Terrorism as a Tax
Definitely a good way to look at it:
Fear, in other words, is a tax, and al-Qaeda and its ilk have done better at extracting it from Americans than the Internal Revenue Service. Think about the extra half-hour millions of airline passengers waste standing in security lines; the annual cost in lost work hours runs into the billions. Add to that the freight delays at borders, ports and airports, the cost of checking money transfers as well as goods in transit, the wages for beefed-up security forces around the world. And that doesn't even attempt to put a price tag on the compression of civil liberties or the loss of human dignity from being groped in full public view by Transportation Security Administration personnel at the airport or from having to walk barefoot through the metal detector, holding up your beltless pants. This global transaction tax represents the most significant victory of Terror International to date.
The new fear tax falls most heavily on the United States. Last November, the Commerce Department reported a 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the United States between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2006. (There are no firm figures for 2007 yet, but there seems to have been an uptick.) That slump has cost the country $94 billion in lost tourist spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in forgone tax revenue -- and all while the dollar has kept dropping.
Why? The journal Tourism Economics gives the predictable answer: "The perception that U.S. visa and entry policies do not welcome international visitors is the largest factor in the decline of overseas travelers." Two-thirds of survey respondents worried about being detained for hours because of a misstatement to immigration officials. And here is the ultimate irony: "More respondents were worried about U.S. immigration officials (70 percent) than about crime or terrorism (54 percent) when considering a trip to the country."
In Beyond Fear I wrote:
Security is a tax on the honest.
If it weren’t for attackers, our lives would be a whole lot easier. In a world where everyone was completely honorable and law-abiding all of the time, everything we bought and did would be cheaper. We wouldn’t have to pay for door locks, police departments, or militaries. There would be no security countermeasures, because people would never consider going where they were not allowed to go or doing what they were not allowed to do. Fraud would not be a problem, because no one would commit fraud. Nor would anyone commit burglary, murder, or terrorism. We wouldn’t have to modify our behavior based on security risks, because there would be none.
But that’s not the world we live in. Security permeates everything we do and supports our society in innumerable ways. It’s there when we wake up in the morning, when we eat our meals, when we’re at work, and when we’re with our families. It’s embedded in our wallets and the global financial network, in the doors of our homes and the border crossings of our countries, in our conversations and the publications we read. We constantly make security trade-offs, whether we’re conscious of them or not: large and small, personal and social. Many more security trade-offs are imposed on us from outside: by governments, by the marketplace, by technology, and by social norms. Security is a part of our world, just as it is part of the world of every other living thing. It has always been a part, and it always will be.
Posted on May 12, 2008 at 6:29 AM • 83 Comments