I'm not complaining, but hardly anybodymy wife, our
three grown-up offspring, our five grandchildren and their dogsever
ask me for my opinion about how best to make, save, and spend money.
It's one of the drawbacks of being an English major deep
in my dotage.
Nevertheless, my wife and I live comfortable lives. We're
both retired and I'm mystified about how we can live higher on the
hog now than we did while we were both drawing regular paychecks.
And get this: a couple of years ago we boughtfor the first timea
brand new car.
We talk to it and caress it and look for reasons to go
I took a freshman econ class once. Squeezed by with a C-
minus and I don't remember that the textbook said anything about
caressing new cars, so I guess it was all right.
And then last week I read a piece on the internet by Kevin
G. Hall headlined "Nobel Laureate Estimates Wars' Cost at More than
It started like this: "When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in
March, 2003, the Bush administration predicted that the war would be
self-financing and that rebuilding the nation would cost less than $2
But this year, we get the bad news from Hall: "Coming up
on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, a Nobel laureate now
estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing America
more than $3 trillion."
That dire prediction comes from Nobel Prize-winning
economist Joseph Stiglitz who just this month published a new book
called "The Three Trillion Dollar War" which was to go on sale at
bookstores this past weekend.
"How much is three trillion dollars?" I ask my wife.
"It's got a whole lot of zeroes in it," she says. "You
may not be able to handle it."
"Like how many?" I ask. "More than the zeros it takes to
make a thousand?"
She rolls her eyes.
"Three zeros for a thousand" she says, "and twelve zeros
for a trillion. Looks like this: $3,000,000,000,000. Three
trillion buckerooskies. And that's just the U.S. It's costing our
"Good," I say. "That was a little test to see if you knew
what a trillion is, and you passed the test."
"Let me see," she says, rolling her eyes again.
She always does that after I explain to her how wise she's
getting to be when I ask her to solve little problems that I pretend
are too hard for me to handle.
But I hand her the piece headlined "Nobel Laureate
Estimates War's Cost at More than $3 Trillion."
The Truth, Mainly
She reads it aloud:
"When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March, 2003, the Bush
administration predicted that the war would be self-financing and
that rebuilding the nation would cost less than $2 billion.
"Coming up on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, a
Nobel laureate now estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
are costing America more than $3 trillion."
"Gulp," she says.
"Gulp, gulp," I say.
Those number estimates come from Stiglitz' book. The
White House predictably wasn't happy about the book.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said this:
"People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the
cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can't even begin
to put a price tag on the cost of this nation of the attacks of
.It is also an investment in the future safety and security of
Americans and our vital national interests. Three trillion? What
price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have
already been prevented? Or doesn't his slide rule work that way?"
But, according to Kevin Hall, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., "a
decorated Marine Corp colonel and Vietnam veteran
to quantify how much the wars will cost tax payers."
"It's astounding," Rep. Murtha said, "that here we are
about to make the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and this
administration still refuses to acknowledge the long-term costs of
the war in Iraq."
Picky, picky, picky.
But what does Rep. Murtha know about the long-termor
even short termcosts of war? Surely our President knows more.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail