The real cost of the Iraq war

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The Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, who is a professor up at Columbia University, swung by the office this morning for a meet-and-greet. Noble-Prize-winning… must be a nice way to be introduced.

Stiglitz was here to promote his soon-to-be-published book on the true cost of the Iraq war, which he and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University put at $3 trillion. This is a little bit higher than what some other people have said in the past. In fact, it’s nearly a trillion dollars more than what Stiglitz and Bilmes themselves were saying not much more than a year ago.

The figure is so big because Stiglitz and Bilmes don’t just count operating costs – like the $12.5 billion a month is takes to run the war on the ground – but long-term expenditures, too. They tally up things like how much money the government will have to spend taking care of disabled veterans, what the war has done to the price of oil, and the cost of replacing military equipment that is wearing out much faster than it would have otherwise.

It’s kind of gloomy stuff. But the biggest shock is how hard it was for Stiglitz and Bilmes to find and get access to all the data, considering that war is a taxpayer expense. The two academics have been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for years.

My guess is that you’ll start reading more about all of this in the op-ed pages in about a week, when the book comes out. In the meantime, if you want an eight-page overview that’s a little dated, but will still make it sound like you’ve read the book, check out the paper Stiglitz and Bilmes wrote in the Milken Institute Review in 2006. You can find it here, as a PDF.