Economists: War on Terror is Wasting Money

Since September 11, 2001, most expenditures on homeland security have been justified because they make Americans safer. This has an intuitive appeal — even if something is expensive, if it means that we’ll be safer then it’s worth whatever cost. Some economists, though, are now arguing that expenditures on homeland security and the war on terror should be subject to the same cost-benefit analysis that other policy programs are.

In a new book called Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security, two economists, John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart, argue that policymakers have been asking the wrong questions about how much to spend on homeland security. In an op-ed on Slate, the book’s authors write that the over $1 trillion spent on security in the past decade has been spent without any consideration of cost effectiveness. As such, they argue, “It is clearly time to examine massive homeland security expenditures in a careful and systematic way, applying the kind of analytic risk management approaches emphasizing cost-benefit analysis and determinations of acceptable and unacceptable risks that are routinely required of other governmental agencies.”

Though some might argue that homeland security is different because it saves lives or improves safety, the authors of the book reject that claim. They argue that since the government has limited resources, massive and unchecked expenditures constrain other forms of spending that could also save lives — for example education, WIC, or environmental regulation. Given the sheer sums of money that have been spent on programs that are unlikely to improve safety, they believe that that money could have been much better spent on more cost effective programs, many of which also have the potential to save lives. Especially in light of budget cuts to police forces around the country, it’s easy to see how one kind of spending to protect physical safety (the War on Terror) constrains spending on similar programs that might have a more direct impact on peoples’ lives.

Policymakers have several easy prescriptions to restrain spending on homeland security while making people safer. Mueller and Stewart argue that any policy passed as part of the War on Terror should undergo the same kind of regulatory restrictions requiring cost-benefit analysis, in line with their article. Tom Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College, argued that part of the problem is because there are too many disparate organizations that are tasked with keeping the country safe; they should be consolidated to save money and avoid wasteful expenditures.

In a more optimistic angle, Berkeley professor Malcolm Potts has proposed a surprising and significantly more cost effective way to reduce the threat of terror-related violence: providing birth control to women in countries where terror-cells are active. He explains: “The upstream strategy we need to defeat Al-Qaeda and similar groups of men is to educate their sisters and give their mothers the freedom to decide when to have another child. We must do both things together, because unless we also slow rapid population growth, education will never keep pace with growing numbers of young people.”

Even though much of what America has invested in to protect its homeland has not been cost effective, there are thankfully proven methods out there that can significantly save money and make us safer. And, unlike so many policies that result in danger to civilians and our troops, these proposals will hopefully improve the quality of life and safety for both Americans and foreign nationals.

Related Stories:

The Challenge of Teaching 9/11

“Credible” But “Unconfirmed” Terror Threat For 9/11 Anniversary Reported

On The Anniversary of 9/11 A Renewed Commitment to the Constitution

Photo credit: The U.S. Army's Flickr stream.


Aaron Holmgren
Aaron Holmgren6 years ago

Warmongers like Obama who has reinforced the war on terror while starting additional wars in the middle-east? .... while at the same time, ensuring american rights are a thing of the past by extending the "temporary" Patriot Act - an emergency act brought into effect by riding on the irrational fears of Americans.

Christina B.
Christina B6 years ago

What do the warmongers and their companies have to say about all this?

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

Thanks for sharing Sam Taxy. This is something some of us has realized for quite a while, but it seems the majority still does not reason through this in their heads.

Pego R.
Pego R6 years ago

Don't even think it!

Fer cryin' out loud, every time we've declared a "war on" we've only managed to multiply the object of our "wars"

Past Member
Richard G6 years ago

You know, I'm tired of hearing about all these wars, The War on Drugs, The war on Terror, The war on This, The War on That etc etc etc... When will I hear about starting a war on Pollution via Air, Water and Land??? These things are killing at a higher rate then any of these other things... I think the time has come for us all to take a look at what we are doing to this planet? We spend more money putting peoples lives in danger to try and stop these things, where if we could all just come together and do something to improve our planet and I mean all from all over the world... we wouldn't have time for the other crap... Think about all the people we could employ with real jobs where they could come home safer and not in a box. Provide a better life for their families...

Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

This story comes quite late to the fore. Most people were certain the war on terror was a waste of money by 2006 at the latest. However, consider this: the War On Terror isn't so much a matter of wasting wealth as it is a de facto redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the working poor to the wealthiest corporations in the U.S.

Aaron Holmgren
Aaron Holmgren6 years ago

@Ira H., regarding your comment "President Obama did not start these wars. but while the congress blocks all of his actions he is made powerless to stop them."

I believe you are mistaken. President Obama would not require congress in order to stop these wars. In fact, Obama has even started new wars illegally, at his own will (without the authorization of congress). Congresses only roll is to authorize the initiation of a war by the president, not to start or to stop them. It was also president Obama who extended the beloved Patriot Act.

I think you are living in fantasy because you a disillusioned by reality. You need to wake up as to the president Obama really is.

Ira Herson
Ira Herson6 years ago

The war on terror is like the war on drugs, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and all the rest. America has now lost every war.

The statement a war on........ (fill in the blank) is a tool to distract you from the real goals of the military/industrial complex that President Ike warn us about.

As long as the USA is engaged in a war on............. we will be distracted by the real issues. President Obama did not start these wars. but while the congress blocks all of his actions he is made powerless to stop them.

Dianne Prang
Dianne Prang6 years ago

I watched the documentary on 9/11 in NYC this past weekend. It is easy to understand the horror these terrorists created that fateful day. At the time, I thought Bush used this act to enhance his own political agendas that seemed to fit the agenda of GOP's to bring down Iraq. It never made any sense to do what he and his cronies did. The debts rose and he was allowed to gracefully leave the office of his presidency after being allowed to spend the american financial trust. I am Canadian and was very proud that my country opted out of the war against Iraq. Of course we were governed by the Liberal party at the time. I doubt our present Conservative government would have acted in a like manner.
I say this because it is becoming clear to me that the republicans bankrupted America by acting to spend trillions on the war of terror all for the sake of power.
Anyone with a brain knows there is no way to really win this war. The only way is described in this article...maybe not stop it but get to the bottom of why terrorists are able to act and be protected in countries that only know war, hunger, oppression.
I also agree that the war on drugs has had the same affect as terrorism and extremely expensive.
When will we ever learn to effect positive change by helping others to help themselves?
Years ago I read that terrorists cannot act the way they did in 9/11 without financial banking.
Finding Bin Laden was worth the cost and it took a Democratic president to make t

Dominic C.
Dominic C6 years ago

The war on terror did not start on 9112001. It started during the Reagan Administration and the most notable of all is the war on drugs. This is still going on today. The longest wars are now in Latin America, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in Afghanistan, America only focus the resources only in the last 5 or 6 years because most resources are occupied trying to take down Saddam Hussein and looking for WMD.