Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

The NYT Should Have Paid More Attention To The Nordhaus Estimates Before The Iraq War

| Mar. 19, 2008

At the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq, estimates of its long-run cost range from $1.2-$1.7 trillion by my former colleague Peter Orszag, now Director of the Congressional Budget Office, to $2 - 3 trillion by my current colleague Linda Bilmes with another former colleague Joe Stiglitz (in a book that is appropriately getting lots of attention, including for example from John Cusack). The important point is that the costs far exceed the $50-$60 billion that the White House predicted ahead of time.
A story in today’s New York Times proclaims “Estimates of Iraqi War Cost Were Not Close to Ballpark.” It turns out that the pre-war estimates they are talking about are those that came from the Bush Administration. At the very end, the article finally mentions “Only one economist, William D. Nordhaus of Yale, seems to have come close. In a paper in December 2002, he offered a worst-case scenario of $1.9 trillion, ‘if the war drags on, occupation is lengthy, nation building is costly.’” You might not guess from the NYT story that Bill Nordhaus’s study was the only thorough independent professional attempt to estimate the cost of invading Iraq ahead of time. (At least it is the only one that I was aware of.)
The question is why the media did not give more attention to the Nordhausestimates, and less attention to the Administration’s crazily over-optimistic forecasts, while there was still time for the nation to make an intelligent policy choice. The media’s omission was all the more conspicuous in that by December 2002 the White House’s crazily over-optimistic forecasts of the federal budget overall had already become apparent. And they are all still at it.
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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Frankel, Jeffrey.The NYT Should Have Paid More Attention To The Nordhaus Estimates Before The Iraq War.” Views on the Economy and the World, March 19, 2008, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/nyt-should-have-paid-more-attention-nordhaus-estimates-iraq-war.