David R. Henderson  

The Anti-Terrorist Bureaucracy

Goolsbee, Friedman, and 1980... An Economic Bill of Rights...
Now that the big kahuna -- Osama bin Laden -- has been killed, the "War on Terror" is much less exciting. Even before Osama's demise, experts sent chills through the massive post-9/11 U.S. government anti-terrorism bureaucracies by concluding that the threat from al-Qaeda had been much weakened by the group's own bloody excesses against civilians, many of whom were Muslims. Yet the way government works, every agency -- whether fighting poverty, obesity, childhood acne, or terrorism -- needs a threat to hype to keep the cash flowing in from scared taxpayers. So the anti-terrorism agencies need to keep the threat, however declining, fresh in the public mind and publicize their efforts to successfully combat the danger. Recently, two incidents illustrate the extent of the government's refrain that the "terrorists are (still) coming, the terrorists are (still) coming!"
This is from "The Government's Illusory Terrorist Threat," Ivan Eland's public-choice perspective on the "war on terror." The whole thing, which is not long, is worth reading.

Another excerpt:

In sum, in the war on terror, the U.S. government hypes the threat to justify expanding anti-terrorism efforts and budgets, argues that war is the only means to effectively combat the inflated threat (instead of using low-key intelligence and law enforcement measures, which don't generate more terrorists by poking the hornet's nest), and creates a wider retaliatory threat by using such draconian military action. This wider danger is used to justify the need for even harsher military action, and the action-reaction cycle escalates. In sum, the government is creating the demand for its own services; private businesses should be in awe of such ability.

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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (3 to date)
kyle8 writes:

No doubt we will have the same level of success in both fighting and ending the war on terror as we have the war on poverty and the war on drugs.

ColoComment writes:

"...(instead of using low-key intelligence and law enforcement measures, which don't generate more terrorists by poking the hornet's nest)"

Ummmm, where is the evidence that those methods are effective? Beirut? Bali? London? 9/11? the first Towers attack? Nairobi & Kenya?

We do [so far, at least] have evidence of no-further-attacks-on-U.S. soil to show the effectiveness of what has been done since 9/11 to at least safeguard those of us here at home.

Mr. Eland discounts the terror threat as "declining" and overhyped. I submit that the passengers on the "Christmas bomber's" flight feel differently, notwithstanding that it was thwarted.

DougT writes:

"Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program." -- Milton Friedman

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