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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"The Three Trillion Dollar War"

Good question:

Keynesian trillions, Editorial, LA Times: President Bush['s]... final State of the Union speech made clear that he intends ... to ... spend whatever it takes to secure Iraq and Afghanistan -- and his legacy.

Threetrillion_2 While the president's speechwriters were tweaking his address Monday, the White House announced that Bush would ask for $70 billion more for the two wars this year. A Pentagon spokesman said combat operations were costing $12 billion a month, with $9.2 billion spent in Iraq. That's just for combat operations. Including replacing equipment that's being used up and providing medical care and disability benefits for the wounded, Iraq has already cost well over $1 trillion. Back in early 2006, when war spending was running about $5 billion a month, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes were sharply criticized for a study that predicted the Iraq war would cost up to $2 trillion. Their sequel, to be released next month, is titled "The Three Trillion Dollar War."

The interesting question is why the U.S. economy, beneficiary since 9/11 of the largest military spending binge in history, now requires $150 billion more in the form of a short-term stimulus package. Why hasn't the $1 trillion in defense spending, in addition to the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, been sufficient to keep the economic boom going? ... Does that mean the fundamentals of our economy are weaker than we thought, and a deeper slump might have occurred without all that spending? ...

The economist John Maynard Keynes taught us in the 1930s that money spent on guns -- or butter, or even digging ditches and filling them up again -- had the same stimulative effects on a slumping economy. We've developed a more nuanced view of government spending since then, but it's still worth asking: What would Keynes say about a $3-trillion war?

Update: Paul Krugman:

An Iraq recession?, Paul Krugman Blog: One thing I get asked fairly often is whether the Iraq war is responsible for our economic difficulties. The answer (with slight qualifications) is no.

Just to be clear: I yield to nobody in my outrage over the way we were lied into a disastrous, unnecessary war. But economics isn’t a morality play, in which evil deeds are always punished and good deeds rewarded.

The fact is that war is, in general, expansionary for the economy, at least in the short run. World War II, remember, ended the Great Depression. The $10 billion or so we’re spending each month in Iraq mainly goes to US-produced goods and services, which means that the war is actually supporting demand. Yes, there would be infinitely better ways to spend the money. But at a time when a shortfall of demand is the problem, the Iraq war nonetheless acts as a sort of WPA, supporting employment directly and indirectly.

There is one caveat: high oil prices are a drag on the economy, and the war has some — but probably not too much — responsibility for pricey oil. Mainly high-priced oil is the result of rising demand from China and other emerging economies, colliding with sluggish supply as the world gradually runs out of the stuff. But Iraq would be exporting more oil now if we hadn’t invaded — a million barrels a day? — and that would have kept prices down somewhat.

Overall, though, the story of America’s economic difficulties is about the bursting housing bubble, not the war.

    Posted by on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 01:23 AM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (125)

          

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