TCS Daily

A 'Cheaper Way'?

By Jerry Bowyer - May 14, 2003 12:00 AM

"There are much cheaper ways to tear down a statue", said Nancy Pelosi the day after the Iraqi people tore down the image of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad. Of course, the true cost is not in pulling the statues down (you can hire a guy with a chain and a back hoe to do that for $1,000 a day), but in getting to the statue in the first place. Looked at from that perspective, Operation Iraqi Freedom looks to be one of the most cost-effective Evil Dictator Statue Removal Services in America's history.

There's a way to simplify the job of comparing the costs of America's wars as much as possible. I recently asked Professor Robert Whaples, who teaches economic history at Wake Forest University to look at the cost of the following wars: Independence, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American war, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, and the Gulf War, and express them as a percentage of one year's GDP at the time the war was initiated. In essence, this not only eliminates any confusion in comparison based on inflation but also eliminates any confusion that may arise based on the size of the American economy. The bar chart above graphically represents what percentage of one year's economic production was consumed by each war in question.

WWII consumed 130% of one year's economic productivity; by comparison Operation Iraqi Freedom consumed 0.6% of one year's economic productivity. In other words, the burden of the cost of WWII was 217 times greater than the burden of the cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This assumes a $62.6 billion cost for the latter war, and this estimate appears to be on the high side, as the Pentagon has recently reported that, so far, the Iraqi operation has only cost roughly $20 billion but another $10 billion is expected. It's not just the Big One: minor wars such as the Mexican War or the Spanish-American war both consumed roughly 3%, which is 5 times greater than the cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There were many arguments advanced in opposition to the recent military action: some moral and some ideological, but a careful examination of the available financial data in historical context shows that the economic objection voiced by the leader of the house Democrats just doesn't stand.

Jerry Bowyer is a talk show host on WPTT Radio in Pittsburgh. He can be reached through

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