It is said that the US government has engaged the War on Terror to save lives. If this is true it means that the State is deeply concerned with our lives, and intent on securing our lives at virtually any cost (for the war has been extremely costly by any measure).
But what are the real threats to our security? In 2007, 43,945 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the USA. Of these, 8,716 were passengers, 4,699 were pedestrians, and 701 were on bicycles. In 1999 and 2000 the totals were over 41,000. Over the last ten years at least 400,000 have died in car accidents. There was no panic in the media, no outrage from politicians, and in fact no evidence that anyone was even aware of it. The government is not mobilizing the nation’s resources to stop the killing. (This is because the government is in charge of road management and doesn’t want to draw attention to the carnage occurring on its watch, but we’ll discuss that another day).
Maybe you’re thinking you can’t compare accidental deaths to intentional killings. But that distinction only matters when it comes to punishing the killer, not when preventing the death in the first place. When it comes to my child’s safety I’m more concerned about the risk she faces in traffic than I ever was about the risk of a terrorist attack.
But let’s grant your point just for the sake of argument. Let’s pretend that the state shouldn’t prevent nearly 44,000 accidental deaths a year, but should prevent a smaller number of intentional deaths. The question now becomes, which ones? Roughly 3,300 people were killed in international terrorist attacks in 2001. Supposedly to “fight terror,” the government established a new Cabinet position (Department of Homeland Security); put the child-groping Transportation Security Administration into play; passed the unconstitutional USA PATRIOT Act; and destroyed every remnant of financial privacy.
But is it really to stop intentional killings that we’re fighting terror? In the same year the twin towers fell there were 20,308 murders just in the USA — six times as many as were killed worldwide in terrorist attacks. Clearly, if “saving lives” is the issue, the murder rate is a far greater threat than terror.
The real reason for the War on Terror is something else entirely. In fact, it’s the same motivation governments have always had for starting wars. Here’s a clue: since 2001 total military spending has exceeded $6.2 trillion.
Because the government subsists on tax dollars, assuming nothing more than self-interest on the part of government agents you have to expect them always to find ways to increase taxes. One way to do this, as we’ve seen, is to manufacture demand for the services the government provides, so that it can use the increased “need” as justification to increase taxes.
In Part 2 we’ll look at the economics of state-run security and how it creates incentives for the government to make war.
Sources: National Vital Statistics Reports of the Centers for Disease Control; Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Patterns of Global Terrorism Reports from the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US Government Spending.