Phony Cost Estimates Don’t Help the Anti-War Cause

According to Ian DonnisNot for Nothing blog, a group of legislators and activists are getting together on this Tax Day to make the claim that just about every major problem Rhode Islanders face today (the state deficit, healthcare, our mediocre education system, the beginnings of a recession, etc.) have today could have been solved, if only the United States hadn’t opened the Iraqi front in the War on Terror…

Martha Yager, of American Friends Service Committee states, “Rhode Islanders have spent $4.3 billion on the war in Iraq. With that money, we could have avoided the state’s deficit; funded Head Start, health care and education, and have been ready to help families hit hard by the state’s recession. Instead, the death-toll in Iraq continues to rise and we face even worsening human cost at home as our human needs programs get slashed.”
We’re left to wonder what it was that was magical about these past five years that would have allowed a little more government spending to finally solve everything, though it hadn’t before. Anyway, given that there are about 1 million people in Rhode Island and 300 million in the U.S., Ms. Yager’s estimate of the total cost so far of the Iraq war works out to about $1.3 trillion dollars.
That figure is not credible. A few ways to illustrate this are…
  1. By looking at the overall growth in the defense budget — Taking the year 2001 as a baseline and summing the (inflation adjusted) total of defense spending above that baseline for each year since then, new spending in all defense areas — including what’s been spent on the Afghanistan campaign — since 2001 sums to $1.05 trillion dollars, an amount less than what Martha Yager claims has been spent on Iraq alone. (Figures based on Brian Riedl‘s work at the Heritage Foundation).
  2. By looking at the analysis of liberal-darling, war opposing Nobel-Prize winners — According to an item posted on RI Future yesterday, the coolest economist ever is Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz estimates that the total cost of the Iraq war will be approximately 3 trillion dollars. That’s a figure for the final total, including long-term costs like veterans’ care and hardware replacement, not just operational costs so far.
    Well, if both Martha Yager and Joseph Stiglitz are right, we’ve already got the Iraq War almost half-paid off already. Does Joseph Stilglitz agree, or are somebody’s numbers way off?
Furthermore, however much has been spent on the War on Terror, the claim that there has been any corresponding spending reduction in the rest of the budget is false. Again using the 2001 Federal budget as a baseline, 68% of the growth in spending over the past seven years has gone to either entitlements or discretionary non-defense spending, only 36% to defense. Over this period, $2 trillion more has been spent on entitlement and non-defense discretionary programs than would have been spent if the Federal budget had increased “only” at the rate of inflation.
If Martha Yager’s premise that human needs programs are being slashed is correct, before blaming everything on the defense budget, she needs to explain why the state of Rhode Island has been unable to convert its share of 2 trillion new Federal non-defense dollars into effective programs.

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