The economic cost of the Iraq war

President Bush proposes to cut $1.4 million from the program for early detection and screening of breast and cervical cancer, denying services to 4,000 women. The Iraq war costs $1.4 million every 7 minutes, 22 seconds.

Almost 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed, and 20,000 wounded. Iraqi casualties — mainly civilian — are 20 to 50 times higher. Hundreds of thousands of families and workplaces have been disrupted by National Guard call-ups. Added to the human cost, there is a tremendous economic cost that hurts all working families.

In late 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said the war would cost $50 billion. When White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay said the price tag could reach $100 billion or $200 billion, he was publicly rebuked. But with the emergency request now in Congress, the cost for Iraq and Afghanistan will reach $445 billion. Spending has risen to nearly $10 billion every month!

For $10 billion per month, we could provide a good, productive job for every unemployed teenager and double enrollment in Head Start and pay one-third of the cost of all public school teachers’ salaries and pay full tuition for 4 million college students.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his colleague Linda Bilmes estimate that the federal government’s total cost for the Iraq war will be about $1.2 trillion. This estimate makes conservative assumptions, and does not include operations in Afghanistan or throughout the Mideast and Central Asia. This is 24 times Rumsfeld’s original estimate. It is several times the total spent on relief to New York after 9/11 and to the Gulf Coast after Katrina. It would go a long way toward meeting critical infrastructure needs in our country, including water supply, bridges and highways, school construction, railroads and energy.

The war that keeps on taking

We will be paying for this war for decades to come. Stiglitz estimates at least $7 billion per year for 40 years for health care and disability benefits for Iraq war veterans. That’s equal to the cost of providing health care for 5 million kids under the SCHIP program.

The war is being charged to the nation’s credit card. I estimate that interest payments on the Iraq war debt will soon be taking $50 billion per year out of the federal budget. Those payments will go on long after the war is over.

Hidden costs

There are economic costs far beyond the federal balance sheet. These costs often fall directly on the American people. Stiglitz gives a very rough estimate of another $1 trillion, on top of the $1.2 trillion in costs to the federal government.

These added costs include the consequences of calling up firefighters, police and other emergency personnel for service in Iraq. How much damage has been done because critical personnel were not available during emergencies? Ask the victims of Hurricane Katrina!

Two other economic costs are especially important.

Suppose, says Stiglitz, we invested in research, infrastructure or education, instead of spending money on the war in Iraq. This would create jobs and stimulate the economy, resulting in $750 billion in additional income.

Another economic cost is the price of oil, which has just hit $70/barrel. Stiglitz attributes $10 of the increase to the war in Iraq. Another $10 increase is due to Bush’s saber-rattling over Iran. The higher oil prices enable the energy monopolies to charge more for natural gas and electricity. As a result, U.S. consumers and business now pay an extra $200 billion per year for energy. That’s about $2,000 for every household in the country!

Changing course

Bush used the Iraq war to consolidate the Republican grip on Congress in 2002 and 2004, and keep his hold on the White House. Their looting of the treasury and the economy, with tax breaks for the biggest corporations and the wealthiest individuals, and juicy contracts for politically connected insiders, have probably cost even more in dollars and cents than the war in Iraq.

Recent polls show that people realize their growing economic insecurity is connected with the administration’s policy of war, lies and corruption. Studies on the war’s price tag by prominent economists like Stiglitz help show that the economic problems facing working families cannot be addressed until we end the war, and change the administration and Congress.