residential construction, health care, or education.

Americans have been told at least three times — in May 2003 when the mission was “accomplished”; in September 2010 when the “combat” phase was over, and in December 2011 — that the Iraq war was won and over. All that was left was promoting democratization and stability.

But is the war really over for either Iraqis or Americans? Iraq remains extremely violent. Thousands of U.S. State Department and private contractors will remain in Iraq for the indefinite future. As Catherine Lutz wrote recently in Foreign Policy, “5,500 security personnel join 4,500 ‘general life support’ contractors who will be working to provide food, health care, and aviation services to those employed in Iraq, and approximately 6,000 US federal employees from State and other agencies.”

The dollar costs of war, as Eisenhower said more than a half-century ago, means dreams deferred or lost for millions. A few years before that, George Orwell’s main character in 1984, Winston Smith, wrote, “All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”

The next step in a full picture of the Iraq war’s toll would be to account for the death, displacement, and economic devastation the war has caused in Iraq and the region.

Neta C. Crawford is a Professor of Political Science at Boston University and co-director of the Costs of War study (www.costsofwar.org).

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2 Responses to $300 billion in social costs (Cost of war, Part 4)

  1. Barbara says:

    Ah, Nineteen Eighty-Four! As a young woman in my mid-twenties, Orwell’s title seemed far, far into the future. Now the future is past, way past, and have we learned anything or are we still scraping the slate clean and reinscribing it with the same deadly errors?

  2. Regina says:

    Like Barbara, I read 1984 a while back when I was high school. For me, however, the future that Orwell wrote about had many similarities to the present crisis I was seeing in Iraq. Indeed, the future that Orwell spoke of has come to life. I don’t think people realize that war does not create the full potential of jobs that could be created. People are under the false assumption that war is good for the economy.

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