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War is bad for health

September 19th, 2003

Not long after the fall of Baghdad, I wrote a piece for the Fin pointing out that the

The total budget of the 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.

Now, via Tim Dunlop, there’s a piece fromÊSachs himself saying

The cruelest twist, though, is that the all of the talk about US and UK compassion is accompanied by indifference where compassion is truly needed. Nine months ago, Bush spoke movingly about the tragedy of millions of people with AIDS turned away from African hospitals, because they were too poor to afford the drugs. During those nine months another two million or so Africans died, and the United States accomplished absolutely nothing to change the situation. The president’s much vaunted $15 billion five-year program for AIDS is on paper only.

This year Bush asked for only $200 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, a sum equal to 1.5 days of spending on the US occupying forces in Iraq. The US annual contributions to fight malaria are less than the costs of one day’s occupation, and as a result, 3 million Africans will die needlessly from that preventable and treatable disease.

But who is talking about $87 billion for the 30 million Africans dying from the effects of HIV/AIDS, or the children dying of malaria, or the 15 million AIDS orphans, or the dispossessed of Liberia and Sierra Leone, or the impoverished children of America without medical insurance?

As Atrios notes in the comments thread, Sachs has certainly shown a side of his character no one would have suspected when he was prescribing shock therapy for Russia.

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  1. September 21st, 2003 at 11:56 | #1

    Sachs probably got a bad case of the “i wuz wrong” apostatatics. This tends to make you a born again contrarian to what you were in your first hard-core incarnation.

  2. Greg
    September 23rd, 2003 at 11:56 | #2

    Good on you Jack. Like just about everyone else, I was moved by your ‘I wuz wrong’ piece. Yet, always feared that it might have been too abject an ‘admission of defeat’, due to your being too far-gone into the adversarial (‘war’) world that mere debate usually engenders. So it’s very nice to see you’re aware of the things in your original position that remain good and true. I do hope you are paying some extra attention to those bits, as they might well form a kernel around which some more powerful ideas can develop.

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