Sunday, August 29, 2010

Canard Season: On the Economic Impact of Operation Iraqi Freedom

Via QandO, comes this devastating deconstruction at The American Thinker of the oft-repeated meme that the Iraq War was responsible for the ballooning deficits under which our economy now labors. The general idea has been that Teh Eeevil Booosh had squandered our Nation's wealth on his Massive Boondoggle (for the enrichment of the Oil Companies, the Military-Industrial Complex, or any other of a host of popular bogeymen). And so, the 'reasoning' goes, it is hypocritical in the extreme for Conservatives to now decry the deficits which we now endure under our Democratic Administration and (for now!) Congress.

Bunk. Pure, unadulterated bunk. Have a peek at the chart, below.



Notice anything about the years? Specifically, recall which party was in charge of Congress from 2003 through 2007. Notice anything about the deficit trend lines during those years? How about right after?

The less I say here, the higher the probability that you will read the whole thing. And you should read the whole thing. The author cites the Government's own numbers (i.e., this isn't something cooked up at the Heritage Foundation  or somesuch). It is a bit of much-needed perspective, particularly as we approach the time when we get to decide who writes the next set of budgets.

7 comments:

Mike said...

Dude, one very emphatic piece of advice here: before you even think about commenting on anything budget related, take a while to study the finances of the US. I assure you that what you find will scare the living shit out of you. It scares the shit out of me despite the fact that I am very comfortable with numbers and have largely decoupled my well being from that of the U.S.

This is an excellent place to start. It deals almost entirely with unemployment and economic growth data, but once you get a basic understanding of the degree to which those numbers are distorted, you may get an inkling of what's done to military spending numbers before they reach the public.

Should that happen, please reread the article linked in your post and tell me if you don't find it as comical as I do.

Should it not happen, you may nonetheless want to ask yourself why the article makes so much of putting the ersatz Iraq costs in all manner of fancy shmancy contextual charts without any mention of the Afghanistan costs.

[1127 characters. Take that, bear skins and stone knives!]

Noocyte said...

Point of order: You are of course free to comment on my qualifications to speak on certain topics. I in turn am free to find it irritating.

Regardless, you are litigating a case which the article and my post are not making. On general matters of fiscal discipline and the proper size of government, we are in broad agreement. It is on a host of crucial particulars which we tend to differ.

I expect we would agree that unnecessary deficit spending is a bad thing. This article does not contradict that. I have said many times that wars are always fought on a deficit, and you have said the same (of course, we have differed on what kinds of wars should be fought, given that reality). This article does not contradict that.

The (far more limited) point that the article and my post are making is that the amount of spending on OIF as a proportion of total government deficit spending is insufficient to account for the enormity of our debt and deficit burden, as war opponents claim. Those opponents maintain --disingenuously or ignorantly-- that the absence of the war, all other things being equal, would have prevented or very substantially mitigated the calamitous debts and deficits under which we now labor.

Even with quite substantial bands of error in either direction, the article indicates that that hypothesis is not supported. Government spending is and has been grossly out of control. This was the case during the tenure of the GOP in the WH and Congress. It is titanically more so now. I cannot see how we could disagree on that.

The article does not factor in OEF because it is not about the Afghanistan campaign. My strong suspicion, however, is that its inclusion would constitute a difference more of degree than kind. But that's for another day.

Mike said...

Point of order: You are of course free to comment on my qualifications to speak on certain topics. I in turn am free to find it irritating.

I apologize for my wording. My intent was by no means to irritate, but rather to get you to look at the real numbers and re-evaluate at least that part of your position. Seriously: spend a few hours on shadowstats and if afterward you don't feel it was time well spent, drinks are on me in October.

The remainder of my reply is forthcoming, but I really wanted to apologize and clarify that ASAP.

Mike said...

And, the remainder:

The (far more limited) point that the article and my post are making is that the amount of spending on OIF as a proportion of total government deficit spending is insufficient to account for the enormity of our debt and deficit burden, as war opponents claim.

I get that, and the author was clearly quite careful in choosing quotes to refute which mention only the Iraqi campaign. My point is that proponents of this kind of foreign policy are always quick to argue that this is a "long war" with many fronts. But when it comes to tallying the costs, they are all too happy to deal with individual campaigns in a broad context rather than the entire "long war" in the same context.

Those opponents maintain --disingenuously or ignorantly-- that the absence of the war, all other things being equal, would have prevented or very substantially mitigated the calamitous debts and deficits under which we now labor.

Well, the opponents of which you speak take on many forms and political stripes and definitely don't fit under any one tent fiscally. I, personally, feel that the costs of these campaigns individually are merely pieces of the puzzle representing the costs of a hawkish foreign policy in general. Further, I would argue that absent such an active foreign policy, it would be much more difficult to justify an active domestic policy.

So whereas it's pretty ridiculous to say that Iraq is the primary cause of the current US debts and deficits, it's equally ridiculous to use the official costs of the Iraq war in isolation as an argument for a hawkish foreign policy not being expensive.

Even with quite substantial bands of error in either direction, the article indicates that that hypothesis is not supported.

Yeah. Thing is, the bands of error are dramatically wider than you could ever imagine without really delving into it. We're talking three and sometimes four digit percentages. And again, that's just the cost of one small piece of the puzzle.

Government spending is and has been grossly out of control. This was the case during the tenure of the GOP in the WH and Congress. It is titanically more so now.

True dat. It has long been my contention that the party in charge bears little if any effect on gov spending. Bailout Barry and his bonny band of babbling baboons provide a glaring counterexample, but I still suspect that they are a statistical outlier - a "Black Swan" if you will - that just happens to have a D in front of it. Alarmingly, I used to say the same about the GWB administration 2 years ago - especially having followed the Clinton administration which benefitted in that regard from conflicts with a GOP dominated legislative branch - replacing the 'D' with an 'R' :-(.

Noocyte said...

Quick comment (enjoying the week-end, and return of the Li'l 'Cyte from the Grand-'Cytes' as well as loading up, learning my way around, and overall enjoying the living shite out of my new phone --HTC EVO--).

Irritated but not offended: apology appreciated (and, of course, accepted), but hardly necessary.

Needless to say, I do see OIF as having been part of the Long War, and so agree that any comprehensive fiscal accounting of that War should include Iraq, Afghanistan, assorted ops (palms-up and covert) in Africa and other places, etc., etc.

But the specific criticism which the article was addressing was the cost of OIF alone. The author wasn't engaging in clever parsing and cropping; he was sticking to the point. The points you raise are good points, but they are other points, valid but extraneous to the matter at hand, which was strictly the cost of the Iraq campaign.

And yes, "Bailout Barry" (LOL!) is quite the outlier. If the GOP was spending like a drunken sailor (which it surely was), then this bunch is that same sailor on the manic leg of a wicked bipolar disorder...on crack. Far-reaching entitlement reform, a dramatic reduction in the size of the Federal Government, a reformation of the tax code, ditching the "Drug War," and a host of other measures...well, these are a good start to what needs to happen.

I still think a "hawkish" foreign policy would be in order (if not more so; the liberties and prosperity which such a reform would unleash would be all the more worthy of defending!). But the undeniable expense it would entail would at least stand SOME chance of being recouped (cf assorted post-war periods in American history)...or at least of not breaking our backs!

Nina-Marie said...

Oh my husband is so not allowed to read your blog. He already spends enough time yelling at the news he sees on the TV and 'puter.

Keep up the good work Noocyte!

Noocyte said...

I say turn him loose in here, Nina. Maybe if he spends time posting his thoughts here in Comments, he might spend less time yelling.

Why d'you think I started the blog in the first place? ;-)