War and health
Also on Mark Kleiman’s blog
The Pentagon says the occupation of Iraq is going to cost about $50 billion per year, indefinitely. That’s not counting reconstruction costs. Keeping Afghanistan safe for its warlords is now costing about $10 billion per year. Can you imagine how much safer a world we’d have today if we’d been willing to spend half that much on rebuilding the fragments of the Soviet Empire in the years just after 1989? Or how much a tenth of that, well spent, could do for human and economic development in Africa? Or how big a horselaugh you would get if you proposed spending anything like those sums on an activity that didn’t also include killing people?
Consider, for example, the alternative option of allocating the money to improved health care or public safety. Under current conditions, marginal health care and public safety interventions in the United States typically cost around $5 million per life saved. Thus, if the direct war budget of $50 billion had been allocated to public health instead, the lives of around 10 000 Americans could have been saved.
…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.
Of course, there’s nothing new here: the same point has been made over and over again for decades. What’s frustrating is that the advocates of war as public policy seem to have no answer to this except to dismiss it as politically unrealistic.