Cost of Iraq war ‘cheap’ by historical measures, says WFU economic historian

By many measures, the war with Iraq has been less costly than past conflicts in U.S. history, says Robert Whaples, associate professor of economics at Wake Forest University and an expert on wartime economy. However, the uncertainty of what happens next will continue to affect the U.S. economy, he says.

“This war has been cheap for Americans in many ways,” Whaples says. “Economically, it has accounted for less than one percent of the Gross Domestic Product, versus a full one percent in the Gulf War, 12 percent in the Vietnam War and 130 percent in World War II. The human cost for the United States has also been lower. So far, American deaths in this war are less than the 148 deaths in the Gulf War, the 47,000 in the Vietnam War and the 292,000 in World War II.”

Whaples says several unpredictable factors will play a role in how the war affects the U. S. economy in the coming months.

“Will the successes of this war increase the probability that we go to war with other tyrannical regimes such as North Korea and Syria? Will the successes make the world safer and, therefore, mean that we can spend less on the military in the future? Or will the war unleash more terrorism, thus driving up the costs of security? These factorsare impossible to predict, but each will affect the economy,” Whaples says.

Whaples is a past recipient of the Economic History Association’s prize for excellence in teaching economic history and is currently developing a seminar course on war and the economy. He graduated with a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, where his dissertation on the American work week received the Allen Nevins Prize for Outstanding Dissertation in American Economic History.

Whaples is experienced with print and broadcast media and is available for comment on how the war and aftermath will affect the U.S. economy. To arrange an interview, contact Sarah Mansell at, 336-758-4393 (office) or 336-926-0466 (cell).

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