Al Jazeera, 1 September 2011
$5 trillion, and counting
Osama bin Laden spoke often of a strategy of “economic warfare” against the United States, a low-level war aimed at bankrupting the world’s economic superpower. A decade after the 9/11 attacks, it’s hard to argue that bin Laden’s strategy was ineffective. The attacks themselves, according to the September 11 commission, cost Al Qaeda between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute. They have cost America, by our estimate, more than $5 trillion – a “return on investment” of 10,000,000 to one.
NYC Economy: $52 billion
These figures come from the New York City Comptroller’s office, which estimated the effect of 9/11 on “gross city product,” New York’s economic output. The primary reason for the decline is job losses, according to the comptroller’s report: The city lost 83,100 jobs between September 2001 and July 2002, according to the comptroller, and those lost jobs mean less tax revenue for New York. And job losses have a ripple effect: Fewer commuters stopped for a morning coffee; fewer workers had lunch in New York restaurants.
Future Military[Residual Human Cost]: $1.38 trillion
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be a drain on US taxpayers long after the last troops have been withdrawn. More than 50,000 Americans have been wounded in those two wars; some of them will need medical care and disability insurance for decades to come. Those costs could near $1 trillion over the next 40 years, according to US government estimates. And, of course, that final withdrawal hasn’t happened yet. Thousands of US troops could potentially remain in Iraq after 2011; as for Afghanistan, NATO leaders have said no serious drawdown will begin before 2014.
Domestic: $540 billion
Domestic security spending – the “homeland security industry” – has snowballed since 9/11. This category is mostly driven by growth in the intelligence community and the Homeland Security Department; both of their budgets have roughly doubled in the decade since 9/11. State and local governments have also spent billions on homeland security, much of it on expensive technology with questionable value for local communities. One example, reported in the Los Angeles Times last month: Keith County, Nebraska, population 8,370, spent more than $40,000 on “a Zodiac boat with side-scan sonar” to repel an imagined Al Qaeda ski boat attack.
Military: $1.73 trillion
By far the largest share of America’s post-9/11 spending has been military-related. More than half of this category, of course, is the cost of America’s ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is impossible to calculate the human cost of these wars, so the figures presented here focus solely on the Defense Department’s expenditures. This category also includes large increases to the Pentagon’s baseline budget; State Department and aid spending in the two theatres of war; and the cost of providing health care for injured soldiers. Future military expenses are presented in a separate category.
Debt: $983 billion
The US government is heavily in debt, meaning Washington has borrowed trillions of dollars to finance its spending on wars and homeland security. This category accounts for the interest on those debts related to 9/11 – war and homeland security spending, in other words. The treasury has already paid about $183 billion in interest on its debts, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. That figure will climb to nearly $1 trillion by the end of the decade, according to a study by Brown University. Higher levels of public debt could also potentially mean higher interest rates for private and corporate borrowers in the United States, but those calculations are speculative and thus omitted here.
Phi Beta Iota: This is a severe under-estimation. There will also be the replacement cost for the military system that has been “burned up” in foreign wars (much as Viet-Nam was a deliberate “churning” of the US military acquisition empire, nevermind the cost in human deaths and disability. Al Jazeera also neglects to make the point that what is cost to the taxpayer is profit to the financial and political mandarins–until integrity is restored to the public process, war will continue to be profitable and the public will continue to be abused.