A sad repost

Fig. 1: Pocket ChangeIt’s the anniversary of the Iraq War.  If anything, this war ought to teach us that arguments have consequences.  Here is the most recent assessment (according to a recent study):

(Reuters) – The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest, a study released on Thursday said.

The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war’s death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.

The report, the work of about 30 academics and experts, was published in advance of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.

Now for some self-plagiarism.  Every now and then I return to Robert Samuelson estimate of the cost of war in Iraq.  At the time, he called it “pocket change.”  He should be reminded of this assessment every single day of his life.  But alas, judging by the columns he has penned since then, he is unaware.   Let’s at least remind ourselves.  Here comes the repost:

For a while–for those who remember–Samuelson been poo-pooing Obama’s “self-indulgence” on health insurance reform.  A more competent rhetorical analyst, by the way, might have fun with the way he always goes ad hominem on Obama–treating his own impoverished and uncharitable image of Obama rather than Obama’s stated positions (he even admitted once that this was his own problem).  But it’s worthwhile to poke fun at Samuelson’s priorities.  Way back before we spent 700 plus billion dollars in Iraq, chasing what turned out to be an easily uncovered deception, here is what Samuelon wrote:

A possible war with Iraq raises many unknowns, but “can we afford it?” is not one of them. People inevitably ask that question, forgetting that the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change. A war with Iraq would probably cost less than 1 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Americans have grown accustomed to fighting with little economic upset and sacrifice.

Pocket change.  In reflecting on this piece (called “A War We Can Afford”) Samuelson wrote:

Yes, that column made big mistakes. The war has cost far more than I (or almost anyone) anticipated. Still, I defend the column’s central thesis, which remains relevant today: Budget costs should not shape our Iraq policy. Frankly, I don’t know what we should do now. But in considering the various proposals — President Bush’s “surge,” fewer troops or redeployment of those already there — the costs should be a footnote. We ought to focus mostly on what’s best for America’s security.

When it comes things that are actually real, on the other hand, Samuelson is skeptical:

When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody’s Investors Service — the bond rating agency — published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama’s health-care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.

900 billion?  That figure is almost exactly what we’ve spent in seven years of war.  Weird.  But this time cost is all that matters.

Imagine something costing only 900 billion over a decade and killing zero people.

7 thoughts on “A sad repost”

  1. Hey John,
    I’ve been wondering about the form of some tu quoque arguments that point out double standards. Your close of the old post runs: S says that with X, cost is not a consideration, but now with Y, S says cost is. That certainly shows that X and Y are being treated with different standards, but Samuelson likely would hold that the moral difference between the two is that the war is a matter of security, the medical coverage question isn’t. Whether he’s right about that matter (that Iraq was a security question) is one thing, but were he right about the difference, is that a difference that makes a difference?

  2. Hey Scott. You’re certainly right about that avenue or reply being open to him. My post actually doesn’t involve any strictly logical failings of his at all; I think his double standard (and blindness) is morally reprehensible, impractical, and factually inaccurate.

  3. “The basic question of bias, as you can see, relates to assertions regarding whether or not a certain state of affairs obtains. Since we are largely not interested in questions of fact, we can’t be guilty of this. “

  4. Mr. Casey,

    My point is that you are not pointing out fallacies in his argument, but taking issue with his political presuppositions. We can argue the merits of universal healthcare vs. US security interests until the cows come home, but there is no obvious logical flaw in his position according to you.

  5. Hi Austin. I actually already conceded that (see comment above responding to Scott). You’re correct nonetheless to point out that this is out of character for me (us) to make this kind of argument. So what’s your point now? This wouldn’t be a matter of bias, as I’m clearly advancing a position I think to be correct. I’m biased toward that because of my reasons. If those reasons blow, then you’re welcome to point that out.

  6. My apologies. I didn’t see Scott’s post and your response. Scott had already said what I was trying to say.

  7. A possible war with Iraq raises many unknowns, but “can we afford it?” is not one of them. People inevitably ask that question, forgetting that the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change.

    Wow, stunning. I missed that one at the time. I wonder, though, isn’t some equivocation and straw-manning on “afford” and “cost” going on here? I agree the main faults are moral versus logical. (Obviously, given that war will lead to irrevocable consequences, in that people will die, discussing only the monetary costs is callous. Samuelson is denying context, and ignoring the “blood” arguments to focus solely on the “treasure” ones.) Read through the first column; he doesn’t mention death in any fashion as a cost once. To his credit, he does mention American and Iraqi deaths in the second column and apologizes somewhat, but it’s near the end.

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