Prices slashed on war this century!

We’ve resisted talking about Iraq pretty well on this blog, unlike the rest of the internet. Unfortunately we’re suckers for a pretty picture or two, so here’s a nice one showing how much the war has cost the US relative to other wars. Note that the numbers are all inflation adjusted.

That’s quite a bit of money, but the economy has grown significantly since 1914. As a proportion of GDP, spending on the war isn’t actually as large as reading the newspapers would have you believe.

So, despite the rising cost of military technology and waging war, it’s relatively cheaper to go to war now than ever before!

Of course, the dollar cost to the US of the war is only a fraction of the ‘true’ cost of waging war. It’d be interesting to see similar plots for the cost in lives of each war and the environmental harm caused. I wonder if modern ‘smart warfare’ has resulted in a lower total cost for warfare despite the rise in dollar cost. Perhaps someone with some knowledge of military stuff could enlighten us?

(HT:Matt Yglesias)

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  • Steve

    It is not relatively cheaper; I would say the inflation adjusted graph is the one to look at if you want to test whether war is cheaper today or not. Comparing it with GDP does not show that it is cheaper to wage war today. What it shows is that we are wealthier today and can therefore afford to be involved in more wars!

    I wonder what the graph looks like for NZ? esp considering the value placed on the defence force in recent years.

  • Kimble

    “It’d be interesting to see similar plots for the cost in lives of each war and the environmental harm caused.”

    Its not all bad. Perhaps World War Two forced money into areas of development that would not have recieved funding under normal circumstances. Iraq is probably doing the same thing. Dont forget the industrial part in the industrial-military complex.

  • “World War Two forced money into areas of development that would not have recieved funding under normal circumstances”

    But we have to ask why money wasn’t going to these areas to begin with – maybe society actually values the consumption they could have had above the industrial investment.

  • “It’d be interesting to see similar plots for the cost in lives of each war and the environmental harm caused.”

    Given the way Saddam Hussein treated his own people and his country, perhaps we should be looking at the lives saved and environmental harm prevented by the Iraq war and setting that off against the cost.

  • goonix

    I see we have some keen war proponents in here.

  • “It is not relatively cheaper; I would say the inflation adjusted graph is the one to look at if you want to test whether war is cheaper today or not”

    Indeed, this doesn’t actually tell us that the relative price is lower. However, I think the point rauparaha was getting at is that the war is now relatively more affordable 😉

    “Given the way Saddam Hussein treated his own people and his country, perhaps we should be looking at the lives saved and environmental harm prevented by the Iraq war and setting that off against the cost.”

    Indeed. Ultimately, in a world of politics it is about finding the appropriate counterfactual – when rauparaha was discussing these “costs” he was objectively splitting it away from the potential benefits caused by the given situation. Rather than making a statement on whether the war was right or wrong, he was trying to get a full idea of the cost involved.

    One way of looking at this is as follows. If we knew 1 person would be killed directly as the result of the war, and that 1 person would be killed if we did not go to war (as a result of the administration) then 1 dead person is still a cost of going to war – however there is the benefit that we would have saved one person (from the counterfactual situation). These benefits are important when making a decision on whether to go to war – but they are not directly related to the calculation of the cost (which in the example is still 1 person).

  • goonix

    What about if you go to war to find one Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) but actually find none?

  • “What about if you go to war to find one Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) but actually find none?”

    For the “benefit” all that matters is your “ex-ante” expectations – if they really believed that there was some WMD, they are allowed to put it in the benefit category when choosing 😉

  • goonix

    Karl Rove move over!

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  • terence

    Hi there Matt,

    The invasion of Iraq involves waging war against one country (or, more specifically, one dictator and the insurgency), WWs 1&2 involved much larger scale conflict, and Vietnam went on much longer, so – while this is an interesting graph – we have there’s a few apples in with your oranges…

  • “The invasion of Iraq involves waging war against one country (or, more specifically, one dictator and the insurgency), WWs 1&2 involved much larger scale conflict, and Vietnam went on much longer, so – while this is an interesting graph – we have there’s a few apples in with your oranges…”

    Hi Terence,

    Good point.

    This wasn’t actually my post, I’m sure that Rauparaha will have some beautiful reasoning to give you 😉