If “all warfare is based on deception” (Sun Tzu), the biggest deception concerns the costs of warfare.
That’s why the work done by the folks at costsofwar.org is so important. They have attempted to estimate the human, economics, and sociopolitical costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Here are some of their findings:
The folks at the Costs of War project also admit that “there are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess.” Unfortunately, they’ve received absolutely no help from mainstream economists who, through their lack of attention to the costs of war, perpetuate the deception that warfare is cheap.
The United States is involved in four wars right now: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan. What are the costs?
As it turns out, there’s no easy way of calculating the costs of all these wars, at least in terms of publicly available government statistics. Public appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been $1.3 trillion. But that’s only the beginning.
Fortunately, others—but not, for the most part, mainstream economists—have done those calculations: Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, who concluded the wars will cost more than $3 trillion; and the Costs of War project by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, which arrives at $4 trillion and rising.
Christian Dorsey contrasts the lack of transparency of the costs of war with the accounting of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, “which has an entire website that gives laypersons, policy wonks and researchers customized looks at how virtually every dollar of ARRA funds were allocated and spent.”
This lack of transparency weakens our democracy by not allowing Americans to hold our elected officials accountable for decisions they make to engage in conflict. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has introduced The Cost of War Act, a bill that takes only 91 words to direct the Department of Defense to publish, on a public website, the cost of our current wars. The value of such an action—especially if the end result is as robust as Recovery.gov—would be to force this Congress to have an adult conversation about priorities, spending, deficits and debt. Right now, the only sunlight on federal spending shines on the non-defense, discretionary side, which is dwarfed by defense spending–all of which is discretionary. Exposing it all to the same level of scrutiny would lead to better debate among our policymakers.
It is also would lead to better debate among the citizenry, who are the ones suffering the effects of the money spent on all four wars—and not spent on creating jobs, lowering poverty, and improving social services.