Economists are great at “predicting” events after they happen. Unfortunately, the real trick is predicting events before they happen. Friedman thus deserves extra credit for foreseeing stagflation. Donald Wittman deserves extra credit for foreseeing the base closings bill. Now I’d like to hand out another foresight award to Bill Nordhaus. Here‘s what he said about the Iraq War back in 2002:

Particularly worrisome are the casual promises of postwar democratization, reconstruction, and nation-building in Iraq. The cost of war may turn out to be low, but the cost of a successful peace looks very steep. If American taxpayers decline to pay the bills for ensuring the long-term health of Iraq, America would leave behind mountains of rubble and mobs of angry people. As the world learned from the Carthaginian peace that settled World War I, the cost of a botched peace may be even higher than the price of a bloody war.

Economists of all people should have been open to the possibility that intervention in Iraq would actually make matters worse. But Nordhaus was one of the few who saw it coming, and went on the record. Well done.