Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Expensive War

No real point to this, just a mathematician being distracted by numbers.

During his 23 years ruling Iraq, Saddam killed about a million people. That is about 44,000 people per year.

The highest estimates and countings of deaths since the March 2003 U.S. invasion total about 50,000 people. That is about 21,000 people per year.

So the U.S. invasion, compared to Saddam's reign, is "saving" about 23,000 lives per year. That is the good news.

The U.S. invasion has cost about 500 billion dollars. That means it costs about 9 million dollars for each life "saved".

Is that a worthwhile use of money? Saving lives is a noble endeavor, but that is not an efficient use of U.S. Taxpayer money to save lives in another country. Once we are looking beyond our own borders, there are plenty of health and policy issues that could save many more lives with such a vast sum of money.

For the other side of the argument, assume that if the U.S. had not done its invasion then terrorists would have nuked all of New York City by now. By this scenario the U.S. invasion has prevented an additional 8 million deaths, reducing the cost to $62,000 per person "saved".

Not even considering the extra "collective damage" of New York City vanishing, many Americans spend that much on their own health (especially over three or four years) to stay alive. We could still be saving more lives per billion dollars globally, but as a domestic issue this becomes defendable.

In reality, the war has prevented some domestic terrorism but probably not the total eradication of New York City. The actual efficiency of our war dollars per life saved is thus, of course, somewhere between the two above extremes.

And, of course, saving lives is not the only issue. But you were warned there was no real point to this post.

For another interesting analysis of numbers in Iraq, see Eye of the Beholder by Victor Davis Hanson.