Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who "lacks the courage"

Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and the former chief economist of the World Bank has co-authored a book called, The Three Trillion Dollar War, that puts the price of the war in Iraq at, well, three trillion dollars (note to Joe, let's try to get a little more suspense into the next book).

For the service of attempting to calculate what our current policies are actually costing us, Prof. Stiglitz was immediately denounced by the White House. Spokesman Tony Fratto said, "People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure."

Mr. Fratto has it wrong. It is President Bush who lacks the courage to give straight figures and straight facts to the American public.

A courageous President would have told the American public up front what the costs were likely to be in terms of both lives and money. Instead, he fired his National Economic Advisor, Lawrence Lindsey, after Lindsey estimated the war would cost $100-$200 billion instead of the administration's then-prevailing estimate of $50 billion.

A courageous President would allow the press to photograph military caskets and might even attend some funerals himself.

A courageous President would include the costs of the war in his current and future budgets. Instead, he continues to fund the war through a series of "emergency" appropriations. Funds for the war are omitted from the most recent budget request. If you dig through the documents, you will find that the administration "anticipates" asking for $70 billion in emergency funding for Iraq and Afghanistan for FY 2009, even though costs for its wars have been several times higher in recent years. The administration refuses to disclose its estimates of costs beyond FY 2009 (September 2009).

Prof. Stiglitz has published his numbers, courageously making them available for all to see and criticize. In contrast, President Bush hides his estimates, and when questioned lashes out at the patriotism, motivations, and courage of his opponents. The President's repeated deceptions and evasions aren't exactly hallmarks of courage.


Jeffrey Sykes said...

Dave: I tend to agree with you. I listened to Stiglitz on a Bloomberg podcast today. Just incredible and staggering data when one considers what we could have done with that money. I said more on my site if you wanna poke around.

Bubba said...

Speaking of Bloomberg.....

It's pretty obvious Stiglitz' mathmatics assumptionis flawed, and ignores the cost of conainment in lieu of the costs of war.

Amity Shlaes does the fisking well in this article.


"The message of this book is that the war can be blamed for America's failure to reform domestically. If this is true, then Washington would have used the period of 1991 to 2001 to rewrite Social Security and Medicare. It didn't."

Dave Ribar said...

Actually, Shales does an incredibly poor job of knocking down the numbers. With respect to Stiglitz's total cost numbers, the only rebuttal that Shales offers is with the price of oil, but she never describes how much this reduces the overall number. The direct costs of the war are undisputed as are the costs associated with injuries and deaths. It's telling that Shales offers no independent number of her own.

Shales mostly argues with the implications Stiglitz draws, focusing on whether $3 trillion is really a big number and whether containment would have been as costly.

Her reform criticism overlooks that Washington did dramatically reform from 1991 to 2001, moving from large budget deficits to budget surpluses and laying the groundwork for additional reforms.