One Man’s Waste Is Another Man’s Bonanza
By Robert Higgs • Thursday September 1, 2011 9:33 AM PDT • 14 Comments
In a recently released report, the Commission on Wartime Contracting concludes that waste and fraud have consumed at least $31 billion and perhaps as much as $60 billion of the $190 billion or so that the U.S. government has expended in grants and contracts with private individuals and companies for work in Iraq and Afghanistan since fiscal 2002. According to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The report faults poor decision making, vague requirements and a lack of training as the chief causes and says that the waste and fraud could have been avoided with better oversight and safeguards.”
To which I am inclined to respond, not bloody likely.
Think about it: $30 billion is a helluva lot of money. At my current rate of earning, I will have to work more than 300,000 years to earn this amount—and it’s entirely possible that I will not last that long. Of course, what is called “fraud and waste” is not a sum of money that simply evaporated in the hot desert sun. Aside from the small amount literally lost, every dollar of this sum ended up in someone’s pocket.
The report tells us that the contractor workforce has sometimes included as many as 260,000 persons. Let us err on the side of a probably unwarranted presumption of innocence and suppose that only 10 percent of them are outright crooks. We have, then, 26,000 crooks pocketing an increment of at least $31 billion, or approximately $1.2 million per crooked contract worker.
Are we supposed to believe that 26,000 civilians in the contracting corps have reaped not only their already handsome, legally contracted compensation, but enough additional loot to make each of them a millionaire on top of that compensation, and nobody noticed until now? Are we simply to attribute this massive amount of misspent taxpayer money to “poor decision making, vague requirements, and a lack of training” without asking, But who got the dough?
The report’s all-too-typical way of looking at the matter may satisfy you, especially if you are given to belief in fairy tales. I am more inclined to view this whole business as not so much a mass of incompetence (though there is undoubtedly plenty of that, too) as a deliberate ongoing embezzlement on the grandest scale.
Back in the 1930s, the legendary Marine General Smedley Butler, having spent his military career running errands for U.S. banks and other companies in various parts of the world, concluded that war is not what most people take it to be:
War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
Can anyone say with a straight face that he was wrong, or that the same conclusion cannot be reached today?