Jun 20, 2011

War on terror: how to calculate if it has been worth it

There's a way to calculate how much value we've got from our war on terror spending. The result isn't encouraging.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

How do you measure the effectiveness of spending intended to prevent terror attacks?

The lack of terror attacks in the aftermath of such spending is plainly a poor guide, as there may have been no terror attacks in the absence of spending. Alternatively, as we saw last week, some forms of war-on-terror spending have increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks that in the absence of spending would not have occurred.

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3 thoughts on “War on terror: how to calculate if it has been worth it

  1. Scott

    Terrorism is a political tactic. Strategically, it is about making an area so chaotic and dangerous (or perceived to be so), that the populous demands new leadership (or new policy) for safety.

    Hence anti-terrorism programs are also political. Governments believe (and I agree) that if the people think that they are at risk (even if the threat is low) then that belief is detrimental to the Government’s power (and chances of re-election). So they respond with these programs to give an impression to the people that they are safe. For politicians, anti-terrorism programs are a cost worth paying to keep them in power, even if the actual physical threat of attack is extremely remote.

  2. AR

    A bloke who manufactured woofle dust couldn’t sell it initially so started to spread it around the streets.
    When asked why, he replied “to prevent dragon invasion”.
    It was pointed out that there were no dragons to which he proclaimed “That proves that my woofle dust is 100% effective”.
    He became obscenely rich despite the woofle dust being highly toxic to children and other living things.

  3. Peter Ormonde

    This sort of thinking gives economists a bad name I reckon…. conjectures built on assumptions, plastered over with averages and smoothed with generalisations…I’m not even sure economics is the right tool for the job actually.

    Surely the greatest cost of counter terrorism measures comes from the increased state scrutiny and restrictions on personal liberty that terrorism is designed to provoke. These range from nuisance values through to serious threats to free speech and public discourse. I don’t know how one puts a price tag on those sorts of costs.

    At their core, these costs have to do with values, rather than prices, impossible to quantify and only measurable over time…and that’s a subtle distinction that a lot of economists fail to grasp.

    A rather one dimensional piece of hubris all up.

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