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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 15, 2012 at 10:30 AM

In Afghanistan, the things we didn’t carry

Compelling new reporting on the Afghanistan war by the Seattle Times’ Hal Bernton raises many issues and questions. On the economic front, we must wrestle with the opportunity costs.

The Oxford Dictionary of Economics defines this as “the cost of something in terms of an opportunity foregone. Opportunity cost is given by the benefits that could have been obtained by choosing the best alternative opportunity.” Remember that the George W. Bush toppled the Taliban on the cheap, with Special Forces riding horses and funding war lords. This regime change was forced after Afghanistan was used as a training camp for al-Queda. But then the administration inserted combat troops (and started a totally unnecessary war with Iraq) and we’ve been on this imperial misadventure ever since. It has been continued under President Obama.

According to the Cost of War site, the two conflicts currently have drained us to the tune of $1.4 trillion, including $575 billion in Afghanistan. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard’s Linda Blimes have estimated that the conflicts will end up costing $3 trillion or more. Waste and fraud have been rampant. Veterans costs will soar into the far future. The land forces have been stretched to the breaking point. In exchange, we will end up with even less stable states than when we began. We are no more safe; we are arguably less so.

Meanwhile, Congress, especially the Tea Party House, spends endless hours bloviating over Amtrak’s annual subsidy of between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion. This as Amtrak sets ridership records. (Highways are heavily subsidized, too, but nobody’s feigning outrage). Some 300,000 teachers nationwide have been laid off. Federal research funding is under continuous assault. America has dropped its manned space program, sent its shuttles to museums. The Beltway conventional wisdom is hysterical over the deficit and pays no attention to lack of jobs, poverty and the battered middle class.

Without these wars, and the endless-war industrial policy, we could have done some nation-building at home. Think what $3 trillion or more would have built, in infrastructure, research and developing human capital — investments that would have more than paid for themselves in productivity, quality of life, addressing climate change and rebuilding the rungs on the ladder up. As opposed to building weapons that provide little multiplier effect once built and used, and when used in such misadventures as this will just keep adding to the red ink with little benefit. Yet it is the perfect companion for the opportunity costs of also allowing the banks to gamble away our future at the same time.

One would be hard pressed to concoct a conspiracy better suited to wrecking the country. Unfortunately, it was merely hubris, incompetence and ideology — harder to root out than any Manchurian Candidate.

And Don’t Miss: Is debt a burden on future generations? || Noahpinion

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Way back in the day

A railroad started up Sprint

Then came the train wreck

Comments | More in Defense, Deficit

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