In an attempt to achieve holy humility, I am dealing with objections against the several times I accused Ron Paul of being insouciant about facts. The first time I questioned on his blog Ron Paul’s veracity with respect to the alleged facts he throws out freely, I expressed disbelief at his assertion that the US spent 20 billion (B) a year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan (“ Ron Paul Won’t Get My Vote” posted December 3st 2011.) I declared, of course, that I did not believe that number for a minute. I also speculated in that posting on the possible sources of such silliness.
In reaction, frequent critic of this blog and fervent Paulista Crackpot sent me a flurry of links to press items supposedly supporting Paul’s statement. The 20 billion figure was so absurd on its face that I did not, at the time, make enough of an effort to activate the links. He sent me again recently, in a more user-friendly form, linkages to three press items purporting to prove to me that this country really spent 20 billion dollars annually on air conditioning warring in Afghanistan and in Iraq (Obviously, for Iraq, the figure has to be applied retrospectively. Not a problem.)
The first item, from the British Telegraph, usually a good source, does not endorse the claim but clearly attributes it. It turns out that the claim was made by a retired general named Steve Anderson. I think no one at all seconded him. It turns out from the Telegraph piece and, more clearly, from the third source, NPR (of all things) that the retired general had an ax to grind. He had been struggling in vain to make the higher brass accept the idea of insulating military tents with foam. It appears from the NPR report that the general had “green”concerns among other concerns of a more directly military nature. (This is not statement on whether the general was right about the foam.)
The Telegraph story gives figures that put the total annual cost of the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq in past years at 171 billion,or possibly at 180 billion. ( I am correcting a little upward for a given Iraq estimate based on 2011, a low year). Thus according to the same report in the Telegraph, air conditioning would account for something like 1/9th of American military expenditures for the two theaters of war together. Assuming a run-of-the mill underestimate of the total costs of war, air-conditioning would still eat up around 1/10th (ten per cent) of the whole.
That’s ridiculous, of course, but it may make sense sense if you keep in mind that the general was trying to prove a point. His accounting involves imputing to air conditioning some unknown fraction of the very high expenses naturally incurred when moving large amounts of freight over physically difficult, undeveloped terrain and under the constant threat of military attack.
Again, it’s no clear what formula you would use to attribute a fraction of the total transport expenditure to air conditioning. I note with interest though that if there were zero air conditioning in both countries, the transportation costs of everything else (ammunition, aviation fuel, trucks, parts, food) would probably amount to pretty much the same total. This is all a little fishy.
Yet, the idea of distributing the cost of an infrastructure across all users makes sense; it’s even quite intelligent, in fact. Perhaps, it’s a practice that should be adopted whenever market forces are lacking to tell us the true price of things. But at this point, it’s a highly unusual way of presenting information. It leads to false comparisons. (See above.) And, think of an apple grown in Washington state and transported to New York City to be sold there. If there were no market to tell me the true price of this apple, I am pretty sure that, with General Anderson’s accounting method, I could probably present the New York cost of that single apple as a cool $10 or more.
Note again that no one with credentials equal to those of General Anderson seems to have confirmed his A.C estimate. The Pentagon gave some alternative figures that NPR (of all sources) faithfully reproduces. There is every reason to believe that the Pentagon, a government agency, has to rely on conventional accounting methods. The Pentagon made these two relevant statements:
1 It spends annually for energy $15 billion for all its military operations around the world. “Energy” involves much more than air conditioning, obviously. The whole wold is a lot more than Iraq and Afghanistan.
2 It gives recent figures for fuel costs for Afghanistan alone equivalent to about $2.4 billion annually. It’s difficult to imagine that fuel for air conditioning specifically constitutes more than a fraction of all the fuel used in that theater of war including for trucks, cars, and especially, for airplanes. It seems reasonable to think that the air conditioning expense for Afghanistan is a small fraction of 1/10th of the amount advanced by General Anderson.
Now, if you think the Pentagon is lying here although it is one of most watched organizations in the world, you must either admit that there is no way to obtain this kind of information or, alternatively, you have better sources. If you do, please share them, don’t hog them, please!
I think that what happened with the bombastic allegation by Congressman Ron Paul is that the information came from some people on his overenthusiastic staff. As is often the case with enthusiasts, they didn’t take the time to study the very documents they use to shore up their pre-conceived notions. I persist in thinking that Mr Paul himself does not crack the whip on helpers with respects to such peccadilloes as saying “10” for “much less than 1.” Congressman Paul and his staff are, at minimum, unusually credulous. I am not sure I would not prefer that they lied like many other politicians and their organizations.
If you insist in spite of everything on believing the absurd 20 billion figure, you might at least console yourself with the thought that the estimated cost of the recent US military intervention in Libya was only 1/20th as much as the cost of air conditioning the war in Afghanistan and Iraq in a hot year, with full personnel. The liberation of Libya was a steal, I would say!
(This last info is from The Week, the third source Crackpot provided in a futile attempt to overcome implausibility.)
I am not sure whether you will be able to activate the links below that Crackpot sent me. If you can’t, perhaps Crackpot will oblige again.
The UK’s Telegraph on $20 billion a year for air conditioning (which we’ve already gone over a number of times):http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8601975/US-spends-12.5-billion-a-year-on-air-con-in-Iraq-and-Afghanistan.html
The Week on $20 billion a year:http://theweek.com/article/index/216786/the-militarys-20-billion-air-conditioning-bill-by-the-numbers
And, last but not least, NPR drops the $20 billion bomb:http://www.npr.org/2011/06/25/137414737/among-the-costs-of-war-20b-in-air-conditioning