Three trillion dollars - Nobel winning economist tabulates true cost of Iraq war

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winner in economics, says the Iraq war has cost $3 trillion so far. According to the Guardian, "three trillion could have fixed America's social security problem for half a century."
Some time in 2005, Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, who also served as an economic adviser under Clinton, noted that the official Congressional Budget Office estimate for the cost of the war so far was of the order of $500bn. The figure was so low, they didn't believe it, and decided to investigate. The paper they wrote together, and published in January 2006, revised the figure sharply upwards, to between $1 and $2 trillion. Even that, Stiglitz says now, was deliberately conservative: "We didn't want to sound outlandish."

So what did the Republicans say? "They had two reactions," Stiglitz says wearily. "One was Bush saying, 'We don't go to war on the calculations of green eye-shaded accountants or economists.' And our response was, 'No, you don't decide to fight a response to Pearl Harbour on the basis of that, but when there's a war of choice, you at least use it to make sure your timing is right, that you've done the preparation. And you really ought to do the calculations to see if there are alternative ways that are more effective at getting your objectives. The second criticism - which we admit - was that we only look at the costs, not the benefits. Now, we couldn't see any benefits. From our point of view we weren't sure what those were."

Link (Thanks, Robert!)


  1. “We don’t go to war on the calculations of green eye-shaded accountants or economists.”

    Is he a grown up or does he have, I don’t know, one of those hobby horses and a white cowboy hat that he uses for watching Fox News?

  2. Yeah, but because the value of the dollar is plummeting, that $3,000,000,000,000 isn’t anywhere near as high a figure as it seems!

  3. more proof they are evil. They could have gotten rich skimming from social improvements – but they preferred arms sales

  4. The age of America has come to an end. The Iraq war; public apathy and denial of global warming; and the rise of China and India – all these signal the end of greatness for a nation that once achieved so much in such a short time.

  5. the rise of India and China…. possibly.

    America at least at one point had democracy to peddle (true or not, it was a brand)

    What does China bring to the party? What should other nation shope to benefit from China’s ascendancy and spreading influence?

  6. Isn’t there a song about our future, something along the lines of:

    Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
    Bad Times Are Here Again!

    I just keep waiting for the taxes to go up,
    the interest payment on all this has to be made somehow.

    No need to worry, I’ll be out of a job soon,
    so long taxes, so long food, it’s now your burden.

    Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
    Bad Times Are Here Again!

  7. Greetings

    Its not that China brings ‘anything to the party’ except dictatorship, slave labor, and plasic shit WalMart sells that nobody needs


    America has so debased the very idea of “American democracy” with Gitmo, rendition, warrantless wiretaps not to mention the TSA and its billion name watch list that Russia and China suddenly look good by comparison even as they oppress their own populations.

    Enjoy the journey


  8. That article is something else; worth reading in full. It makes me wonder how anyone can continue to support this war or this president. Are people really that easily manipulated?

    The fact that McCain wants to keep us in Iraq for 100 more years or however long should be sufficient to make his candidacy a laughingstock. And yet the election will still probably be close.

    (For the record, I’m a supporter of Obama, but I think I support him for the wrong reasons. The man speaks in cliches, and yet I still find listening to him a moving experience. I honestly don’t know if he’ll do a decent job as president–I don’t think anyone knows. It’s rather insane that this is how one of the most powerful individuals in the world is determined.)

    Quite frankly, it’s facts like these that make me fundamentally skeptical of democracy. Imagine if we had experts like Stiglitz making important economic decisions rather than ideologically-blinded true believers who are unable to see the larger picture or, more generally, politicians whose only certain skill is being able to market themselves better than their competitors. (We already have something like this going on with Bernanke and the Fed; while that’s a newer institution, the founders themselves recognized the need for more elitist institutions in areas where expertise, or at least competence, was vitally important.)

    Yes, there is always the issue of determining who are really experts (doesn’t it take an expert to know an expert?), as well as delimiting the scope of individual expertise (what decisions is an economist really qualified to make?), but in today’s insanely complex world, it is not uncommon that only experts have any hope of regularly making sound decisions. When replaced by popularly chosen ideologues, we get results like Iraq which, all things considered, is relatively minor compared to what disasters we may face in the coming century.

    Personally, I like the idea of rule by artificial intelligence (if well-programmed, they lack certain human foibles like ambition, political bias, and the various other passions which pervert human judgment). I mean, honestly, could they do any worse? Haven’t we yet realized that human beings are incapable of ruling themselves? It’s rather clear that we’re incapable of something as simple as learning from experience (first Vietnam, now Iraq). Honestly, I don’t know how mob rule became so popular in the first place… ;-)

  9. Theoretically, what is the likliest timing for the assassination of Obama? How can those who want to continue the war profiteering get rid of him on the eve of his victory and also end up with one of theirs in office?

  10. Shades of Eisenhower.

    Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

    This world in arms is not spending money alone.

    It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

    The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

    It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

    It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.

    We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

    We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

  11. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone to think the US will still have troops in Iraq in 100 years. It’s been over 100 years in the Phillipines, right? 60+ years for Japan and Germany, almost 60 in South Korea.


    Just had to get that out of my system. Moving on.

    Coaxial, that’s exactly what I thought. Have you guys seen the documentary Why We Fight? It will make you feel very, very bad for poor President Eisenhower, one of the real Cassandras of our age – his prophecy was true, but nobody listened to him.

    Takuan, no! Oh god no. Obama’s not perfect, but I’m pretty sure he’s the best of what’s around at this point…

  13. #9 Has it occurred to you who will become president if George W’ya is impeached? I would humbly suggest waiting until next January and start indictment procedures against a variety of individuals. Then send them to Gitmo after a short (but fair) trial. We may run out of room so to help them get acquainted, team them up with the current tenants.

  14. Can somebody give me a reason why Obama is the best of what’s around (other than “He’s inspirational!” or “Change!”)?

    I’m not a McCain fan, but he’s right. We will be in Iraq for 100 years. Hopefully, we only be FIGHTING in Iraq until January 20, 2009 or shortly thereafter.

  15. “three trillion could have fixed America’s social security problem for half a century.”

    Breaking Social Security is just one of many parts of the American social contract that our President has worked hard (and directly) to destroy. He’s no fool. It’s no accident.

  16. well, Alan Greenspan said it was all about oil.

    If it is, then it’s ironic the oil price is going to all time highs again…

    Talk of backfiring.

  17. @ #8

    “Imagine if we had experts like Stiglitz making important economic decisions rather than ideologically-blinded true believers who are unable to see the larger picture or, more generally, politicians whose only certain skill is being able to market themselves better than their competitors.”

    You say you support Obama for the wrong reasons, but you also say this. The article mentions Obama has sought Stiglitz as an advisor should he be elected. That seems a good reason to support him.

  18. The article, in disregarding the terrible human cost of the invasion, brings an interesting perspective. I am surprised though, that nobody has mentioned the prize that initiated the outrageous $3 trillion outlay. It is, of course, the 115 billion barrels of proven Iraqi oil reserves (not to mention unproven, undiscovered reserves). $100 per barrel represents a $11.5 trillion of proven reserves at 2008 prices (subject, of course, to extraction costs).

  19. #5: “What does China bring to the party?”

    Lots and lots and lots of cheap crappy stuff that you can buy.

  20. #19: “(subject, of course, to extraction costs). ”

    It so happens that the Iraqi crude – Oilmen call it “sweet light crude” – is one of the easiest (thus cheapest) types of crude to extract and refine.

    Basically you make a hole in the ground and it will ooze out by itself…
    It has low sulphur content, low residue and high yield of readily useable fractions (petrol and kerosene).

  21. Lots of cheap junk is what the Japanese brought in the 50’s and 60’s. Then they started to innovate. China will do the same one day.

    It’s only money, not like it’s anything important.

  22. I do not think China and Japan share the social drives and goals you are hoping for. Japan after the war did have a large element of patriotic rebuilding after the humiliation of defeat. China is all about every man for himself. Another wonderful legacy of history’s greatest mass murderer.

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