War is not productive.
That’s what I thought when I heard that US forces had killed Bin Laden. We’ve spent over $1.2 trillion and lost almost 6000 soldiers in the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11—resources that could have been used to build things, not bomb things. Without the wars, we wouldn’t be facing an increase in the federal debt ceiling. Without the wars, we wouldn’t have to put up with extra security measures that are commonplace now.
I’m not saying that the US wasn’t right to hunt Bin Laden down. The 9/11 attacks and other atrocities demanded a response. A nation cannot allow an organized and armed foe to attack its citizens and disrupt its economy. If another attack had materialized, the economic cost might well have exceeded the cost of these two conflicts.
But that only reinforces my point: money spent on arms and armies isn’t being spent on factors that could improve the economy. Sometimes it works out otherwise—Rome’s famous roads were initially built to move its armies, but ended up enabling increased trade. Space technology, designed during the Cold War to facilitate nuclear missiles, has become a lynch-pin of global communications.
But that’s often not the case. And I don’t see any engineering or medical breakthroughs, except perhaps backscatter x-rays that give TSA agents an enhanced look at the passenger list. War is like sand in the economy’s gears: unproductive, annoying, and it wears things down.
That’s why I’m glad Bin Laden was caught. At least for him, the war is over.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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