The Costs of 9/11

Tuesday September 13th, 2011   •   Posted by Emily Skarbek at 7:03am PDT   •  

The New York Times has a wonderful info-graphic depicting the costs of 9/11 by Shan Carter and Amanda Cox. As the author’s point out, the United States has spent an estimated $7 million for every dollar Al Qaeda spent planning and executing the attacks – approximately one-fifth of the current national debt.

Notably, these figures include an estimated $100 billion in lost time at airports due to increased TSA. The authors also include a study by economists at Cornell University that note that fear and the inconvenience of airport security caused some people to drive instead of fly, estimating nearly 2,400 deaths in car accidents from Oct. 2001 to Sept. 2003 may be linked to the attacks because of this increased shift to automobile travel.

What I find useful about this simple tool is that even the cold numbers reveal that the losses of 9/11 are of far greater value than the monetary costs incurred. Those who lost their lives and their families. The trauma and health effects for the first-responders. The loss of well-being, the loss of civil liberties, loss of freedom, the security theater, the costs of war and innocent victims oversees (warning: graphic), and all of the related, unseen, and unanticipated costs of this tragedy.

In the words and recent experience of this woman, “in the name of patriotism we lost a lot of our liberty”.

Hayek warns of these same great losses as the consequence of war and the demand for security in the Road to Serfdom. Others, like Richard Cobden considered the arguments of military intervention in the name of markets, concluding that advocates of markets must be advocates of peace. And Chris Coyne’s book, After War demonstrates that efforts to export democracy at gunpoint are dangerous and ineffective.

The free market tradition is steeped in the understanding that “when goods don’t cross boarders, soldiers will”. Liberals and conservatives, in reflecting on the tragedy of 9/11, should use this opportunity to reconsider the relationship between markets and peace in a liberal and free society.

Addendum: On a lighter note, the Onion Commemorates 9/11! (HT: Liya P.)

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September 2011