What the economists don't tell you: the War

By David Roberts

We are not being told much about the real cost of the war in Iraq. The direct cost of pursuing the Iraq war in the past 18 months was about $350 billion give or take a few billion dollars (which works out to about $230 billion per year). In addition, the cost of supporting the military industrial complex is about $450 billion per year, a large part of the Gross Domestic Product (the total US production of Goods and Services).

Seventeen thousand soldiers have been wounded in Iraq. Besides the toll in human suffering, these add to the real economic costs of war. Some return in comas. Many return without arms and legs. Many are disabled by brain injuries. Many more return with severe psychological trauma. The probable future cost in health and rehabilitation services is in the ballpark of $200-$300 billion. All told, the Iraq war effort is absorbing close to a trillion dollars per year. Subtract the general cost of maintaining the military industrial complex and the cost directly related to Iraq is ~$500 billion per year.

What you also have not been told is that much of the economy is now being maintained by jobs that are directly related to the war effort. This is why the economy seems good to some people. About 30 to 40 Corporations are making most of the money off contracts that serve the Iraqi war effort. The main beneficiaries of this corporate bonanza are not the wage earners but rather the top CEOs and wealthy investors. They are getting wealthier at your expense. Those who have jobs with these corporations are being supported by your dollars at a lesser level. Everyone else is losing. Much of the financing for the war is not coming from taxes, but rather deficit spending. This siphons additional wealth to the top of the pile, putting working Americans in hock to the wealthiest Americans (and wealthy foreign investors) for generations to come.

When we withdraw from Iraq, those same companies will be involved in the rebuilding of Iraq, also at your expense. It is not hard to see, but is still largely a secret, that there will be a risk of recession when we shift back to a peacetime economy and try to create jobs to help Americans in the areas of clean energy, education, health care, affordable housing, products for our own and other countries, homeland security, and infrastructure (transportation, ports, etc.).

The bottom line is that in one year, more than half a trillion dollars are going to Iraq, paid for by the American people. This money should be going to affordable health care, creating peacetime jobs, clean energy and domestic sources of energy, affordable and relevant education, supporting a living wage, and helping the poor. The war does not generate wealth. It redistributes wealth. It comes out of your pocket and goes into the pockets of the already wealthy. Pickpockets are prosecuted, but those who pick your pockets on this scale are doing so with government assistance. We are responsible for what our government does. As long as we tolerate government policies that hurt ordinary people we are complicit in its crimes.

The secret life of economics continues to operate at your expense, making it harder for you to afford a house, health care, or higher education, not to mention what you are going to do as you grow older and look toward retirement. Society needs safety nets because not everyone is capable of earning in all stages of life. The government and the wealthy are not going to develop a conscience on their own. We have to take an interest in our own security and demand with one voice that the government work in our interest. We need to recover our collective soul. It is time now for us to act in our own interest as well as in the interest of our neighbor.

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