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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 07:17:20 PM mt

Counterterrorism Spending

The Stimson Centers newstudy group reportfound that the federal government spent about $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism (CT) activities since 9/11. The report seeks to account for all federal government spending on CT efforts divided into the four broad categories of defense emergency and overseas contingency operations, war-related state/USAID, other foreign aid, and government-wide Homeland Security. The defense emergency and overseas contingency operations spending category accounts for about $1.7 trillion or over 60 percent of the $2.8 trillion spent. War-related state/USAID and other foreign aid accountfor a relatively small $138 billion and $12 billion, respectively. Government-wide Homeland Security spending makes up the rest at $978.5 billion since 9/11.

The big question the report does not attempt to answer is: Was all that spending worth it? Did that spending result in fewer people killed by terrorists on U.S. soil? One of the distinguished study group members is my Cato Institute colleagueJohn Muellerwho has spilled much ink trying to estimate the effectiveness of CT spending. Mueller provides some back of the envelope estimates to answer the question of whether this CT spending was worth it in his recent paneldiscussionon the Stimson Centers report. After talking with Mueller, I decided to add some more analysis to show that an unreasonably large number of American lives would have to have been saved for the costs of CT spending to be justified.

For the costs of CT spending to equal the benefits in terms of the value of lives saved, it would have to have saved 188,740 lives, or 11,796 lives per year, since 9/11. Narrowing down to just domestic CT spending on government-wide Homeland Security projects shows that spending on just that set of subprograms would have to have prevented the murder of 65,233 people, or 4,077 per year, to break even. From 2002 through 2017, my latest estimate is that 172 total people were murdered on U.S. soil by all terrorists (Islamic, non-Islamic, domestic, U.S.-born, foreign-born, white supremacists, etc.). Thus, all CT spending would have to have saved 1,097 times as many lives as were actually taken by terrorists in attacks on U.S. soil for the costs of CT spending to equal the benefits in terms of lives saved. Focusing on just government-wide Homeland Security CT spending shows that it would have to have saved 379 times as many lives as were actually killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil to break even. It is difficult to estimate a counterfactual but it would take a very creative imagination to honestly believe that post-9/11 CT spending actually saved that many lives by preventing terrorist attacks.


The first step is estimating the value of a statistical human life to compare with the cost of CT spending. This is an emotional and fraught way to measure human life. As a father and a husband, I understand this emotional reaction very well but the fact remains that if the government spends more than the statistical value of life to save a life through enhanced CT, then that means that other people died because of neglected safety in other areas. As a hypothetical example, suppose the value of a statistical life is $15 million. If the government spends $30 million to save one life by spending on X then that means that one person, at least, died who did not have to if that money was spent where it would save more lives. Thus, spending that amount of money on reducing the risk of X results in more deaths than otherwise would have occurred. Although emotional and hard to calculate, estimating the statistical value of life can help policymakers save more lives. The death of human beings is the largest and most significant cost of terrorism but not the only one as other forms of destruction are also costly but relatively minor compared to death. For the purposes of simplicity, I will focus on the cost in terms of human life.

As Iwrotein 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) produced an initial estimate that valued each life saved from an act of terrorism at $6.5 million, then doubled that value (for unclear reasons) to $13 million per life saved. Adjusting for inflation raises that estimate to about $7.5 million. Hahn, Lutter, and Viscusiuse data from everyday risk-reduction choices made by the American public to estimate that the value of a statistical life is $15 million. I use $15 million in this blog post as it is the largest number.

The second step is dividing the value of CT spending by the statistical value of life estimate to see how many lives would have to have been saved for that spending to equal the benefits. I copy this method directly fromChasing Ghostsby John Mueller and Mark Stewart and their other importantworkon thistopic.

The third step is comparing the above results to the number of people who were actually murdered on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks. Using the same methods as this policy analysis and including native-born attackers reveals that there were 172 people murdered in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 2002 through 2017. That includes people murdered by terrorists of every ideology including Islamists, white supremacists, environmental extremists, and others regardless of where they were born.


The first column in Table 1 shows that 188,740 lives would have to have been saved by all CT spending for the value of that spending to save an equivalent value in terms of human life. The second column of Table 1 focuses on domestic Homeland Security CT spending, a subset of all CT spending, as it is most directly related to saving lives on U.S. soil. To break even, domestic CT spending on Homeland Security would have to have saved 65,233 lives from 2002 through 2017 to break even (Table 1).

Table 1

Number of Lives Saved for Counterterrorism Spending to Break Even

All CT Spending

Homeland Security CT Spending

Statistical Value of Human Life$15,000,000$15,000,000
Lives Saved to Break Even188,74065,233
Actual Terrorist Murders172172

Source: Authors calculations.

If you assume that the value of statistical lives saved is equal to the cost of all CT spending, then you must also assume that all CT spending prevented at least 99.9 percent ofalldeaths that would have occurred in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11 that were prevented. If you just focus on domestic Homeland Security spending during that time and assume that the value of statistical lives saved is equal to the cost of CT spending, then you must assume that it prevented at least 99.7 percent ofalldeaths that would have occurred as a result of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that were prevented.

To put those numbers in context, about 250,000 Americans were murdered in non-terror homicides during that time. There would have to have been about 1.4 murders in non-terror homicides for each person killed in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil for the cost of all CT spending to equal the value of human life saved in prevented attacks. For only Homeland Security spending, there would have to have been about 2.9 murders in non-terror homicides for each person killed in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil for the cost to break even. Does anyone believe that CT spending saved that many lives?

Other Costs

The new Stimson Centerstudy group reportis a marvelous attempt to measure the nearly impossible-to-gaugeextentof federal CT spending after 9/11. Although the report is a good estimate of the direct amount of federal spending on CT, it does not represent the full cost. Here are just a few additional costs that would have to be included to estimate such a number:

  • State and local government CT spending.
  • The lost economic activity that would have occurred without expensive CT regulations.
  • The opportunity cost of this spending, including tax cuts or deficit reduction (the report hints at this as it mentions the death toll from opioids).
  • The trade and immigration restrictions promulgated after 9/11.
  • The American military casualties in the War on Terrorism.
  • The foreign casualties in the War on Terrorism.
  • The increased numbers of deaths from consumers choosing riskier forms of travel rather than submit to the expensive, burdensome, and annoying demands of the TSA at airports.
  • Deaths that could have been prevented by redirecting CT spending toward other safety-enhancing policies.


The new Stimson Centerstudy group reportfound that the cost of CT spending is gargantuan. The cost of a government program is only one metric necessary to gauge whether it should exist as we must also consider the benefits it produces. The number of lives that would have to have been saved for the cost of CT spending to equal the benefits, whether overall or just on Homeland Security, would have to be outrageously and unreasonably high for this expenditure to make sense. By diverting government resources from other areas that would have boosted safety, even under the most negative conditions where the marginal cost saved is equal to the statistical value of life, assumes that hundreds of thousands of Americans died because of this increased CT spending who otherwise would have lived due to improved safety elsewhere.

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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 11:17:41 AM mt

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

Can the state ban you from wearing any political message at the polling place? Wen Fa is an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. We discussed his case before the Supreme Court,Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.
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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 11:17:28 AM mt

A Digital Muslim Ban

Did the President enact a "digital Muslim ban in a now-withdrawn executive order? Rachel Levinson-Waldman and Alvaro Bedoya offer their thoughts.
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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 11:16:53 AM mt

Checkpoint America: Monitoring The Constitution Free Zone

Checkpoint America is a new website launched by the Cato Institute to detail the implications of a "Constitution-free zone" along the U.S. border. Patrick Eddington explains. Join the conversation on Twitter and stay tuned for updates with #CheckpointAmerica.
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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 11:16:30 AM mt

If the Feds Were Serious about Spending Restraint

What would a credible challenge to ever increasing spending look like? Kurt Couchman, a Vice President at Defense Strategies, has written some of those kinds of plans for lawmakers.
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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 11:16:21 AM mt

Amalgamated Handouts in the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a collection of handouts unlike any other. It's designed almost entirely to earn majority support for hundreds of billions of dollars in handouts. Chris Edwards comments.
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Friday May 25, 2018 @ 11:16:08 AM mt

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South

Two medical professionals operated virtually unchecked to put defendants away for long prison terms. Their methods were dubious and their science was bad. Two cases of exoneration are featured in the new book,The Cadaver King and the Country Dentistby Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington.
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Thursday May 24, 2018 @ 08:39:45 PM mt

Convicted of Violating a Law that Does Not Exist

Herman Gundy stands convicted of violating a law that, for all intents and purposes, doesnt exist. You may recall from high school civics that the Constitution separates the powers of the federal government among three coordinate branches. You may also recall from Schoolhouse Rock that a bill becomes a law after its passed by the two houses of the legislative branch and signed by the president. Unfortunately for Gundy, things are no longer so straightforward.

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) set up a national system of sex offender registration and made it a crime for sex offenders to fail to register with local authorities when they moved to a new state. While serving time on a federal drug charge, Gundy was transferred from prison in Pennsylvania to a halfway house in Brooklyn. According to the government, that counted as interstate travel sufficient to trigger reporting obligations of which he was never advised.

Gundys appeal of the conviction, to be heard by the Supreme Court this fall, addresses an odd facet of SORNA: while Congress laid out in detail those persons who would be required to register in the future, it did not determine who would have to register if the conviction occurred before SORNA was passed in 2006. Congress delegated that questionto the Attorney General, and gave no guidance on how the determination should be made. Gundys sex offense is among those that predate SORNA, and therefore he was convicted of failing to register not based on anything Congress wrote in any law, but based on an administrative regulation written by the Attorney General.

Assigning such a determination to the executive branch raises a long-dormant canon of constitutional interpretation, the nondelegation doctrine. The basic idea is simple: the Constitution vests legislative power in the legislative branch and the legislature cant delegate the power to write laws to a different branch. Its a principle recognized by Chief Justice John Marshall in the first decades of the republicindeed, its roots can be found in enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Montesquieuand reaffirmed in many Supreme Court opinions. The separation of powers means, at the very least, that the powers must remain separate.

But despite the Court often affirming the importance of the nondelegation doctrine in the abstract, the justices have disapproved of delegations in only two cases, both decided in 1935. While the doctrine is purportedly alive, many now treat it as the Black Knight of constitutional law, forever asserting Im not dead, yet.

Perhaps this time is different. The Courts cases say that delegations can be approved as long as Congress provides an intelligible principle to guide the delegated discretion, but here there is no principle, intelligible or otherwise. The statute empowers the executive branch to do as it likes, with no standards to follow. This case, therefore, presents an excellent opportunity for the Court to protect the separation of powers in an area where it has otherwise been skittish.

The doctrine of separation of powers is not some mere appeal to procedural formality, but a guarantee of our rights as citizens. The English jurist William Blackstone defined tyranny as the vesting in a single body of the right both of making and of enforcing the lawswherever these two powers are united together, there can be no public liberty. It is this tyranny the Constitution was partially designed to prevent. The Cato Institute,joined by the Cause of Action Institute, has fileda brief supporting Gundy, arguing the Court should overturn his conviction and ensure that, as John Adams put it in his draft of the Massachusetts Constitution, [t]he executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powersto the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.

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Thursday May 24, 2018 @ 02:30:45 PM mt

Free Trade Is Good for Both Americans and Non-Americans

Trade headlines are getting more and more absurd. The Commerce Department apparentlywill investigate whether car imports impair national security and thus require a 25% tariff, which one trade lawyer saidwould prompt pant-wetting laughter followed by retaliation among U.S. trading partners. Although maybe, as the linked article suggests, this is all just to put pressure on Mexico during the NAFTA talks, so who knows if it means anything. Its very hard to say what is going on or where any of this is going. Perhaps, then, this would be a good time to take a break from the headlines and consider some more general trade issues.

I was reading a recent New Yorker article entitled Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy? and, not surprisingly, I came across a lot of points that irritated me. In crafting a letter to the editor, it occurred to me that if I wanted it published, it would be better to focus on just one issue rather than send them a long list of complaints.Heres the letter I sent, as published:

In Caleb Crains essay about whether capitalism poses a threat to democracy, he discusses Robert Kuttners views on the impact of free trade but leaves out a key consideration (Books, May 14th). Beyond the impact that free trade has on Americans, its benefits for the developing world should not be ignored. Hundreds of millions of people have been helped out of poverty by an American-led system of trade liberalization. Perhaps this will not convince American voters, but it should count for something.

That was the version as edited by the New Yorker. The letter I sent was a little different, in that I had a parenthetical as follows: Perhaps this will not convince American voters (although if it were ever pointed out to them, they might approve),

One of the things Donald Trump has shown us is that you can say unorthodox things and change the debate, as it turns out people believe things we were not aware of. This can be a bad thing, but I can imagine that it might also be a good thing. What if we had a politician who explained how Americans benefited from free trade, and then also noted that free trade had helped bring hundreds of millions of people in other countries out of poverty. Isnt it likely that many people would think that was pretty good? Couldnt that actually generate support for free trade?

Of course, there may be a group of people that doesnt care about things that happen outside of the United States, and are suspicious that helping non-Americans must mean hurting Americans. But dont most people care a little about what happens elsewhere? I hope so, but I suppose well never know, because the issue of helping others through free trade isalmost never mentioned. Its just not a significant part of the public debate. As a result, we really have no idea if Americans care about this, and whether it could generate more support for free trade. It would be nice if someone gave this a try, though. Trump has shown us that unorthodox strategies can work. If someone tried out a positive unorthodox message, we might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

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Thursday May 24, 2018 @ 02:30:45 PM mt

That Time When They Censored Fahrenheit 451

The reviews of HBOs Fahrenheit 451 havent been so good, but at least the publicity should lead more people to read a great dystopian novel. Talking about the book many years later, Bradbury said, I wasnt worried about freedom, I was worried about people being turned into morons by TVthe moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news and the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids. If only he could see our current culture, where TV news agitates viewers into warring tribes.

But he certainly portrayed a society in which an authoritarian government burns books, and most people have seen it as a powerful warning about censorship. Which makes it particularly ironic, and more significant every day, thatFahrenheit 451itself was censored trimmed, expurgated, bowdlerized by people who no doubt thought they had the best of intentions.

When Bradbury discovered what had been done, he wrote this Coda to the 1979 Del Rey edition. Its worth reading today. What he said then is still true: There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Read the Coda, then read the book:

About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology,The Martian Chronicles.

But, she added, wouldnt it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more womens characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didnt I do them over?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped.

Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story The Fog Horn in a high school reader.

In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a God-Light. Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in the Presence.

The editors had deleted God-Light and in the Presence.

Some five years back, the editors of yet another anthology for school readers put together a volume with some 400 (count em) short stories in it. How do you cram 400 short stories by Twain, Irving, Poe, Maupassant and Bierce into one book?

Simplicity itself. Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy. Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquitoout! Every simile that would have made a sub-morons mouth twitchgone! Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writerlost!

Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepenciled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story. Twain read like Poe read like Shakespeare read like Dostoevsky read likein the finaleEdgar Guest. Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instants attentionshot dead.

Do you begin to get the damned and incredible picture?

How did I react to all of the above?

By firing the whole lot.

By sending rejection slips to each and every one. By ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.

The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be itBaptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Womens Lib/ Republican, Mattachine/ Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novelFahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.

Shut the door, theyre coming through the window, shut the window, theyre coming through the door, are the words to an old song. They fit my life-style with newly arriving butcher/censors every month. Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn Del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place.

A final test for old Job II here: I sent a play,Leviathan 99, off to a university theater a month ago. My play is based on the Moby Dick mythology, dedicated to Melville, and concerns a rocket crew and a blind space captain who venture forth to encounter a Great White Comet and destroy the destroyer. My drama premieres as an opera in Paris this autumn.

But, for now, the university wrote back that they hardly dared do my playit had no women in it! And the ERA ladies on campus would descend with ball-bats if the drama department even tried!

Grinding my bicuspids into powder, I suggested that would mean, from now on, no more productions ofBoys in the Band(no women), orThe Women(no men). Or, counting heads, male and female, a good lot of Shakespeare that would never be seen again, especially if you count lines and find that all the good stuff went to the males!

I wrote back maybe they should do my play one week, andThe Womenthe next. They probably thought I was joking, and Im not sure that I wasnt.

For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my Wonderful Ice Cream Suit so it shapes Zoot, may the belt unravel and the pants fall.

For, lets face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlets fathers ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writerhe steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-defiations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. Its my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset Ive won or lost. At sunrise, Im out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.

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