Throughout this week, we'll be posting old and new Reason material related to the 9/11 attacks.
To see a snapshot of what Reason.com (then called Reason Online) looked like in late September 2001, go here.
On September 13, 2001, Reason's National Correspondent Mike Lynch talked with Angus Kress Gillespie (no relation to me), whose 1999 social history Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center was until the 9/11 attacks the definitive account of the Big Apple's tallest and least-loved skyscraper complex. Snippets:
REASON: [The Trade Center] had a controversial birth. How did it grow up?
Gillespie: The Port Authority did two brilliant things to turn the public relations problem around. When confronted with a tall building, our instinct is to reach the top. The Port Authority gave people not one, but two ways to do that: A luxury restaurant for the wealthy and an observation deck suitable for Joe Sixpack to bring the wife and kids for under $10 for the entire family. It was accessible for every taste. Not only that, but in the 1970s there were three spectacular daredevil events that drew favorable attention to the twin towers. There was the tightrope walk by Philippe Petit in 1974. Owen J. Quinn parachuted from one of the towers in 1976. George "The Human Fly" Willig scaled the building in 1977. In every case, the Port Authority, which was receiving tons of free publicity, had the wisdom not to vigorously prosecute the perpetrators but instead give them a minimal slap on the wrists. All of those things helped to win over the New Yorkers.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, gradually the old school died off and a new generation came along who had always known the World Trade Center and its twin towers. Even though they are not appreciated by the architectural establishment, they have a subtle beauty all their own. Notice the two towers aren't side by side, they were off set. So perhaps as a static display it's not all that impressive. But say you're on a boat in the Hudson River and you circle around the two towers, there's an interesting interplay between the two shapes. The are spectacularly beautiful, or were, from Jersey City at sunset because the aluminum would reflect the colors of the sunset. So was it beautiful, even if the architectural critics say no. But was it beautiful, yes, if you knew were to look and were appreciating these subtleties….
REASON: What was lost…with the collapse of the towers?
Gillespie: I would say in terms of business, not that much, $10 or $20 billion. The insurance industry can absorb this hit and the American economy will move along. This is certainly a loss, but it's something the mighty American economic engine can withstand. In terms of politics, it's an insult. It's a poke in the eye, a kick in the shins. It's the gesture of a group with little power against a superpower. It's provocative and insulting, but we'll get over it. Perhaps even we'll find the perpetrators and extract revenge. But the biggest damage is aesthetic, because it's a permanent loss to the skyline of Manhattan. As the author of a book about the World Trade Center and someone who is very fond of the buildings, I would like to see them rebuilt. But as a rational person, I don't see it happening. The deck is stacked against rebuilding.
REASON: How so?
Gillespie: At least three ways. The culture has changed in the last 30 years. There are enormous and legitimate environmental worries about constructing any large building. The EPA now has real teeth. The second problem is that since the building was built we've seen an empowerment of the neighborhoods and the NIMBY factor. Third, there's the demoralization factor. Even if we're able to rebuild it in six months, who would want to rent space in it?
For years prior to the 9/11 attacks, travel between the United States and Canada was a simple thing: All that was required was a driver's license. That changed shortly after 9/11 and the need to carry more documentation what was once widely celebrated as the world's longest open border. On September 15, 2001, former Reason intern Jeremy Lott wrote about being a U.S. citizen living in Washington state while commuting to college in Canada:
Three days a week, I cross the U.S.-Canadian border to British Columbia to attend Trinity Western University. In the wake of the horrific events of Tuesday, September 11, what used to be perhaps the easiest international commute on the planet has now become something very different.
A lot of pundits–and more than a few politicians–are ready to declare war on terrorism; they talk of the need to completely restructure American society to win that war. The sort of social regimentation that requires hasn't been discussed much yet, but it needs to be. In seeking to preserve our open society, a new war on terrorism may end up shutting it down….
Such disruptions are understandable, given the calamitous events. Hopefully, they're temporary, too. My car, with almost 200,000 miles, will not take two hours of stopping and starting on a regular basis. I did not go back to Canada today. For next week, I've arranged to stay in Canada and will be staying there until the border once again becomes more open. I am far from the only student in this bind and there are many thousands of people who cross the border in both directions every day to work. For a little while, we can improvise, staying with friends and the like.
But if this new "heightened security" persists, it will lead to structural readjustments. Fewer people will cross the border for any reason; employment will be essentially restricted to the country of residence; and ultimately people will interact less. A once open society will become much less so.
If that happens, the mad bombers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will have destroyed even more than they did on their suicide flights.
At the end of September 2001, Lynch reported on President George W. Bush's first big post-9/11 bailout-cum-stimulus program aimed at kickstarting an economy still trying to gather itself after the tech bubble popped. Our reporter cautioned against using "tragedy to bail out failing business."
President George W. Bush signed a $15 billion aid package for domestic airlines on Saturday, September 22. The question: Is this package a one-time emergency measure related to the events of September 11, or is it the first in a series of checks Congress will be cutting in hopes of stimulating the economy?…
"[The insurance industry's] approach is, the airlines are coming to you; you're helping them out," a Democratic leadership staffer told the Post. "We're next in line after them. They're absolutely making it known they have a problem." Other industries making their needs known on the Hill include travel agents, rental car companies, and aerial photographers. And the needs are certainly not limited to the private sector. In addition to the military and intelligence buildup, there's a push for more border guards and funding for Amtrak, which seems to be suffering from too many passengers….
the guaranteeing of billions of dollars of loans for airlines that were already struggling makes less sense. Ditto for handing more money over to Amtrak for previously planned projects. Policymakers must remember that the economy was going through an adjustment period before September 11. Airlines were already on track to lose up to $3 billion this year. Many other businesses were destined to fail. Lawmakers obviously can't let a collapse in the insurance market ground every commercial carrier, but they ought to let weaker carriers go bankrupt. University of Pennsylvania Law Professor David A. Skeel Jr. reminds us that our bankruptcy laws were developed to handle the collapse of an industry critical to the 19th century-the railroads.
It's painful to watch business failure and unemployment piled upon the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. But it's critical that politicians avoid the seductive path of relying on public policy to prop up failing businesses while trying to manage a failing economy with expansionary fiscal policy — that is, by spending more taxpayer money. That's the Japanese model of the last decade. And it doesn't work.