Government Spending

Why We Should Fear Bathtubs More Than Terrorists-Authors John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart on Security Spending


The federal government has spent over $80 billion on aviation security in the past 10 years. Yet "your chance of dying in a bathtub is about one in a million, and from terrorism is about one in 3.5 million," says Ohio State political scientist John Mueller.

Mueller and his co-author Mark G. Stewart argue in their new book, "Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security ," that cost-benefit analysis needs to be applied to security expenditures. The authors calculate for current spending levels to be cost-effective, the U.S. government would "have to prevent four Time Square-type attacks every single day." So why are we spending so much for so little added safety?

Mueller and Stewart sat down with's Nick Gillespie to discuss the overestimating of risk from terrorism and zero-cost solutions to prevent another 9/11 attack.

Mueller is Woody Hayes chair of national security studies at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State; he's also a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Mark G. Stewart is director of the Center for Infrastructure Performance and Reliability at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

About 7 minutes.

Shot by Jim Epstein and Joshua Swain, and edited by Meredith Bragg.

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  1. First they came for the high volume flush toilets . . .

    1. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hank Greenburg is suing the government over the way the AIG takeover was handled. It’s behind a paywall, and I ain’t paying – does anybody have more info?…..Collection

  2. Mueller is Woody Hayes chair of national security studies…

    Woody Hayes chair? If you get national security issues wrong, does he beat the crap out of you?

    1. You don’t ever want to sit in the Joe Paterno chair, dude.

        1. Two Penn State administrators walk into a butt…

  3. Mueller is a cool dude. (True story.) But I fear the guy who holds the Bo Schembechler Chair of European Literature at U. of M. would kick his ass five out of 10 times (with one tie).

  4. I’m expecting Obama to declare plants for a Department of Additional Homeland Security any day now.

    1. Plants? Fucking keyboards.


      1. What am I, a potted plant?

        1. Now now, FCC — you’ve always been useless. Potted plants produce oxygen, on the other hand!

  5. Hmm, I wonder how this would apply to tasers? The odds of being killed by one are miniscule, so they must not really be dangerous, amirite?

    1. Tasers =/= gargantuan sociopolitical and economic skullfuckery.

      Distinctions, how do they work?

      1. Distinctions, how do they work?

        The odds of a LEO terrorist committing violence against you is minimal. We should institute “zero cost measures” to effectively combat police brutality terrorism because what we spend now is too much.

        Intellectual consistency, how does it work?

        1. WTF? Coherence, how does it work?

        2. If we spent $80 billion to stop 5 people a year from being tased – yeah, that would be way fucking too much.

          It would be cheaper to pay each tasing victim 100 million dollars each to compensate them for their bad experience.

          1. Unless, of course, that $80 billion fixed the process as a whole and prevented future innocent tasing victims. It is not a mere function of “victims/costs”, there is a measure of “ounce of prevention/pound of cure” present.

          2. i’ve been tased twice.

            i’ll take 100 million, and you can have the other 100 million as a finder’s fee


          3. How about 80 billion to keep cops from murdering them? Or should we just pay the families 100 million after that get murdered?

            Anyone want to buy a Pinto?

            1. so you are saying you fear getting rammed from the rear?


    2. So if I run across a taser-proof jacket for $10 million, I should definitely buy it, amirite?

        1. YES IT DOES

          YES WE CAN!!

  6. DHS Cost-Benefit Analysis: How much will it cost the taxpayer, to benefit our favored contractor/supplier?

  7. DHS Cost-Benefit Analysis: How much will it cost the taxpayer, to benefit our favored contractor/supplier?

  8. Not that I totally disagree with this point, but there are certain types of danger that don’t lend themselves to the simple budget divided by number of deaths calculus. Preventing al-Qaeda from nuking New York, for instance, looks pretty ineffective considering that no one has died in the total annihilation of New York, while hundreds die of bee stings each year.

    Again, not that the security state isn’t a big wasteful cockup in many ways, but simplistic comparisons only work if they’re actually comparable and similar.

    1. I think this type of danger lends itself to such analysis just as well as any other. The resources available to solve problems is limited and it’s necessary to prioritize.

      You have to at least ask yourself: does it make sense to expend most of my resources on a spectacular but remote threat, such that I don’t have much left to take care of mundane but more likely threats?

      1. Imagine tigers, thousands of them, running amok through the streets of your city. It’d be worth billions to prevent such a catastrophe. Amirite?

        1. I just happen to have this rock — cost, a mere $100 million.

        2. Uh, CN, you should know that the specter of tigers gamboling about the streets of central Ohio hits a bit close to home.

      2. I think this type of danger lends itself to such analysis just as well as any other.

        Only if you have the time, energy, and wherewithal to convince 300,000,000 of your fellow citizens that it does.

        Not to be tautological, but terrorism is fearful for emotional reasons that are not present with bathtubs or bee-stings.

        1. But tigers? Tigers are fucking scary!

    2. You’re right about the comparison being a crock of it.

      With regard to the nuke thing – just to go completely off topic here – I don’t think there’s much chance of the magnitude of destruction from a terrorist-delivered nuclear attack as many people seem to think.

      First of all, building one of these things is supposed to be pretty hard to do without access to substantial industrial infrastructure. A terrorist group would have much greater chances of success in stealing or purchasing one.

      If a terrorist group were to steal one, or purchase one that was stolen, they would have a hard time setting it off.

      If a nation-state provided a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group, the use of a proxy wouldn’t protect the nation that provided it from retribution.

      If a terrorist group overcame these obstacles and successfully set off a nuke in a city, I’m sure the destruction would be horrific, but not of the cataclysmic scale typically portrayed in the media.

      On the bad side…

      – Detecting a nuclear weapon is difficult

      – Nuclear weapon use at sea, against a major warship, creates an infrequently considered situation

      – Once a terror sponsor state has a nuclear arsenal, how do you deal with them? (Furthermore, this situation motivates their neighbors to build their own nuclear weapons.)

      1. Well, of course that’s a good point but a separate issue– Iran with a nuke that it hasn’t used is much more powerful than Iran with one that it just did, since in the latter case it’s about to get melted into glass.

      2. There are Ana awful lot of assumptions in your argument sound Nuclear weapons, how hard they are to make, etc. if your argument is solely based on those assumptions, and you lack the evidence to support them then how can you make a calculation on costs thats based on facts? I think you want o consider that there is a critical need to get those facts right if you want to leap to he conclusion that you don’t need to defend against hat great. Certainly some experts seem to be asserting that it is a threat, perhaps it is.

  9. Hundreds arrested in Atlanta traffic sweep

    A cracked windshield led to the seizure of 15 pounds of marijuana and $5,000 in cash, police said, during a crackdown on Atlanta motorists.

    Operation Thunder, a three-day sweep of traffic scofflaws featuring road blocks and an influx of officers trained to spot drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol, resulted in the numerous arrests and drug seizures, said officials with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

    Operation Thunder was a joint venture with the Atlanta Police Department and included 100 additional officers from as far away as Bainbridge, said GOHS spokeswoman Katie Fallon.

    The campaign kicked off Thursday and ended Saturday. Atlanta police provided the following statistics, which do not include arrests by officers from other agencies:

    868 traffic citations
    178 arrests (19 felonies)
    81 seatbelt violations
    61 DUI arrests
    3 stolen vehicles recovered
    Drug seizures included heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana. Those arrested included an armed robbery suspect, a motorist with counterfeit IRS refund checks, and a suspect wanted on a Secret Service warrant, said Fallon.

    “The success of this collaboration with out law enforcement partners is evident in these impressive numbers,” said Atlanta police Chief George Turner. “We are grateful to the many officers, deputies and troopers from the Atlanta Police Department, from the metro Atlanta area, and from around the state, who worked tirelessly the past few days to ensure our streets are safer for our citizens. Special thanks go out to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety for spearheading such a powerful and effective law enforcement initiative.”…..e=rss_news

    1. Or go with the set:…..e-14999913

    2. The Guernica one is outstanding.

      1. True that.

  10. You know, If they abolished the TSA, I bet the unemployed screeners would be happy to get jobs helping people in and out of the tub.

    1. Right up their alley too, since they are apparently all into perving on the people they are supposed to be “serving”.

  11. I get the point of the article and it makes sense when you discount human emotion, but the fact is that human emotion and behavior has costs and benefits associated with it. Fortunately, the stock market doesn’t collapse and human behavior isn’t altered when someone splits their head open on the bath spit.

    1. But that would mean that during the Middle Ages anti-witch spending was actually sensible, because people were really, really afraid of witches and not indulging their irrational fears would have been inconvenient.

      1. Name a rational fear, then.

        I would like to point out that the odds that someone will die in a nuclear exchange is pretty low too. Should we spend no time worrying about that?

        The odds you will be abused by the police (like another poster alluded to above) are pretty low. Don’t worry about it?

        The “odds” of a particular problem are not the only relevant factor. I think the odds are pretty damn low I will ever have my speech stifled. That does not mean that I don’t care about the First Amendment or due process of law.

        1. It’s a question of the proportion between your fear and your response.

          It’s rational in many areas to fear that personal items will be stolen from your car if you leave the door unlocked. That justifies locking your door and taking valuable items out of the car when you get home. It doesn’t justify erecting a $100 million security system in your driveway to try to spot potential thieves.

          I’d concede that avoiding a nuclear war would be worth $80 billion.

          But no one is going to bring a Hiroshima bomb through security at JFK and use it to blow up New York. At this point, even another 9/11 style attack, with hijacked planes themselves as weapons, is probably already impossible. That means we spent our airport security money to avoid run-of-the-mill hijackings. That’s just not proportional. That’s like saying we should find a city with ~200 murders a year and drop 80 billion taxpayer dollars into setting up invasive security theater all over that city to see if we can cut the murder rate in half.

          1. by this metric, increased DUI penalties, enforcement, awareness etc. have been exceptionally cost effective, especially since much of the money spent (e.g. MADD) came from private donations etc.

            our roadways (due ot a # of factors, to include DUI enforcement, airbags, etc. etc.) are far far far safer statistically speaking, then they have ever been

            the #1 fear the AVERAGE person should have (iow you are not a gangbanger, drug dealer, etc.) is death or injury via traffic collision

            that is BY FAR the greatest risk… unless you eat like shit and smoke metric assloads of cig’s.

            and statistically speaking, you are far safer now than a decade ago, two decades, etc. in this regards

        2. “Name a rational fear, then.”

          Tigers gamboling about central Ohio?

  12. Potted plants produce oxygen, on the other hand!

    Clearly, applying the logic of the “H20-intake-does-not-prevent-dehydration” bit, O2 must be restricted or even banned, since an ample supply of O2 cannot prevent anoxia or asphyxiation.

    Has that Euro Commission weighed in on the evils of photosynthesis?

  13. Name a rational fear, then.

    In my physicianly experience, the fear of death ranks numero uno.

    Fear of disfigurement/dismemberment ranks a close second.

  14. Is this article intended to promote the creation of a BAthtub Security Inspection Committee?

  15. Is this article intended to promote the creation of a BAthtub Security Inspection Committee?

    Has Canada implemented its own BASIC program?

  16. Without TSA , towel heads with assault bathtubs concealed in their turbans would rule the skies.

  17. cost-benefit analysis needs to be applied to security expenditures.

    Why do I assume the bipartisan Congressional response to this involves 1070 fingers in 1070 ears, and an earth-shaking chorus of “LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALALAL!”?

  18. Terrorism is a real threat, and one presented by thinking, adaptive enemies. The comparison made in the headline is complete crap – comparing apples and bricks.

    The methods by which aviation security is “provided” by the government is inefficient and largely ineffective, but that is a problem with the methods, not the purpose.

    1. “”Terrorism is a real threat””

      So is falling in the bath tub.

      “”one presented by thinking, adaptive enemies.””

      Failed shoe bomb, failed underwear bomb, failed car bomb in Times Square. I think you give their team too much credit. If that’s adaptive, I have little to worry about.

      1. i find it interesting the way you only mention failed attempts, but don’t mention inchoate attempts interrupted by security apparatus e.g. the port angeles case, etc.

    2. Indeed. Slipping in our bath tub is a safety issue, bathtubs don’t try to make you slip.

      A terrorist, on the other hand, is a security issue. A malicious intelligent adaptive willing to die during the process actor.

      Apples and bricks indeed. DHS is wasteful, but that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t worth addressing just because they suck at it. The cost analysis should be on results, not cost per life nonsequitors.

    3. Ok, one more time, from the top:

      Terrorists only win if we allow ourselves to be terrorized. Otherwise, they are just a particular class of criminals to be rounded up and punished.

  19. How do you enrich your politically connected friends in defense contracting work building bathtubs?

    1. Stealth bathtubs!

  20. Nooooo, not bath tubs! (see link)

  21. among other problems with this kind of cost-benefit analysis…

    bathtub injuries can be largely prevented by INDIVIDUAL initiative.

    buy no slip pads for your tub. install

    don’t leave young children in the bathtub alone


    iow, preventing these deaths is almost completely with the locus of control of individuals (parents, etc.) and is thus NOT the place of govt.

    whereas preventing terrorism *is* not within the locus of control of individuals (generally speaking) but requires large scale intelligence, institutions, etc.

    NOBODY need fear bathtubs, because through PERSONAL safety decisions, one can eliminate the risk nearly completely.

    the same is not true for terrorism.

    and i know reasonoids hate to admit it, but if you want an example of private org’s and govt. working together to save far more lives than we’ve ever saved in the “war on terra” just look at DUI’s and vehicle safety

    the stats are astounding. there are literally thousands of people alive now that would be dead every year, if we hadn’t improved traffic safety via airbags, improved DUI enforcement, improved cultural attitudes about DUI, etc.

    when you combine our huge drop in homicide rate and our huge drop in traffic fatalities per miles driven, we are far far far far far safer in this country than we have been

  22. airline security prior to 9.11 was atrocious

    when i lived hawaii, and we’d go on to planes (armed) for extraditions, all we had to do, to get on a plane with a handgun was walk up to the security gate, flash a badge, and they’d let us through.

    iow, any dingdong with a fake badge, a little chutzpah and confidence, could have easily boarded a plane with a handgun

    it was ridiculous

    1. And, had those camelfuckers on 9-11 tried to hijack a plane with someone carrying a handgun, said camelfucker might have gotten shot. The result of this would have been a requirement that all men between the age of 18 and 65 climbing on board a plane display a functional, loaded sidearm.

  23. “Mr. Mark|11.21.11 @ 6:09PM|#
    Terrorism is a real threat, and one presented by thinking, adaptive enemies.”

    Terrorist hijackings without TSA in decade preceding 9-11

    Terrorist hijackings with TSA in decade following 9-11

    1. Wtf? You’re kidding right? So the shoe bomber and underwear bomber don’t count?

      1. Did the TSA stop them? I thought it was individuals, no?

      2. So, you *admit* that the TSA has made us *less* safe?

  24. Stopping terrorism, like stopping regular murder, is a primary function of government. Stopping bath tube drowning is not. That being said, there is a point of diminishing returns for homeland security spending, and the risks of another terrorist attack would still be remote if we went back to the levels of airport security we had in the 1990s.

    1. again, while i agree there has been hysteria/overreaction, we should NOT go back to the level of security we had on the 90’s

      at that level of security, i could AND did walk on to an airplane in hawaii by just flashing my badge. ANYBODY can flash a badge. you could buy fake ones in lahaina that look very similar ot the real ones and would easily pass that level of scrutiny.

    2. And you base that grand claim on what exactly?

    3. Neither stopping terrorism or murder is a primary function of government. Both are crimes, and committing them, or supporting their commission are legitimately punished by government.

      Government is not here to keep you safe. It is here to make sure that the bad guys don’t get away with it, and make the price high enough that others don’t try.

      But government is not the mommy of every six month old who needs constant supervision, nor of every hoodlum who needs constant supervision.

  25. The stupidity of this comparison has amply been exposed in this thread. How did it come this far? Government, universities, think tanks, book publishers and magazine editors are all miserably inefficient if a stupid idea like that can advance so far without the most obvious criticism being addressed. Be afraid of that.

  26. Statistics extrapolated from past results and failing to account for the technology of war/terrorism. Such an analysis is tantamount to calculating the average American’s chances of owning a car based on the Model T in 1910. What will the statisticians say when, instead of a simultaneous hijack attack, we get a simultaneous nuclear bomb attack to three or four of our nation’s ports? Who cares? By then it will be too late. The argument is disingenuous, unscientific, and requires the use of blinders.

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