Economics of Fighting Terrorism


Well-Known Member
Sep 24, 2006
Could it be reasonable to just ignore terrorists militarily? Pursuing terrorists in the way we did before 9/11, individually going after the perpetrators and organizers of attacks after the fact only would save enormous national resources that could be used to save more lives else ware. I put forth the following facts:

Annual Deaths in the US:
Due to Cancer: 553,888 (2004 data, the most current available)
Due to Terrorism: 300 (3,000 every decade or so at most to date)

Annual Budgets:
National Cancer Institute: $4.7 billion (2007 federal budget)
Global War on Terror: $110 billion (before the troop increase)

Part of me wants to say no. We should seek out and punish those who cause us pain and want to hurt us. But I'm starting to believe that the only reason I think that is I take it more personally when my friends are hurt by others, rather than a force of nature. Looking at the data, we could have net less hurt friends if we focus on forces of nature with as much intensity per death as we do other nations/people.

I'm not advocating shifting war expenses to cancer specifically, but there are other causes where you can save more lives per dollar spent than you can chasing terrorists. Cancer is just one example, other would include traffic safety, alzheimer's, diabetes, murder prevention (non-political), heart disease, and HIV.

There's an interesting group run by (i believe) the UN called the Copenhagen Consensus. Its basically a group of scientists and economists who rank the world's largest challenges and opportunities. Challenges being defined as the top things impacting both quality and length of life. Opportunities being things where money can have the most measurable impact on the challenges. Their top 4 are: communicable diseases, sanitation and water, education, and hunger. The concept of "fighting the bad people" doesn't even come into the list until #9 with liberalization of trade barriers, and #17 with general corruption.

It goes against some basic genetic tendencies I think, but I'm starting to believe we could be better off ignoring terrorism. In the grand scheme of things that cause humans pain, terrorism is a tiny speck. Even from a uniquely American perspective, terrorism is pretty far down the list.

What do you think?
I think your argument is logically sound. Why shouldn't we get the most bang for our buck? If millions more die from something else other than terrorism, why aren't we putting more research, funds and energy in solving those issues?
The typical justification here would be a kind of ideological slippery slope: (our) country must preserve its liberty and therefore we must defend it against those who seek to undermine it. I think the fear here is that if left to their own devices, a strong faction against the US and its supporters will build up, but of course the real picture is much more complicated than this, I'll bet. Also, as the Iraq II campaign demonstrates, the various allies and axes have commited to a point where it (according to current reasoning) is unwise to change tack until some specific definitive milestone has been passed.
Cancer doesn't know how much we are spending to prevent it and doesn't have the ability to reason, terrorists do. Therefore, terrorism is scarier to us. We can see it and hear it everyday. With cancer and other ills, we see it only if it touches us personally. Humans find the tangible much more of a threat.
Another point is that if many of us were killed off by cancer, we (Americans) still would have died in freedom and democracy (technically, we are a republic but, that is another story), if many of us die by terrorism, we could lose the freedom and democracy we so truely love. For Americans and other countries which enjoy many freedoms, it is worth it to lose money to keep all free, rather than to lose freedom to keep our money.
We are a little stingier when it comes to health because it is individual rather than national.
Sometimes I wonder about the factor of emotional impact on US citizens when it comes to terrorism. I have known persons who are so fearful of something else happening close to home that they simply to not enjoy life the way they once did. I can't help but wonder if they would be living the way they do if we had not seen something in the media practically every day about the "war on terror" for the last five plus years.

While not willing to turn a blind eye to those who seek to hurt us, I also think we have give short shrift to other matters that impact our libery as citizens of this nation during this time frame, and need to focus a part of our efforts more on addressing our own internal issues.

Your point is well taken. Even if its not economically the right move, we've still created a mess over there that we have some obligation to clean up. I guess I'm still arguing that we should never have gone, but now that we're there I should be aruging "what now".

So I guess given my position on the war, that would make my question: How do we get out quickly without leaving the area worse than when we started?
Mtatum: if TV is the opium of the masses, emotionalism is the substrate!

Framed: I hear you plenty there. I do agree that the US should not have involved itself in the way it did from the outset (I'm not thinking about the dodgy motives so much as I currently employ a consequentialist evaluation), and I also do wonder what is to be done now. And...I really wouldn't know.
I do agree that we could use more money to all the things mentioned above. But I don't think that ignoring terriosm is the way to go about it. The reason I state this is could you imagine if another attack happened like 9-11 again and it was even hinted that we did not put the money towards fighting terriosm. I don't agree with the way we went about this particular aspect of fighting terriosts, by going into Iraq. But I don't think we should get complacent in the fact that it won't happen again.
With the War in Irak, we've lost as many or more people we lost in 9/11, fighting in a war that to me makes no sense. Would I like that money spent on security better than war? Of course! and a chunk of that should go to research for cancer, education and health care. I am against the war in Irak, because that is not exactly a war against terrorism.
I think it's interesting where Guiliani and McCain are taking this argument in their campaigns. Anyone else keeping up with that?
I think it's interesting where Guiliani and McCain are taking this argument in their campaigns. Anyone else keeping up with that?

Being in Germany, I only get some highlight on CNN, and then I read the comentaries other write on the newspapers. I liked McCain attitude though. I'm looking forward to see him with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show International.
I missed that one. Of course, here in the States we get a lot of opportunity to see sound bytes on the candidates!