The cost of Osama bin Laden

at 11:16 AM ET, 05/02/2011


(Rahimullah Yousafzai - AP)
Has any single human being, either directly or indirectly, cost the United States more money than Osama bin Laden?

Even a very partial, very haphazard, tallying of the costs from 9/11 reaches swiftly into the trillions of dollars. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, neither of which would’ve been launched without bin Laden’s provocation, will cost us a few trillion on their own, actually. But before such reprisals were even on the table, there was the attack itself, which largely shut down the American economy for a matter of days, and then slowed it for weeks. There was a long period in which Americans avoided the airlines, which pushed them so close to bankruptcy that Congress passed a $15 billion federal bailout, but the costs of that intervention pale in comparison to the price of the endless security theater Americans undergo each time they need to fly, which some experts peg at $8 billion a year — and there’s a good argument that they’re being conservative.

We shouldn’t forget the price of oil, which skyrocketed after we invaded Iraq, and the extended period of loose monetary policy, which the Federal Reserve thought necessary first to avert a post-attack recession and then to counter the headwinds of high oil costs, but which Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz considers at least partially culpable for the credit bubble that led to the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The direct costs of 9/11 need to be added into the mix, too: rebuilding the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and paying some of the health costs of first responders, just for starters. We’ve spent billions and billons on new homeland security measures, many of which were probably unnecessary.

So we’re well into the trillions, and when you add in the cost of the oil shock and its potential contribution to the credit bubble, we’re talking about many trillions indeed. Has any single individual even come close to costing America that much? Adolph Hitler is probably one of the few candidates, but I’d argue that World War II was a lot less about him than 9/11 was about Osama bin Laden. And who else is even in the running here?

 
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