The opportunity cost of war
My piece in todays Fin (subscription required) is about the opportunity cost of the war on Iraq. An excerpt
In the absence of large-scale discoveries of weapons, attention has focused on the undoubted benefits of overthrowing an evil and oppressive dictator. This is a form of foreign aid and can usefully be compared to other aid programs. The total budget of USAID, the main US agency for development and humanitarian assistance is $8.7 billion for the coming year. That is, the money already spent on the Iraq war could have doubled USAID’s budget for the next five years.
It seems certain, however, that the war will herald a sustained increase in military expenditure of at least $US100 billion per year. A more reasonable comparison, therefore, is the ambitious proposal of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, led by Harvard Economist Jeffrey Sachs. The Commission aimed to achieve, for all a poor countries, a two-thirds reduction of 1990 child mortality levels, a three-fourths reduction of 1990 maternal mortality ratios and an end to the rising prevalence of major diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.
As the Commission pointed out, in addition to the humanitarian benefits of saving as many as 8 million lives per year, reductions in mortality are directly correlated with a reduced frequency of military coups and state collapse. These provide the breeding ground for terrorism and dictatorship and ultimately lead, in many cases, lead to US military intervention. The estimated cost for the Commission’s seemingly-utopian program over the next decade is estimated at between $US 50 billion and $US 100 billion per year.
War is sometimes necessary in self-defence. But when war is adopted as an instrument of policy, it is often counterproductive and almost never cost-effective.