Looking around for something blindingly stupid to read this weekend? Well, you came to the right place!
Err... that didn't sound quite right. Nonetheless, Happy Fun Pundit's got the goods, courtesy of Professor Roger Congleton of the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy at George Mason University. The Rog-man wants us to know that we're all making much too big a deal out of this terrorism stuff; folks, September 11 was just a "criminal mode of political speech", a "possible method of political dialogue".
Criminy! Why didn't someone say so before? I was so puckered I pulled the buttons off the couch! Why, those lousy alarmists got us all worked up over political speech!
But it gets better. See, y'got what, 3000 dead? Well, you Nervous Nellies, something like 42,000 people died in highway traffic accidents in 1999! You're, like, fourteen times more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a terrorist! Doesn't that mean that the budget for highway accident prevention should be fourteen times that for preventing terrorism? You bet it does --- thanks for setting us straight, Professor Congaline!
I know, I know, it's been done to death, but please allow me just one Pearl Harbor analogy:
"Not as bad as DC traffic!" quips Roosevelt
Apart from the simplemindedness of measuring the impact of 9-11 only in terms of lives lost, there's a lot of other things wrong with this paper. Donkey Congleton seems to have a lot of trouble dealing with his data. According to Table 1 in his paper, there were 1006 people killed or injured in North American in 1993 due to international terrorist attacks; presumably, this figure is due in large part to the first WTC attack. For some reason, though, these casualties don't count:
If we do not count casualties from the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, North American casualties were essentially zero during the period 1991-2000.
The "international" qualification, mentioned in the table heading but not in the text, also manages to make the casualties from the Oklahoma City bombing go bye-bye. I assume also that the structure of the table is based on the whereabouts of the terrorist attack, rather than citizenship of the victims, so North Americans killed abroad don't count. Oh, and you have to leave off the year 2001, 'cause then all the sudden the North American death toll for that year alone exceeds the deaths in the rest of the world for the whole decade.
Essentially zero, like the man says.
Not that it really matters; the point of the table appears to be that compared to the rest of the world, North America just doesn't have a terrorist problem. What we need is more traffic cops and not-catching-rabies guys.
Even the terrible death toll of September 2001 implies a risk of death from terrorist attack that is well below that of death from ordinary murder or traffic accident in the United States. Indeed, even in that year, the probability of being killed by terrorism in the United States was less than that of being run over by a car while walking.
To summarize: the only costs of September 11 we are concerned about are lives lost. When it comes to assessing the cost of anti-terrorist measures, though, the rules are different:
If the new airport security measures cause each passenger to spend only an additional half hour in the airport, approximately 300 million person-hours will be contributed, off budget, by passengers to increase airport security. If the opportunity cost of time spent in line is $50.00 per hour, the off-budget cost of the new airport security measures in the United States amounts to approximately $15 billion per year.
Oh, now he wants to get all utilitarian and costy-benefity on us. No fair, Professor Cornflake --- if you don't count the non-fatality costs of 9-11 on one side of the ledger, then you sure the hell can't pull a fifty-dollar-a-person-hour cost out of your ass now.
Look, dude: I had to spend four days in a cheesy motel in Minneapolis as a direct result of 9-11. I want my two hundred dollars in food and accomodation counted, and I definitely want my lost working days counted, and let's throw in a few pain-and-suffering dollars for those seemingly endless hours I spent listening to CNN's Aaron Brown.
Finally, let me throw in just one out-of-context quote, just so I can feel like a real journalist:
The losses from terrorist acts clearly can be reduced by "encouraging" less-destructive terrorist methods --- say, blowing up a symbolic structure, such as the Washington
Monument, rather than destroying a building occupied by thousands of people, such as the World Trade Center.
Yes, indeedy. All we need is a big sign atop the Capitol Building:
Or maybe a big ad campaign in the terrorist breeding grounds:
RADICALIZED GUY: I'm angry about American foreign policy. I feel I should act on my anger by destroying an occupied building.
ROBERT YOUNG: Whoah, little too much caffeine in the coffee there, big fella. Here, try some of this Sanka.
RADICALIZED GUY: (taking cup) Thanks, but it's not just the caffeine, it's the arrogance of secular liberal democracies and their uncovered whorish women.
ROBERT YOUNG: Sure, but did you know that the anger of the American people towards those who destroy unoccupied and symbolic structures is much less than they what feel towards those who take lives with their political speech?
RADICALIZED GUY: Thanks, Robert Young! When I hold my political dialogue with the Great Satan, I'll be sure to minimize the death toll!
In summary: shut the hell up, Congleton. You're a frickin' idiot.
Congleton's paper, in all its tiresome idiocy, is here. A brief summary of major points and some responses appear in this UPI report.