Back in September ’03, in a more innocent time, I suggested only somewhat tongue in cheek that there might be a market-based solution to the Iraq quagmire: Rather than spend the billions in Iraq that the administration was then requesting, we just give the Iraqis $3,230 each and go home. It was more than their pre-war GDP per person, and they’d probably make better use of the money than we would.
Of course, by now we’ve spent a great deal more in Iraq than the administration ever budgeted, let on, or (I suspect) imagined. The current estimate of the US cost of the war is around $283,000,000,000 and counting and of course that ignores the personal cost to Iraq, Iraqis, and the families (here and abroad) of all the fatalities and casualties. Had we taken that $283 billion and handed it out to the 25 million or so Iraqis, that would be $11,300 or so for every man, woman and child — or 4.7 times the pre-war GDP/person.
But that’s all money down the rat hole (well, mostly — a few billion here or there was simply stolen).
Today I want to suggest a different market-based solution to an aspect of the current crisis. It’s been years that the US has supposedly been searching for “most wanted terrorist” Osama bin Laden with all its might, yet without success. (Some cynics have suggested that in fact US interests are served by not finding bin Laden since his continued freedom justifies the Long War and that the failure to find him is not entirely unwelcome or accidental; that’s too cynical even for my blood.)
The bin Laden hunt has been handled by the military and the intelligence services. Neither seems to have been up to the job. My proposal is simple: unleash capitalism.
Currently the US offers a paltry reward for the capture of bin Laden — a mere $25 million dollars (There is a separate, private offer of $2 million on the table as well.) While this amounts to a great deal of money, especially in the impoverished regions in which bin Laden is thought to have his secret undisclosed location, it clearly hasn’t been enough.
And if capitalism teaches us anything it is that if you want the goods and the other side won’t sell, then you have to raise your price.
Considering that we’ve spent some $283 billion invading a country that was no threat to us and had not recently done us any particular harm, surely we could find under a thousandth of that for the bin Laden buyout? Suppose the reward were not $25 million but $250 million — a quarter of a billion? People get very excited about powerball lotteries in that range, and a payoff that size might encourage someone to snitch.
Heck, offer a cool billion. Pay it out like lottery winnings and the present value is half that. Tax it and it’s down back in the neighborhood of that quarter billion. But still real money.
The only downside I can see to this plan is that there’s a danger that al-Qaeda will turn in bin Laden themselves, in order to get money to fund their next attack. I suppose the reward offer would have to be conditioned in some way to make this more difficult without descending into the catch-22 that anyone who knows bin Laden’s location is presumptively a terrorist or a fellow traveler and thus the sort of person we don’t want to give the money to…