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 AM82 Comments


MickeyB May 12, 2008 7:28 AM

Vote with your feet, people. Don’t be terrorised by US officials. Visit a different country, spend your money where it’s appreciated and you don’t risk getting arrested for taking snapshots.

Clive Robinson May 12, 2008 7:39 AM


As I observed the other day on this blog people need to work out what the true costs are.

That is both the direct and indirect costs of the war on terror.

It has taken so much money out of the economy of the US & UK that both nations are heading into a depression.

The finger is currently been pointed at the banks for bad lending policy but in reality the reason joe public cannot meet commitments is the poor shape of the economy.

As for tourisum well what do the US Gove seriously expect, they have their “No Fly List”, not realising that for most people in the world now the US is top of their no fly list.

Both the US & UK need to wake up their economies are being flushed down the can and the vast waste of expenditure on the war on terror has pushed the economies over the edge.

Also not helping is the stupidity of “outsourcing abroad” if a company ousources it’s call center to India or other place and lays off its current staff it might save a few dollars in the next year. However those that it is laying off also form part of it’s customer base either directly or indirectly, so it is destroying it’s own future.

The US and UK economies are criticaly dependent on the Churn in the money supply, all outsourcing achieves in reality is the export of money to strengthen a forign economy…

Scott E. May 12, 2008 8:02 AM

[Message removed, along with many others by Scott E. and his confirmed sockpuppets Swami, Poobah, and Maharishi. — Moderator]

shoobe01 May 12, 2008 8:07 AM

This, coupled with the frequently-posted anti-photographer measures mean we are finally, demonstrably winning… the Global War on Tourism.

Laurie Mann May 12, 2008 8:13 AM

It’s not just the terrorism tax that’s sending this country towards depression – it’s the not adequately taxing people who could afford to pay more.

I know Bruce does not hate this country. Can’t say the same about people who’d scream epithets at people who dissent. This country was founded on dissent!

jkc May 12, 2008 8:23 AM

Terrorism is definitely taxing, but its effect on taxes is indirect. Fear, as the instrument through which terrorism acts to increase the cost of living, is also an indirect influence. Society has two degrees of freedom in deciding to deal with terrorism: the extent to which we allow it to induce fear, and the public policy response to that fear. I think choosing to equate terrorism with tax overlooks these two acts of volition, which are the loci of the failings of the current regime.

carbon14 May 12, 2008 8:34 AM

the bitter Scott E. expresses the “love it or leave it” bushit that is used against anyone who would protect our freedom, our rights and our heritage, from their modern totalitarian narrow minds. Those who truely love this country are not those who would shut up when the loud and stupid call for an end to thought.

Like it or not, we evolved from some very curious monkeys, and that is why we have elaborate security systems, its a game played between the two sides. We do this to give some of us a purpose, a goal. Its also true that we are not interested in solving the root causes for the violence that is part of our heritage so terrorism will continue to be a prop for government by extremists.

Muffin May 12, 2008 8:34 AM

Makes sense. I visited the USA in 2006, myself, and officials etc. at the airport only seemed to be intent on doing one thing – making me (and everyone else) feel that we were not welcome, that we were regarded as a potential security risk and nothing else, and that we were generally second-class human beings.

I may visit the USA again because I’ve got friends there I’d like to see again. Would I do so if I didn’t have these friends? Probably not. There’s friendlier countries out there, countries that are actually happy to see tourists – countries that are less paranoid and less scared.

Garrett G. May 12, 2008 8:44 AM

An additional “tax” of sorts is the absurdly low number of H1-B (work) visas that can be obtained by companies each year, as well as the bureaucratic delays in approving student visas. (Economic protectionism is also related to this anti-immigrant trend.)

The tragedy here is that the central government is restricting the number of highly qualified working professionals who can come into this country for no good reason. Far from being terrorists, they often gain a more positive view of America by working and living here, not to mention the positive (and job-creating) impact they have on our economy by making it competitive with markets overseas.

rodney May 12, 2008 8:55 AM

bruce…. thats not even wrong… keep up the good/bad/mediocre/whatever/who cares/ work/play/are you bored yet ?

Anonymous May 12, 2008 9:06 AM

Yes, Scott E., you are correct. America is perfect just the way it is at this moment and saying otherwise about ANY part of the Gub’ment is “Anti-Americanism.” Clearly any American who would betray their own country with such slanderous comments about their own “rights” are not only selfish individuals, but traitors who should be put up against a wall and shot.

Guest May 12, 2008 9:06 AM

I’m not surprised if Scott E. voted for Bush and his gang of no-good arses.

And the visa thing. I guess UK is the next place that will take a hit on tourism.

I remember a video, where they mocked Bush’s statement that terrorists attack America because they hate the freedom. The video said “Yeah right! If the terrorists hated freedom, they should be fucking blowing up the Netherlands”.

@Ru F
You talk about the freedom given by the Founding Fathers. They also created the Bill of Rights, and they told you to question the Government every now and then. Ever seen the French questioning their govt.? They fight for every right they have and demonstrate like hell. They also fought for their freedom the way your Founding Fathers did. It just seems that you have forgotten how to fight for your rights.

Blutskralle May 12, 2008 9:10 AM


As someone who actually works in, shall we say, ‘risk management’ for terrorism, I can tell you right now that we need more people like Bruce, not less.

There is nothing more American than pushing to improve and innovate; belief that criticism is somehow unpatriotic is a notion worthy of the state-control mechanisms of the former Soviet Union, or the lack of freedom of speech in many Middle Eastern countries.

Your viewpoint would lead America to ruin. I can only hope it never takes real root here.

Blutskralle May 12, 2008 9:16 AM


Care to address my comment, then?

I was on the ground in NYC on 9/11. Where were you?


Colossal Squid May 12, 2008 9:21 AM

“Your busy schedule is inconvenienced in an attempt to keep you safe.”
Fallacious assumption.

Hans May 12, 2008 9:22 AM

I’m german and i must say that i do not feel unfree. In fact i believe that i enjoy much more freedom (with some excemptions) than people in the US nowadays have. I’m free to travel through most of europe, with no border controls, with mostly sane security etc. And thankfully we don’t leave in everlasting fear like it is created by US media (but unfortunately our media and politicians are catching up on that).

I sometimes think about visiting the US but for me the report is a fact: I absolutely fear that i might travel for much hours in an airplane just to be sent back right again by US immigration who are not even obliged to tell you the reason for it but can act god-like. So i will likely stay in good old europe and spent my money here. This also prevents me from having to obtain a passport which nowadays has to include biometric data mainly thanks to the US. So yes, i don’t feel welcomed by the US and so i stay away.

bear May 12, 2008 9:23 AM

Unfortunatly it is another reason I won’t fly through the US when planning my vacations. I could probably save $200 – $500 by doing so but I just can’t justify the extra stress of having to collect my bags and go through a second security check then have to wait in lines to check everything back in again.

I would rather pay (and do) the extra to fly through another country where I can check my bags right through to the end and find a nice coffee shop to read a book waiting for my transfers.

Sorry to say, I am one of the ones that have a bad impression of the US customs and immigrations. I have had the occasionial good experience but not enough to outweigh the bad ones yet.

Blutskralle May 12, 2008 9:25 AM


You are free to disbelieve what you wish, but if we are going to operate under a default assumption of dishonesty, why should anyone listen to you at all?

It seems to be a self-defeating stance. More so, perhaps it gives some light to your own views on the subject; often those who are the least honest can most vividly imagine the same behavior in others.

This could explain your obsession with authoritarian measures.

To answer your point as well, merely look at what Bruce is advocating – rather than an illusion of security, actual security. Rather than having long security checkpoints that fail to catch bombs but often force old women to dispose of personal belongings, how about putting more boots on the ground in the intelligence services and more money spent on targetted surveillance and monitoring?

We don’t need moronic fishing expeditions to find out that teenage boys and girls text message each other a lot. We need comprehensive intelligence work and community interface with at-risk groups.

Just read any of the presentations on warfare by Col. Boyd; winning the hearts and the minds, as well as establishing ‘moral authority’ is the method of any guerrilla group (which is what terrorists ultimately are). You don’t combat that with high-handed authoritarianism alone – that feeds into their strategy, not yours.

So disbelieve what you will, and ignore the points that are made, but rest assured you fail to make your case (and are, in fact, quite possibly arguing very persuasively for the other side).


Hans May 12, 2008 9:31 AM

Oh and all those brave people here who really think that all those stupid regulations and intimidating security does really increase the security: Please have your brains checked. As i said: We have abolished all intra-EU border controls, we don’t even need a passport to travel. We do not have overdone security, we don’t have no-fly-lists, we don’t leave in constant fear. And yet we enjoy a safe place to live. Really: If i can choose to have one terrorism attack with 3000 dead people per year or to have my life and freedom ruined by stupid security, i choose the former. I’m not heartless, but making such a hassle about 3000 people is just stupid, stupid, stupid. There are much more people who die through traffic accidents, become crime victims (at least in the US) or just because they are obese.

All you brave people have done is that you have traded large parts of your personal freedom for a false perception of security and a reduction of deaths which is not even significant when judging unemotional.

Duncan Kinder May 12, 2008 9:32 AM

Re: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.”

What is being described here are problems with belonging to a highly integrated, technological society which is being subjected to strain.

Belonging to such a society is problematical from a civil libertarian perspective, as commentators at least from the time of Thoreau have noted.

Basically, the larger institutions are the weaker and more vulnerable you are. Conservatives think that big government is bad; liberals think that big corporations are bad. The blunt truth is that big anything can and – with time – probably will bite you in the ass.

The President of the United States May 12, 2008 9:35 AM

That is why I have insisted that Congress pass strong anti-terrorism legislation immediately — to provide for more than 1,000 new law enforcement personnel solely to fight terrorism; to create a domestic anti-terrorism center…

We can do this without undermining our constitutional rights. In fact, the failure to act will undermine those rights….No one is free in America when large numbers of our fellow citizens must always be looking over their shoulders….

I would like to say something to [those of you] who believe the greatest threat to America comes not from terrorists from … beyond our borders, but from our own government.

I believe you have every right, indeed you have the responsibility, to question our government when you disagree with its policies. And I will do everything in my power to protect your right to do so.

But I also know there have been lawbreakers among those who espouse your philosophy….

…The people who came to the United States to bomb the World Trade Center were wrong….

…How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on Earth live in tyranny….

…[T]here is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.

Carlo Graziani May 12, 2008 9:39 AM

Folks, the signal-to-noise in this post’s comments is heading for zero fast. Please remember, “When you get into a shouting match with an idiot, it can be hard for onlookers to determine which one is the idiot”.

The idiots don’t need assistance in contributing to the noise terms. Please contribute to the signal instead.

Rich Wilson May 12, 2008 9:43 AM

I would suggest that Scott E take the American approach, and rather than telling other people to shut up, he should avail himself of his constitutional right to free speech and start his own blog.

Telling people to shut up is Censorship. Offering your own counter argument is Patriotic.

yep May 12, 2008 9:44 AM

I think people are overstating either how “scared” everyone is or how “totalitarian” the US is. I’m really not living in fear of terrorist attacks, I’d say I’m more in the “pissed off” camp on that one. There’s nothing wrong with people complaining I guess, but Americans shouldn’t hate their country.

bear May 12, 2008 9:59 AM

An up side for the ‘terrorist tax’. In some ways, would this not be a good thing for the economy as it has created jobs that did not exist before or even adding more to the existing positions where required?

Just a thought.

Blutskralle May 12, 2008 10:03 AM


To paraphrase a bit of infamous commentary:

Upon observing a mechanized backhoe, a construction worker was distraught. He turned to the economist next to him and said “This is terrible! These new digging machines can do the work of ten men with shovels! They will all lose their jobs!”

To which the economist replied: “Indeed. And if not for shovels, one hundred men with spoons would have jobs.”

The trick is creating meaningful and efficient jobs, not fake ones.

Trichinosis USA May 12, 2008 10:07 AM

Scott, put the Crackwater USA kool aid and the Richard Marcinko paperback down. You’ve had enough.

Bruce rocks, and he’s done more for this country with his forthright, honorable and responsible approach to the study of security analysis than you ever will.

And before you go off on your “com-yew-nist hippie tree hugger” rant you had best know that I say that as an ex-active duty honorably discharged veteran, a survivor of the attack on the World Trade Center, and an IT professional with 20 years in the field.

This administration seriously needs to get over itself. I am quite tired of participating in the protection racket that passes for “the war on terror”. What a vicious, terrible swindle has been perpetrated on the American people.

Bruce, from the heart, thank you for all you do. Best wishes.

Tamas May 12, 2008 10:21 AM

An economist would call this a pure deadweight loss instead of a tax. When you collect a tax, you get some revenue from it (even if there is an element of deadweight loss if the tax is distortionary). Fear of terrorism just decreases welfare without any benefit.

Trichinosis USA May 12, 2008 10:25 AM

@Tamas: I call it like it is: it’s a protection racket and a swindle. Just look at your gas pump, which is the other part of it. Who are the real bad guys? Easiest question to answer in the world – just follow the money.

RSaunders May 12, 2008 10:49 AM

I tend to take Carlo’s position. It’s not a tax as much as a cost of doing business. Consider a non-TSA/CBP example for a minute. I can buy 8 Snickers bars at the grocery for $1.69, or 21 cents each. The vending machine in my office sells the identical bar for 50 cents each. That’s 150% markup, for what? Some of the cost is for transportation to carry the bars over to my office. However, the bulk of the cost is for security. The machine that holds the bars, takes the money, checks for counterfeit money, and carefully dispenses only the candy bar I bought. Almost all of the complexity in that machine is to provide security. (Don’t even think about the soft drink bottle dispenser next to it, that thing combines Rube Goldberg with a hundred unemployed robotics engineers.)

This security cost is clear, because we know what the Snickers bars cost and we have the option to buy them at the grocery and take them to work ourselves. We know that cost, and the vendor knows that cost. The vendor wants to pay for the machine with his marginal fee, and that limits the amount available to pay for security. We have lots of free-market choices, and actually a pretty optimal system. I think this security is not needed, because I think my co-workers aren’t the kind of folks who steal candy bars, but it’s not my call. The Candy Bar vendor pays the cost, and makes the choices. If I think I can make money in competition with him, I’m free to do that.

Back to the TSA/CBP, there we don’t have nearly as much clarity. First, the TSA/CBP sets the procedures, they drive the cost of the machine. However, they don’t pay the cost. We can’t have two airport security systems, like we can have two candy bar machines. As a result, criticism is the only way to influence the TSA/CBP security choices. They are a candy machine operator that doesn’t allow you to bring your own candy bars and makes you buy a candy bar whether you are hungry or not. They are going to be criticized, no matter what. They have two choices:
a) take an open stance, and convince people that they are providing an optimal solution to the threat; or
b) take a closed stance, and emphasize that they have the authority to make people do what they tell them to do.
Clearly, TSA/CBP is taking route (b). The risk they run is that their authority can go away with an act of Congress a quickly as it arrived. Perhaps (a) would be a more durable route to take. Bruce can ask the next time TSA/CBP give him an interview.

monopole May 12, 2008 10:50 AM

The sad thing is that the present fear tax has been a stupid tax as opposed to a smart tax in the sense that many of the responses to sputnik were.

In response to sputnik we massively upgraded science education, built the national defense interstate highway system, and launched into a massive space race and R&D push that established our dominance of technology in the 20th century. It was a case of thinking ahead to make the best of a necessity.

In response to 9/11 a smart government would have launched into a manhattan project to achieve energy independence, put TSA officers through USAF SP training and paid them a middle class wage, and chosen necessary fights wisely.

Instead we struck out blindly, when mistakes are pointed out we are told that the past is water under the bridge. When present disasters occur we are told “nobody could have predicted that”. and when we ask for future plans we are told that any change would put us in grave danger.

Our enemies and rivals are thinking many moves ahead. While we are told not to think at all.

Tomcat May 12, 2008 10:58 AM

“17 percent decline in overseas travel to the United States”

At least that’s good news for the environment.

Carlo Graziani May 12, 2008 11:33 AM

Monopole writes, “In response to 9/11 a smart government would have launched into a manhattan project to achieve energy independence, put TSA officers through USAF SP training and paid them a middle class wage, and chosen necessary fights wisely.”

Agreed. To which I would add that such a hypothetical smart government would also have organized and endowed schools and Universities across the Muslim world, which, while expensive, when referred to the cost of the “War” on terrorism would appear as mere accounting noise.

Blutskralle May 12, 2008 11:47 AM


Excellent point. The fundamental war we are fighting is a diplomatic one; unless we are genuinely willing to exterminate every living being in the Middle East (and, as a result, many other places), this is not a fight that will be won with guns and bombs. Instead, one has to win the hearts of the people who we are currently opposed to (largely through a long series of self-inflicted wounds due to our habit of meddling poorly in the affairs of other nations).

Productive educational policies, pro-active and open trade agreements, and lack of heavy-handed imperialistic behavior would go a long way towards that.

Right now, it’s hard to accurately convey how the US is perceived and portrayed in the Middle East to people who have not spent time there. The media is, often, heavily biased against the US, and the message that is getting out is not ours; it’s the same kind of misinformation campaign being waged against us that we waged to get into Iraq (and thus take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan for the second time in a few decades, but that’s another story entirely). It’s painfully ironic that we’re losing the information war where it matters while focusing on terrifying our own citizens about the wrong threats.

The answer is not more money, more force, and less questions. It’s smarter money, precisely directed force, and more questions.

Ironic that Bush Sr. seemed to understand that so well in comparison…

Clive Robinson May 12, 2008 11:49 AM

@ Carlo Graziani

“endowed schools and Universities across the Muslim world, which, while expensive, when referred to the cost of the “War” on terrorism would appear as mere accounting noise.”

mear noise maybe but think what the return on investment would likley be 8)

On a more serious note the UK tried “hearts and minds” in one or two conflicts in the past and guess what it appears to have worked. But for some strange reason the current UK encumberents wanted to be gung-ho (to many Rambo movies I guess).

One excuse the Bush administration may look to is the economic growth during the first and second world wars, however in those days the US was a closed economy (also during the second world war they bought up UK assets in the US at rock bottom prices but that is another story).

The US is not a closed economy any more nor is it based on manufacturing any more either, but service industry. If the U.S. want’s to buy it’s way out of recession war spending is not the way to do it these days but putting money into the pockets of the people at the bottom of the economy probably is (as they spend every dollar they earn from necesity not lock it up in offshore accounts as the people at the other end do).

Peter Galbavy May 12, 2008 11:52 AM

Unless my employer forces me to do so I have no intention of travelling to or through the US in the forseeable future. I speak as someone who used to travel to various events and vacations multiple times a year since the mid 90s. Other, more welcoming destinations, are now further up my personal list of choices.

The message is very clearly “you are not welcome” and seems a decent into the isolationism that existed before WWII. I am not sure, but is this the real objective ?

lorb May 12, 2008 11:57 AM

Tom Paine said it best:
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.

Moderator May 12, 2008 12:01 PM

Slanderous and insulting comments have been deleted.

Please stick to discussing the issue.

Don May 12, 2008 12:15 PM

Repressive American agricultural trade policies and agricultural trade practices have had a greater impact on my desire to travel to the US than terrorism issues. When a nation treats its closest allies with disdain, neglect and intolerence, they should not expect much in return.

bob May 12, 2008 12:16 PM

“…perception that U.S. visa and entry policies do not welcome international visitors …”

Well, Duh! Since the US government has become anti-CITIZEN-travel I’d hate to think they were treating furriners better than those of us who live here!

Clive Robinson May 12, 2008 12:18 PM

@ Swami,

According to the news there has just been a devistating earth quake in China with many many dead.

Scott E May 12, 2008 12:35 PM

I find it amusing how this website, which seems to attract the left wing dregs, practices censorship.

Anonymous May 12, 2008 12:48 PM

@Scott E

This website is run by a private individual; he alone sets the rules. If you disagree, then you are free to exercise your right of association: leave.

Ale May 12, 2008 12:48 PM

Do not feed the troll (singular, multiple sockpuppets)

Back to topic: Security theater thus entails not only direct costs but also indirect and opportunity costs. The benefit of security theater, however, is predicated on the irrationality of its motivation – but only up to a point. If the costs become high enough, the rational mind kicks in and the risk assessment is much closer to reality.

What I mean is that, if one hour lines mean that “someone” is doing “something” to counter the “terrorist threat”, surely two hour lines are excusable as well: better “late” than “dead”. But what about three hours? What about 4 hours? What about a day?

Even the most deluded people would question the usefulness of the security theater if the costs are high enough.

The interesting thing here is that the basis for these costs has both a rational and an irrational component. The rational component is the measurable monetary impact. The irrational part, however, depends on the emotions that the security experience itself elicits on the people. And I think that by explaining security to the layperson, Bruce is doing a terrific job to increase this cost, thus increasing the probability that people will eventually revert to rational judgement.

Nomen Publicus May 12, 2008 2:22 PM

Financially, security is a tax, as currently implemented in the UK and US, it is a religion.

The kind of security we see at airports is more akin to a “cargo cult” than actual security. We are even creating an entire set of arbitrary rules that MUST not be violated. No person may approach the XRay god with their shoes on. Magical plastic bags will destroy the power of small amounts of explosive. A passenger must offer up their goods to the TSA priests for arbitrary confiscation.

Even if we start now, it will take decades for all these pointless rules to be struck down.

Skorj May 12, 2008 2:42 PM

Even within the US I simply won’t travel by air for pleasure/tourism. Of course, my employer has other ideas, but I no longer spend any of my own moeny in tourism or travel outside of driving distance.

How is the TSA even remotely constitutional? Privately employed security screeners were one thing, but how does the government search masses of people without probable cause – do we just ignore the Bill of Rights now?

rodney May 12, 2008 2:50 PM

bruce… your more liberal than me, but i would delete my own comments… 🙂
so i found out your previous article was from way back in 2003, so i concede a little of my earlier comment…
as to what people are suggesting is anyones guess :/ im sorry people, but short of the second coming, this “security tax” will only increase in time, the problem is more profound and deeply embedded at the core of most modern societies. We operate a certain way, this is just one of the effects of this chosen operation, everyone makes the choice of how to treat others and do business, if you want to minimalize the problem you have your choices… make then knowingly…

Dumprick May 12, 2008 3:48 PM

Security is only temporary. Freedom is forever. With freedom it’s all or none.

Dumprick May 12, 2008 4:08 PM

“do we just ignore the Bill of Rights now?”
Nah. The airports are easier to ignore. This will be the first nation in the world to fly to the poorhouse in jets.

antimedia May 12, 2008 4:09 PM

@Larie Mann “It’s not just the terrorism tax that’s sending this country towards depression – it’s the not adequately taxing people who could afford to pay more.”

The top 50% of wage earners in this country pay over 96% of all the income taxes collected. How much more would you suggest that they should pay? Would you be happy if 50% of their income was confiscated? 75%?

How much of your income are you willing to give up?

Poobah May 12, 2008 5:23 PM

Schneier, so far I’ve only seen comments deleted that disagreed with you. Censorship is alive and well.

Harijs May 12, 2008 6:39 PM

Muffin: “I visited the USA in 2006, myself, and officials etc. at the airport only seemed to be intent on doing one thing – making me (and everyone else) feel that we were not welcome, that we were regarded as a potential security risk and nothing else, and that we were generally second-class human beings.”

I just returned from business trip to US and can confirm: this same feeling has become even stronger this year. No wonder that some big Hi-Tech conferences and expos are moving out of US to Europe or at least to Canada. When you get inside US, it’s more or less OK – people are nice (generally), prices are low for Europeans with current US dollar exchange rate etc. But so called “security measures” are so offensive and disgusting that US is still definitely No.1 on my own no-fly list. Whenever I can I do avoid traveling to this country.

Skorj May 12, 2008 8:05 PM

@Larie Mann “not adequately taxing people” – wow, what a line.

The top 1% of taxpayers pay 33% of all taxes collected. The bottom 33% of taxpayers pay 1% of all taxes collected.

I’d rather see a fair and equitable system, where everyone in the country owed the same dollar amount in taxes (say, everyone pays $17K), then we’d see a real reduction in spending!

Even better – given the apparant determination of the US to annoy other countries anyway, how about replacing the income tax with a tax on citizens of all countries with a smaller army than ours – a system that worked historically for centuries at a time. 😉

Felix Dzerzhinsky May 12, 2008 8:23 PM

The last time I visited the US I was astounded by the level of rudeness from the Immigration Officials. I would never visit the US again as a tourist. I visited Israel some years back. The Israeli’s are tight about security, blunt in their manner but I never found them rude. There must be something specific in the training or organisational culture of the US Border Patrol.

Swami May 12, 2008 8:44 PM

What’s this blog about? Trashing the US? If you don’t like the United States, feel free to visit Columbia, Iran, or North Korea.

Hans Lehmann May 12, 2008 9:23 PM

“The top 50% of wage earners in this country pay over 96% of all the income taxes collected.”

I love this false use of statistics, as if somehow it would be more fair if the top 50% of wage earners paid closer to 50% of all taxes. Anyone with some math education can see that this sentence is structured in a way to attempt to deceive the reader. If the top 50% of wage earners bring in 96% of all income, then they should certainly pay 96% of all taxes.

Steve Riley May 12, 2008 10:07 PM

Not only do foreign visitors worry about entering the U.S. I travel internationally once or twice a month; the U.S. has the most hostile entry procedures even for its own citizens. I dread returning home. I’ve had my luggage searched “randomly” too many times, and once even had to wait for almost three hours while CPB searched my (yes, company-owned) laptop for child pornography after a five-week trip to southeast Asia. Shameful.

Stephen May 13, 2008 2:42 AM

“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.”

Count me as one of the 70% and the 46%. I’ve been to the US once on business in recent years. No way would I wish to come on holiday, knowing that my holiday might well be trashed, with no compensation, by some official thinking my name looked a bit too much like a name on some sloppily thrown-together list.

I feel more welcome entering Turkey or Tunisia than the USA.

averros May 13, 2008 4:01 AM

Tax? Perhaps. Extracted by al Quaeda? No way.

This is the stupidity tax, on the sheepie which keeps supporting any government scoundrel which would promise to make the world marginaly safer, despite all the evidence that the governments only make matters worse.

And the people extracting the tax aren’t terrorists; they are all those overworked and underpaid thugs in fascist uniforms and paychecks bloated by the “overtime” spent on doing, well, nothing.

US got to the point where a sane person can no longer consider police and other “law enforcement” to be anything but the biggest mafia. If you’re still in denial about that, please check this:


bob May 13, 2008 6:27 AM

While I stipulate that it is Bruce’s site to run as he sees fit (how could a libertarian feel otherwise); if you are going to censor someone’s comment, then you should remove the responses to it as well.

Otherwise it as confusing as EVERYONE using the name “anonymous”.

anonymous May 13, 2008 7:53 AM

“I love this false use of statistics, as if somehow it would be more fair if the top 50% of wage earners paid closer to 50% of all taxes. Anyone with some math education can see that this sentence is structured in a way to attempt to deceive the reader. If the top 50% of wage earners bring in 96% of all income, then they should certainly pay 96% of all taxes.”

Yeah, conservatives always phrase that in a misleading way for effect, but the point is still valid.

The top 1% made 19.5% of the income, and paid 36.2% of the federal income taxes.

Group / Share of Income / Share of Taxes / Income Split Point / Avg. Tax Rate (1999)

Top 1% 19.5% 36.2% above $293,415 27.5%
Top 5% 34.0% 55.5% above $120,846 24.2%
Top 10% 44.9% 66.5% above $87,682 22.0%
Top 25% 66.5% 83.5% above $52,965 18.7%
Top 50% 86.7% 96.0% above $26,415 16.4%
Bottom 50% 63,004 $ 13.3% 4.0% below $26,415 4.5%


Scott E May 13, 2008 8:25 AM

This is WAY off topic, but I’ll chime in…a flat tax is the only fair tax. The left wing tradition of putting the majority of the tax burden on upper income Americans is wrong.

Patrick Cahalan May 13, 2008 10:38 AM

I’ve seen a couple of what I believe to be false dichotomies here.

A complex modern society does have the opportunity for greater loss of individual freedom. This is not the same as saying that a complex modern society requires loss of individual freedom.

“Big anything is bad” ignores the advantages societal groups get from aggregating power. Yes, there are disadvantages as well; the possibility that the power can be usurped or otherwise redirected maliciously is real. However, there are a great many things that have a barrier to entry that is high enough that small groups cannot participate. Just as power does not necessarily scale linearly, neither does work required to perform all tasks.

@ Blutskralle

But if we are going to operate under a default assumption of
dishonesty, why should anyone listen to you at all?

This is the fundamental problem with societal groups, trust foundation. And you’re right; if we default to “no trust”, we can never form anything resembling a reasonable working societal group -> we’re paying for any efficiencies we gain in “security taxes” (verifying, auditing, what have you). On the flip side, if we default to “all trust”, it only takes a few bad apples to tear down quite a bit of infrastructure.

George May 13, 2008 10:45 AM

This seems to be the only tax increase that George W. Bush enthusiastically supports!

Blutskralle May 13, 2008 11:45 AM

In closing,

Scott – as a proponent of strong authoritarianism to protect our country, I find it ironic you are complaining about censorship. Isn’t this exactly what you are advocating? Perhaps Bruce thinks you are a terrorist and put you on a list (which, coincidentally, there is no method for getting removed from).

To the people speaking about taxes:

You should consider looking at this from several viewpoints – tax as % of population, tax as % of earnings, tax as % of discretionary income, just to throw out a few…

Then you have to consider all sources of taxation, and how the multi-layer system actually works (regarding corporate income, personal income, capital gains, etc).

This is not to advocate any specific point; taxation is complicated enough I don’t believe I have a good answer. However, it is to say that any naive analysis is doomed to failure almost immediately.

Anonymous May 13, 2008 12:03 PM

@Patrick Cahalan

“if we default to “no trust”, we can never form anything resembling a reasonable working societal group”

I dunno: I’d say that general default is in fact “no trust”. Go ahead and walk into a bank and ask for a loan. Better: would the guy at the corner store keep a running tab for anyone who walked in? How many people with children spontaneously ask you to keep an eye on them for a few minutes as they dash into a store?

Caveat emptor. There is an entire industry of persuasion — people attempting to induce you to trust they can produce a reasonable product in return for your money — called “advertising” and “marketing”. Excepting the simple informative purpose these have, would they be necessary expenditures in a world where trust was the unearned default?

moo May 13, 2008 12:07 PM

@ bear:

I didn’t see if your comment was addressed above or not… But that is called the “broken window” fallacy. All that money and time and labour that is spent on stupid security theatre since 9/11 does not “create jobs” or new wealth for the economy. What it does is suck up labor and capital that could otherwise have been used for something else–probably something more useful.

Security theatre does not “create jobs” any more than throwing rocks through your neighbor’s windows do. Sure, it creates work for somebody to fix that window, but the money that your neighbor has to spend to get his window fixed does not magically appear from nowhere. Instead, he will have less money to spend somewhere else, on something more useful to himself or to society.

Moderator May 13, 2008 6:46 PM

Bob, that’s a good point, but I don’t like the idea of deleting people’s messages simply because of who they happen to respond to, either. (Some that descended too close to the troll’s level have been deleted.) I’ve added a note at the time of Scott E’s first message, to clarify what happened.

Incidentally, I’m always amused by the idea that I would censor abusive trolls in order to stack the conversational deck in Bruce’s favor. If I really wanted to do that, I’d delete thoughtful and civil criticisms and leave the trolls.

wkwillis May 13, 2008 11:58 PM

I am a low skilled security guard. I make 12$ an hour. I am in the 80% tax bracket.
I pay immigration tax. Immigrants to America are lower skilled than most Americans and compete with me, not you.
I pay import tax. Imports use lower skilled labor that competes with me, not you.
I pay workfare tax. The government has a huge military/security/industrial workfare program that hires people with more skills than me. That decreases my relative income yet more.
The social security and income taxes I pay are just adding insult to injury. I would cheerfully pay more income and social security taxes if the top three taxes I pay went away.
The good thing is, they will. The US balance of payments is a joke. Our dollar will renormalize. And when it does…
Half the immigrants will go home. The ones with families here will stay, the ones sending remittances home will leave. Less lower skilled employees to compete with me.
Half our imports will stop and be replaced by exports. More lower skilled jobs for people like me.
Best of all, when the government can’t borrow money overseas anymore they will have to lay off huge numbers of higher skilled workers who will compete with you and lower your wages and my costs.
Speed the day!

wkwillis May 14, 2008 12:05 AM

Oh yeah, and when my income doubles I and the rest of the low income people will be paying twice as much income and social security taxes as we do now. What will you be whining about then?
Estate taxes?

GordonS May 14, 2008 5:07 AM

A few others have said as much, but I thought I’d chirp in and add that I too have found the US immigration procedures to be rather ‘over the top’.

I’ve travelled from the UK to Houston and Atlanta several times over the past few years and have always found the immigration officers act like ‘little Hitlers’, whose sole purpose seems to be to make you feel as uncomfortable and unwelcome as possible.

On occasion they have asked some irrelvant questions relating to me personal life. I have a female colleague who travelled with me one time who was also asked such silly questions, and she actually got quite upset about it. I have another colleague who was taken into a side room and questioned for hours. Why? Because he was being asked daft questions and simply asked what their relevance was.

I will only ever travel to the US when forced to for business. I find these immigration procedures off-putting enough to mean that I would never choose to go for a holiday.

As a final note I will add that I have travelled extensively to many countries and never experienced such hostility from immigration anywhere else.

bob May 15, 2008 8:49 AM

@Moderator: How about adding a parenthetical comment in the reply(ies) (when it specifies a targeted comment which has been deleted) stating that the source was removed? Something like this:

@FredB: [-Moderators note: initial comment deleted-] Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut.

bob May 15, 2008 9:47 AM

@Laurie Mann: Why on earth would you tax people more simply because they could “afford” it? Thats a bad idea on many different levels:

Most importantly – its a free country and if you earn something its yours to do with as you see fit, not the governments to leave or take from you at a whim. This country was founded to provide a place for individuals to express themselves, not merely in blogs, or Poor Richard’s Almanac; but also through entrepeneurship and being able to convince (lots of) their fellow citizens to give them money for something (Microsoft, Wham-O, Ford and Sears Roebuck pop into mind).

Secondly by taxing people more heavily that have more money, you punish them for their higher productivity and tend to extinct the desirable creative behaviors as well as promoting/rewarding/encouraging the opposite behavior (namely becoming dependent on the government). If you have a product that you sell for $5 and you double the price to $10, you do not make twice as much money – you will probably even make less as people find alternatives or do without and you lose economies of scale.

Thirdly, if you tax productive people disproportionately they will simply leave and go someplace else, Monaco for example, where they feel appreciated and not simply considered cash cows to be milked and discarded. After all, if they have enough money to attract your disproportionate attentions, they also have the money to flee, establish themselves someplace else and can also pay for lawyers to enable such. And once you’ve driven the rich away, all thats left is middle income people who couldn’t make up the difference even if you confiscate everything they have (which even Hillary probably wouldn’t try), THEN where will you get the money you want? Better to let the goose keep laying golden eggs one at a time than kill it to try to get them all at once.

I consider myself middle class – yet if I go earn an additional dollar, more than 60% of it will be taken for a tax somewhere! (federal income, state income, city income, property, school, medicare, Social Security [twice if self-employed], fuel, excise, sales, etc. ad exhaustium) – so where’s my motivation to produce more? If anything I am motivated to get some “benefits” from the government to get back some of the value they took from me. Which will probably wind up costing 10x as much in the long run as if I had just bought it directly with my own money.

Reality makes you stop when you reach 100% no matter what laws you pass to the contrary. OVERtaxation is what is going to destroy this country, not a lack thereof! If you want to live in a country where the government has all the gold and makes all the rules (the golden rule), feel free to move to one, there are plenty: China Venezuela, Zimbabwe for example. Stop trying to screw up one of the few countries where that’s not (yet) the case. And don’t complain that you don’t want to move to those countries because they are not nice places to live – that’s what you’re trying to create here, so just skip a step. Rome was destroyed by people requiring the government to do the impossible (“bread and circuses”).

bob May 15, 2008 9:51 AM

@anonymous at May 13, 2008 07:53 AM:
“…conservatives always…” – you misspelled “liberals”

robert May 15, 2008 6:44 PM

I see responses to something posted by Scott, but I note that the “moderator” has removed the original posting. What sort of censorship is this, and what was originally said that got deleted? Shame on the moderators for such flagrant censorship. Boo Hiss!!

anonymous May 17, 2008 8:23 AM

@anonymous at May 13, 2008 07:53 AM:
“…conservatives always…” – you misspelled “liberals”
Posted by: bob at May 15, 2008 09:51 AM

No, I meant conservatives. Liberals don’t talk about how “1% of the population pays 36% of the taxes.”

What I was complaining about is that while the conservatives have a valid argument about the unfairness of the progressive income tax, they always frame it as “X% of population paying Z% of taxes.

Those numbers are much more dramatic than “X% of population earning Y% of income paying Z% of taxes,” since the difference between X and Z is much greater than Y and Z.

But Y and Z is the relevant comparison, not X and Z.

As somebody who listened to conservative talk-radio for nearly 20 years, I always found it annoying when they did that.

2005 figures graph at http://www.850koa.com/pages/shows_rosen.html?feed=119739&article=2777167

Pat Cahalan May 29, 2008 1:22 PM

@ Anonymous

PC> “if we default to “no trust”, we can never form anything
PC> resembling a reasonable working societal group”

A> I dunno: I’d say that general default is in fact “no trust”. Go ahead and
A> walk into a bank and ask for a loan.

Your starting point is well past the starting line.

You get up in the morning. You take a shower (you trust that your municipal water supply isn’t contaminated). You make coffee (you trust that your beans aren’t loaded with heavy metals, and your electrical system isn’t going to fry your brains). You get in your car (you trust that your automobile manufacturer hasn’t build a death trap), and drive out on the streets (you trust that the vast majority of the other drivers have at least a suitable minimum amount of control over their own vehicles).

You probably don’t pack a gun, trusting that most of the people you bump into on any given day aren’t going to try and rob you. You don’t wear body armor. You engage, routinely and without a second thought, in thousands of activities every day that require some level of trust in the fact that your society doesn’t work.

That’s what I mean when I say that most societal constructs require trust to work.

Tax Jobs September 5, 2008 5:22 AM

An invitation to travel as a tourist in the States is such an ironic situation, where on one hand, they want you to come to a place “Where dreams come true”, and on the other hand scan you at the airport like you’re their worst nightmare.

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