The Three Trillion Dollar War

April 25, 2008

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Last month, the Iraq war entered its sixth year and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The U.S. death toll recently topped the 4,000 mark and the number of Iraqi deaths is anywhere from 20 to 200 times higher.

Figuring out the financial costs of the War is just as mysterious.  Before the War, the Bush Administration estimated its total economic cost would be a low as 50 billion dollars. Currently, the official estimate is up to 500 billion dollars.

At the same time President Bush declared that the war in Iraq would not harm the American economy, a leading world economist published a book that puts the estimated price tag on the Iraq War in the trillions.

We'll spend most of the hour with Joseph Stiglitz, Professor of Economics at Columbia University and Former Chief Economist at the World Bank. He's Co-author of the book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. Stiglitz won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001.

He co-wrote the book with Linda Bilmes, Professor of Public Finance at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. In the book, they maintain the Bush Administration intentionally low-balled the cost of the war — and keeps a second set of numbers hidden from the public.

In response to the 3 trillion dollar estimate, the White House went on the attack. A White House spokesperson said, “People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can't even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11.”

I asked Stiglitz what effect the Iraq War has had on the American economy…