Wednesday, January 11, 2006

OUCH!

Huffington Post links a Reuters story by Jason Szep, who reports on a new study of the costs of the Iraq war:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060110/ts_nm/iraq_cost_dc;_ylt=AqYQ1dewQvEdi6J8uytc53us0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3ODdxdHBhBHNlYwM5NjQ-

The study was conducted by Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University and Linda Bilmes of Harvard’s Kennedy School. The actual study may be found here:

http://www2.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/jstiglitz/Cost_of_War_in_Iraq.htm

The study calculates the bottom line long-term cost at between 1.026 and 1.854 trillion dollars.

Caveat: I did not give this moose the grindingly thorough reading something this involved deserves. I did however read it well enough to gather the following:

The study could be broken down into three parts: Actual costs which can be estimated with a fair degree of certainty, economic costs which can be estimated but not so accurately, and economic losses…

It’s hard to argue with the first two but the third provides an interesting example of the difficulty inherent in mixing politics and science:

The authors operate on an assumption: Going to war created a net drag on the long-term economy, a conclusion supported by the data provided and opinions offered. No attempt is made to create a counter-model to estimate the cost of not going to war, nor is an “eventual success alternative” model offered.

I agree the war was a mistake. I doubt the cost estimates are far off. But I can’t help but find the one-scenario loss model arrogant. We will never know whether the world would have been better off without this effort, and we should not rule out all being well that end’s better.

It’s a shame the authors of this work didn’t see fit to question their own bias.

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