Notes Book

Charley vs 9-11

They were both disasters—the 9-11 attack on the twin towers and the pentagon, and Hurricane Charley. What can comparing the two teach us?

It's difficult to get an exact figure for the direct damage caused by each disaster, but short search left me with the impression that the damage was in the same 10 to 20 billion range. Perhaps 9-11 might have caused a little more direct damage. On the other hand, the strong emotions surrounding 9-11 make it difficult for me to trust damage estimates.

But 9-11 caused a tectonic shift in American politics. Charley never had much of an impact on American politics, and will soon be forgotten.

Certainly, 9-11 caused more deaths: about 125 times as many according to my estimates. While the energy in the fuel tanks of 3 jumbo jets is considerable, it is totally insignificant when compared to the energy in a hurricane. Why did a relatively insignificant amount of energy cause so many more deaths? Is it because the twin towers comprised a fortress and Charley hit a dispersed community? Was it because the twin towers were a high-density population area? Was it because the planners of 9-11 were very smart?

What would have happened if the three jumbos had crashed into Southern Florida? It seems unlikely that jumbos crashing into southern Florida could have caused so many deaths. It is also difficult to imagine the deaths of something less than 3000 residents of trailer parks in Florida causing the uproar that the 9-11 deaths caused. The 9-11 victims were mostly very well off and politically connected, which one cannot certainly say about those mobile home residents in Florida.

Hurricane victims rebuild their lives as best they can, and nobody suggests that the Federal Government should spend hundreds of billions to defend us against future hurricanes, even though we are statistically certain that more hurricanes will occur.

But the government has spent at least $200 billion on wars, which purport to protect us from future events like 9-11. The current administration apparently intends to continue these wars as long as they can at the cost of more than one billion dollars a week.. Some think that these wars make future 9-11 like events less likely, and some think they make future 9-11s more likely. Few doubt that providing safer housing for residents at risks for hurricane would provide more protection against hurricanes for decades to come.

The US uses about 20 million barrels of oil a day. A conservative estimate of the “risk premium” factored into the price of this oil because of the wars initiated by the US Government is $7 dollars a barrel. That means that the wars are also costing the US economy $140 million dollars a day, or $980 billion dollars a week. In other words this “hidden” cost of the current wars is almost as much as the cost admitted to by the government. And there are other costs caused by wartime distortions of the economy that make the war bill even higher. For example, by focusing its attention on the war, the government neglects its normal services in other areas. The government bought a huge amount of plywood to construct military bases in the Middle East, and the price of plywood nearly tripled. I expect there were a lot of people who would rather have had an affordable house than a military base in Iraq.

The US government may end up costing the US economy more than a trillion dollars in a program supposedly designed to prevent future 9-11s. Remember that the 9-11 attacks were financed with less than $200,000. If we accept these figures, the people who financed the 9-11 attacks cost the US economy $5,000 dollars for every dollar they invested. Clearly, if the “war on terror” continues on this basis, the US government and the American People will soon be broke.