The True Costs of War

Sorry if you were wanting to ease into the weekend with a new girl scout cookie review.

In a chapter titled “Economics Confronts the Earth,” Juliet Schor, the author of True Wealth, writes about a group of economists, natural scientists, engineers, systems dynamic researchers, and other who came together twenty-five years ago around the view that ecosystems should be at the core of economic analysis.

“They were especially interested in what conventional economics wasn’t measuring or studying,” Schor explains. “These dissenters recognized a fundamental point about how our system has been operating. If the market economy gets large, and nature remains external to it, threats to basic ecosystem functioning will arise.” “Ecological economics,” she notes, “has mostly been ignored by the mainstream.” 

And she adds, “Environmental economics has also been closely intertwined with energy economics, which in turn has ties to energy companies and interests. And in the last few decades, special interests acting against environmental protection, often from the energy sector, have enlisted economics to water down regulations and forestall action.”

Put most simply, mainstream economists, by ignoring ecosystems, underestimate the true costs of production and consumption. Similarly, we grossly underestimate the true costs of war by slighting the devastation inflicted both upon civilians in the war zone and upon our surviving soldiers and their families following their return from combat. This MIT-based “The Human Cost of the War” website touches upon unaccounted for domestic costs, but is an especially good place to start to learn about the war’s devastating impact on Iraqis.

When economists total up the costs of the Iraqi war, they calculate the costs of the planes, artillery, food, energy, equipment, training, salaries, and Veteran Administration hospital costs. But they don’t factor in a litany of qualitative, post traumatic stress-related costs including substance abuse, depression, conflict-filled marriages, separated families, violent crimes including murder, and suicides.

More specifically, they don’t factor in Benjamin Colton Barnes and vets like him who can’t shake the violence of their war experience. They don’t factor in the loss of Margaret Anderson, the Mount Rainier park ranger that Barnes recently shot to death before fleeing and dying himself. They don’t factor in what Eric Anderson’s life is like, Margaret’s husband, also a Rainier ranger. And they don’t factor in what Eric Anderson’s 1 and 3 year old daughters lives are like now without their mother.

Just as many special interests that don’t want environmental economists to highlight economic costs to ecosystems, many others don’t want a full accounting of war’s costs. The tragedy of this failed accounting is aptly described on the MIT “The True Cost of War” website—”. . . if there is no accountability for the human toll of war, the urge to deploy military assets will remain powerful.”

One thought on “The True Costs of War

  1. What a great insight by Schor. Most people don’t see beyond today the impact of their decisions and even less when it comes to the actions of people they don’t associate with but whose activities affect us directly and indirectly.

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