The Daily Parker

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Costs and benefits of anti-terror spending

Gulliver this afternoon examines whether we might want to examine them:

A new academic paper [PDF] from John Mueller (of The Ohio State University) and Mark Stewart (of the University of Newcastle in Australia) attempts to determine whether the return on investment justified those huge expenditures. ... [T]he findings in this paper are truly remarkable. By 2008, according to the authors, America's spending on counterterrorism outpaced all anti-crime spending by some $15 billion. Messrs Mueller and Stewart do not even include things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which they call "certainly terrorism-determined") in their trillion-plus tally.

"[A] most common misjudgment has been to embrace extreme events as harbingers presaging a dire departure from historical patterns. In the months and then years after 9/11, as noted at the outset, it was almost universally assumed that the terrorist event was a harbinger rather than an aberration. There were similar reactions to Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bomb attack in Oklahoma City as concerns about a repetition soared. And in 1996, shortly after the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo set off deadly gas in a Tokyo subway station, one of terrorism studies' top gurus, Walter Laqueur, assured the world that some terrorist groups 'almost certainly' will use weapons of mass destruction 'in the foreseeable future.' Presumably any future foreseeable in 1996 is now history, and Laqueur’s near 'certainty' has yet to occur."

The paper also found that anti-terror spending has outpaced anti-crime spending by some $15 bn, despite crime costing society significantly more. The paper doesn't go into the politics of why this might be so, but I'll hazard a guess that cutting crime benefits more people a little while spending on anti-terror measures benefits a few people quite a bit. Lowering the likelihood that my car will suffer $300 in damage from a break-in has less immediacy than a $30m contract for a new security gadget would were I in that line of business.

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