Is it worse if foreigners kill us?

I see many comparisons floating around, here are a few:

Muslim refugees become terrorists at a lower rate than Americans become murderers.  And here is Alex on jellybeans.

This article suggests you are more likely to be killed by falling furniture than by a terrorist.

Somewhere in my Twitter feed I saw a claim that an American is more likely to be shot by a toddler than by a terrorist.

By a variety of metrics, European terror attacks were worse in the 1970s and 1980s than today.

Matt Yglesias argues American society is pretty robust to a bunch of people getting shot.

Nonetheless many American (and European) citizens seem to think that a murder by a foreign terrorist is much worse than a murder by a domestic nutcase, and that murder by a foreign terrorist is a major deal, these days at least.  What might be the reasons for that view?

1. A murder by a foreign terrorist occasions more fear of future murders.  Yet if anything this seems to be the opposite of the case.  “Entry” into foreign terrorism in the United States is tightly controlled, and with each murder security procedures are tightened.

2. Foreign terrorists kill us in more painful ways.  Seems unlikely, they want to get the job over with.

3. Allowing foreign terrorists to kill us signals to our foreign enemies that we are weak, and worsens our standing in international relations.  Our alliances and our deterrents become weaker, to the detriment of global peace.

4. The successes of foreign terrorists increase existential risk, so even a “simple murder” by one of them is fraught with high negative expected value.  But note here the difference between inference and causality.  A foreign terrorist murder may indicate that a WMD attack is more likely, but does it cause the likelihood of a WMD attack to up?  In fact, might it not cause that chance to go down, given tighter security precautions?

#3 and #4 at least possibly make sense.  But what’s the actual evidence?  Why don’t we spend our time debating #3 and #4?  Couldn’t we do event studies on those?  Are we willing to reject these hypotheses if the event studies turn up nothing?

And if there is something to #3 and 34, what is the MRS for “death by domestic” vs. “death from a foreign terrorist”?  10 to 1?  100 to 1?  Inquiring minds wish to know.  In other words, it really may be worse if we are killed by foreigners, but don’t we need to set some parameters on that judgment?

By the way, there is also #5: Due to our heritage as African primates, we are programmed to fear violent attacks by outsiders more than we actually need to today.


African primates may understand that 'internal' tribal killing had just cause (retribution, theft, love, 3/some) but 'external' killing was unjust aggression.

And an 'external' threat will always have more collective reaction vs internal threat having more individual response.

Isn't scaling the issue? Terrorism has scary scaling properties that a local, uncorrelated murder usually doesn't.

Refugees are demonstrating Cultural Appropriation, their culture has failed so they just come over and steal ours.

'But next time it could be dirty bombs or VX nerve gas.'

Or it could be this, with only word changed to update the quotes - 'Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous terrorist plot we have ever had to face.'

And we could use a simple test to ferret out our enemies - '...have you ever seen a terrorist drink a glass of water?'

Luckily, commenters such as yourself 'can no longer sit back and allow terrorist infiltration, terrorist indoctrination, terrorist subversion and the international terrorist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.'

Go get 'em, champ. For truth, justice, and the American military-industrial complex.

Talk about getting lost in the comment threading.

Let's keep it simple...

We're ready to push a button and eliminate rest of the earth's humans , if there is any real chance of ending "our way of life" capitalist, free market, property rights, girls in bikinis, free speech.

This isn't about immigration, this is about not letting our space, our way of life, be made cancerous by anyone who doesn't endorse our way of life. EVEN IF we are not the most populous. NO MATTER WHAT.

Basically, those of us winning (by way of life) are no prepared to let fecundity topple our world, even if that means not weighting all human lives equally.

This makes us Utility Hedon Monsters. And we are, and economists should admit that what humans are... and get over it, so we can make better policy.

On the other hand, our way of life has improved the world quite dramatically. You can have this opinion without even being a hedon monster.

OMG that's a wonderful rant Morgan, haha I thought you were more balanced, but it's good to see you let your inner psycho out.

You Sir have won the internets! Comment of the month!

Morgan, what an honest analysis. Having spent many year-equivalents of my adult life in Sweden I've seen the same sort of fear, loss of living space, nature, and to an extent, of homogeneity...arise.

The major miss in the post may be this: Bureaucrats and political bosses love to get the people worked up, aflame with fear, with rage against some convenient "other." Video journalists obviously like to join the game. I've seen countless people respond to a news report about a terrorist bomb 4,000 miles away (or a crime-of-passion shooting 600 miles away) as if it represented the harbinger of an immediate threat to them, the TV viewer. It is sad how weak the sense of proportion and probability become when people watch the juiced-up News of the World.

#6) People understand that preventing murders by domestic nutcases may require curtailing their own rights and freedoms, which they are unwilling to do, while preventing murders by foreign terrorists involves mainly taking away innocent foreigners' rights and freedoms, e.g., those of innocent refugees. The Left likes to spend Other People's Money on their favored social programs. The Right likes to spend Other People's Freedom on their own security.

Right. NPR was equating incarceration of Japanese-Americans to denying foreigners access to live here, which is nuts.

If anything, it shows that you should make sure you want them and their descendants here no matter what, because deciding after the fact we don't want them involves ghastly human rights violations.

Does that imply that only Americans have human rights?

No. If you have an entire group you distrust -- or are going to distrust in a generation -- then it's better to deny them entrance to your country, which is not a human rights violation, than to invite them in and then ghettoize them.

"The Right likes to spend Other People’s Freedom on their own security."

That's what any rational person is doing. At least to some degree. I'd say to a very large degree. Most people support locking up criminals for example. I do it and I bet you do it, too.

@BC: Can I ask which rights you are referring to in relation to the refugees that are being taken away? There is no right to permanently move to any country of your choosing, even if you're a refugee, and one doesn't have an automatic claim to residence, welfare and hereditary protection in whatever country one chooses or even a country that was compassionate enough to take you in. And, no, messing up your country or simply leaving the Nth time your region is wracked by sectarian conflict does not give you extra points. Neither does a war (civil or otherwise) count for requesting asylum. Words mean something - immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker. There is a body of international law dedicated to refugee issues and was created specifically to protect refugees by injecting some certainty in what one must and mustn't do for them. Otherwise, exasperated parties may steer them into minefields, as has happened before.

You would still have your freedoms if you weren't so supportive of messing up your society through immigration just as it was getting better. No more terrorism by the IRA and ETA in W. Europe? Bring on the alienated second and third generation immigrants! What, you've arrived at the point where a woman can move freely about at night with little care without the instincts women in other countries possess? Bring on the immigrants with incompatible sexual mores. What can go wrong? It's not like these women were prey unused to predators. What, you have a nice welfare state and high trust institutions? Bring in the clannish, low productivity breeders and scammers, that will save the welfare state for your one grandson. Crime is through the roof because of immigration and the Youths and Teens are assimilating your children? Quick, suppress information and mislead the public through cooperation with media quislings. It's okay, it means you're a upright individual.

Horhe, I am another who finds the talk of refugees' rights befuddling. As an American in Sweden I would often be stunned looking on as the Social Democrats made the argument that denying Moroccans the right to skip over an ocean and four order to get to a land of greater welfare and better infrastructure...would be racism.

I'm not sure quite how to respond to the frequent but ill-considered refrain that "we are a nation of immigrants." Yes, we, my forefathers, faced remarkable hardship and deprivation taking over the land by brute force and the summoning of endless hordes from Europe. That is how the world still works in central asia and the middle east. And "we" are inviting that reality to be imposed upon our children? Really?

But what people do not seem to understand is that their own government will, in fact, curtail their own rights and freedoms in the name of preventing murders by foreign terrorists. Just as surely as the wind blows, the grass grows, and the sky is blue.

It's not too complicated. Foreigners per capita are much, much more likely to be killing people randomly which is rational reason to fear them more, generally speaking. Most forms of murder in the US don't activate fear since they are easy to avoid since they aren't targeting random people. Domestic nutcases are extremely rare and often don't target random people either, think of the recent Planned Parenthood attack. The domestic nutcases who do seem to target random people like the shooters in Sandyhook and Aurora are rare enough and most importantly of all they are not amenable to easy solutions.

Foreign terrorist attacks are the black swan events whose scale and probability can rapidly increase and have a simple solution to stop them. Stop immigration from risky populations.

So the potential victims of the Planned Parenthood shooting weren't random, RJ? They were known, specific persons the shooter had a motive to kill? As far as I can tell, they were free individuals at a legal venue undergoing a safe and legal procedure. Gunned down by a terrorist who knew nothing about them- random.

Did you even read the post?

Muslim refugees become terrorists at a lower rate than Americans become murderers. - See more at:

But don't get your blind racism prevent you from reading.

But Muslims can be terrorists and murderers too. it doesn't make sense to compare to American murder rates, but with American domestic terrorism rates by natives. It's like saying that no Muslim cheats, steals, robs, rapes or murders, you just get the odd duck who's a terrorist now and again. They do all of those things and you are comparing apples and oranges to make them look better, a feat Americans are already proficient at, given their problematic minorities.

To be frank, FWIW, murder in America is very highly concentrated in the poorer minority neighborhoods of cities. Whether I was living in Oakton, VA or Haverford, PA....I wasn't, have not been, afraid of being murdered. And yet, my imagination can conceive that a terrorist may find one of the large malls in either local perfect for a homicide-bomb-vest ignition event. Ah, then there's the dirty boom possibilities.

The hype about terrorism is the just an artifact of a failing network media hungry for viewers, for ad revenue....and of politicians on both sides of the aisle playing for votes, whether by claiming (Dems) that refusing economic migrants sanctuary proves racism in Repubs...or at least meaness....and Republicans insisting that a fed cop's musings should be enough to justify a National Security Letter that silently rapes your privacy....and that they only want immigrants with the correct work ethic and religion.

btw I think the FBI might have something to say about stopping domestic events being much much easier.

OK without being pithy, the point I am trying to make is that there is no a priori knowledge of which groups are the most violent. That I know of. Do you?

Are you telling me that there is no way for you, say if you were American, to find out whether Black violence is more common than Hispanic violence which is more common than White violence which more common than East Asian violence? No statistics on murder rates, arrest rates, interracial violence, per capita rates, total number of incidents, nothing at all that would help you decide which groups are more violent? I find that hard to believe, since I've seen them on the FBI website (though they put Hispanics and Whites together in certain reports). You can find plenty of statistics in places where the government does not present the data in a misleading form or where the government collects data on ethnicity, religion of offender etc (France doesn't collect). Where you don't have data, you can infer certain things from other data, like 70% of inmates in France being Muslims. If Western societies were still honest enough for the media to present them adequately, then you wouldn't have to dig through data on your own and you would be spoon fed the data by a responsible mainstream media. Alas, they are not.


The Paris attacks were random, but many foreign terrorist attacks are not. For instance, the World Trade Center was long known to be an al Qaeda target, and the Pentagon's value as a target need not be elaborated. These are at least as un-random as a Planned Parenthood clinic.

And voila, you now understand why African-Americans are more alarmed by cops than by (accurate) statistics showing fellow African-Americans to be more dangerous to life and limb.

You know, to play devil's advocate.

African-Americans understand the sentiments of Kipling's The Stranger as well.

And you understand why whites don't want section 8 in their neighborhoods. Maybe it would be best if blacks had black cops and whites had white neighborhoods.

Or maybe no one is actually afraid of terrorists among the refugees at all. I have seen WAY more about how everyone on the right is a big baby for being afraid of terrorists than I have seen about how scary the refugees are (in terms of likely terrorism). I think terrorism is a convenient excuse for not bringing over a bunch of Middle-Eastern Muslims- much more convenient than the actual reasons which are more un-PC. In a sense though, the terrorism is just the most obvious symptom of the larger problem.

Could be. But are the people who are against taking "refugees" now also the same ones who were against it before? Suddenly the spotlight on terrorism makes it easier to hold that position. If we accept any substantial number of "refugees" from "Syria" I am sure we will get some terrorists and that's a valid consideration, but I personally have not heard much scaremongering about it. It may be out there, though.

What's so un-PC about not wanting to shell out $250,000 in gov't benefits to a refugee family of four over the the first 5 years they are in the country?

Finally someone said it. I'm not afraid at all. Most people I know are not afraid at all. They are just against mass migration of people that will need gov’t benefits for the next 5 to 10 years.

Do we know that they will need government benefits? What are their careers?

I can speak only about Europe here. In Europe refugees aren't even allowed to work. I read studies from Switzerland and Denmark about people from Eritrea for example. 90% stil lived off wealthfare after 10 years. That's typical for Europe. The job market is extremely regulated. It might be different in the US - but not too much. Americans aren't too *bad* at massive regulations either, aren't they. Even in the US it takes 2-3 years at least until they get started. Until then they need shelter, food, health care etc.

OK I looked it up:
"As a refugee, you may work immediately upon arrival to the United States."

And the US is taking how many refugees from Syria? 0 to 10,000? That's just sad.

The open border supporters need a new slogan:

Steve Jobs was a Syrian orphan!

Europe's labor laws are silly and stupid. I'm not really surprised to see that immigrants are denied work, given how so many natives are prevented from working. I expect some Europeans even think they are doing the refugees a favor.

Unfortunately most of them. Europe is an economic wasteland. Economics doesen't even exist as discipline in most schools.

"They are just against mass migration of people that will need gov’t benefits for the next 5 to 10 years".

Try all their lives, statistically speaking, especially in societies with extensive welfare states welcoming wretched refuse with little economic potential on the whole, beyond becoming extra consumers on the taxpayer dime.

#5 is closest, but I think it's more like "the others never had to be here in the first place, so any non-zero threat whatsoever is compared to the alternative where none of those people are here... while internal threats are compared to the pros and cons of people like me, and my rights."

I think this is right. I see a lot of discussion about the low probablity of folks being terrorist on the "cost' side indicating that the cost are low. But what I don't see is a discussion of the benefits (to US citizens). If the benefits are zero why bear any cost?

You might say the benefit is the warm feeling you get for doing good for your fellow man and i agree, but I am not sure how strong that benefit is for most people. Folks generally are not global utility maximizers when it comes to charity.

Another good point. People think at the margin. Comparing homicide rates leads to nothing at all. We are talking about additional (!) homicides here. So people are asking: What's in it for me? Where's the benefit?

Btw: TC comparing murders with terrorist attacks is even worse than just using homicides for both groups. It's like comparing apples and oranges.

Fear of the unknown? Not listed. Reminds me of the apocryphal tale of somebody about to be executed and given a choice: either a bullet to the brain or pick what awaits you behind a closed door: it could be your worse nightmare, Orwellian 1984 style, where you'll be tortured to death by a rat, or, it could be something else.... and people refuse to pick the door, yet the door leads to freedom.

Another example of this fear of the unknown: the Monte Hall problem ( which is a variant of the related problem of "better the devil we know than the one we don't".

Did you finish 1984?

Worrying about murder at all given much higher incidents of death from disease is irrational and a complete waste of time. It is not constructive to attempt to rationalize or justify irrational behavior.

Those political candidates that emphasize terrorism related policy prove their irresponsibility and should never hold a position of responsibility. The rest of us should do all we can to oppose them.

Better to eat well, get some exercise and quit smoking.

Yet people worry more about death via someone else's intention versus other death.

You can scream all you want that people are irrational. That will get you a nice blog at LessWrong but not otherwise achieve much, particularly not your policy objectives.


I don't think its merely that Americans/Europeans think being murdered by foreign terrorists is worse, instead its that such attacks get more media coverage. So availability bias comes into play, leading to skewed probabilities among the public.

Assuming people do believe it is worse to be killed by a foreigner I would add:

1. Simple racism/xenophobia. A quick look at these message boards is evidence enough of that.

2. Being targeted is scary. We know the toddler and the falling furniture weren't targeting us. But being specifically chosen because of some immutable characteristic (i.e. nationality) is particularly disturbing.

Man, don't talk about things like that - unless you want to get deleted again and again and again, of course.

The narrative here is that is a free place for the sort of discussion not possible in other venues. (And let us be honest - DeLong is an example of just how bad it can get, which this place does not even begin to approach.)

The reality is that the comment section is as carefully handled (yes, that is partly in jest, considering how deletion has been breaking the threads for what seems like years) as the PR campaign about MRU being just two profs, a $4 app, and Youtube. Instead what it really is, a well funded effort by the Mercatus Center to continue to interject its policy proposals behind a curtain intended to keep people unaware of the actual mechanism involved in creating and providing such 'online education.'

(2) is the argument for why "hate crimes" have a qualitative difference from ordinary violent crimes. There's definitely an argument to be made that the fear and panic that terrorists seek to sow is real, and a potential cost its own right, on top of the threat to lives and property.
That said, on an individual basis, it is irrational for an American to worry more about being killed in an ISIS attack than in a car accident. And yet that irrationally pops up all the time. I think it's because a terrorist attack, like a shark attack, could be fodder for a very dramatic, heart-pounding movie, while the car accident is less dramatic and so less salient.

Is a word ending in phobia actually warranted here? It's supposed to be an irrational fear. There is nothing irrational about being postjudiced against immigration from a very different culture in a climate adverse to assimilation where your own institutions and politicians turn against you to hide the extent of the troubles caused and to limit your possibility of exercising your political rights as your predecessors enjoyed them.

It is calumny and should be regarded as being said with the same sneering tone that a hypothetical man might ask a hysterical woman whether it is that time of the month for her.

And it is used, as much of the Orwellian language in use today, to specifically discredit the impulse towards group loyalty and attachment.

I would counter that terrorism is viewed not just as something that might hit you out of the blue, which makes it scarier. This is also recognized by terrorists

But most people, without having the means to articulate a coherent explanation for their dislike of mass immigration, instinctively understand that what is at issue is their posterity and their shared ownership of a society they have built which is successful enough to attract others. If it were East Germans conquering West Germans or something like that, it would be one thing, but today's brand of terrorism is employed by agents who specifically desire a change in the legal, political and social systems of targeted countries. No person who hasn't undergone a Lodovico Process for Crimethought can view this without apprehension regarding their fates and those of their descendants. The chain of continuity from past to present and future would be destroyed. Look at areas conquered by a faith or a tribe in past eras - the people may survive, genetically, but, often enough, their language, their faith, their culture, their continuity would be irrevocably changed and their people would go down in history as being weak. Do the Turks think of the Anatolian Greeks, Thracians and whatever else there may have been there from which many of them are descended according to genetic analysis? Would their ancestors, pre-assimilation, view their identity, culture and language with approval and pride?

I am from Eastern Europe and I can tell you that few things rankled our forefathers more than the tribute of boys for the Janissary armies and girls for the Ottoman harems. The gold, they can leave, as well as their suzerainty. But it was the flesh tribute and the slavery that hurt the most and that was the most important calculated gesture on the part of the Ottoman conquerors to humiliate their subjects. Group identity and interest matter. We ignore it at our peril but liberal wringing of hands over the closeted Nazis infesting Europe (tongue in cheek) while trampling over group interests is what's going to lead to a resurgence of ... something. Not Nazism, specifically, it will be viewed as something different, but the effects will be the same - conflict, expulsion and a hardening of hearts at least until the next batch of degenerate descendants begins agitating for rootless cosmopolitanism at home.

Unlike a random murder, these terror attacks are explicitly intended as an attack on our society. They are intended as an act of war, and therefore generate a response that "we have been attacked and have to respond." The response of the public is not solely (or even primarily) about fear of personally falling victim to a future attack.

I do think that the relatively small size of the risk we face from terror attacks is important and should indeed inform what kind of response we think is appropriate. However, quoting it as if this is the only thing people care about and therefore proves that anyone who wants a strong response is irrational is rather tone deaf.

'Unlike a random murder, these terror attacks are explicitly intended as an attack on our society.'

But how about targeted murder? You know, like gunning a doctor down in a church during a church service. Or killing and wounding police officers as part of an apparent political statement based seemingly only on false propaganda.

Targeted murders for political reasons are terrorist attacks, are they not?

Terrorism probably ranks quite low on the negatives from immigration. Much higher up the scale I would place:

- costs from higher poverty
- social breakdown from lack of integration
- cultural support for statism and statist politicians
- crime

These are very easily tracked in countries with high immigration from Muslim countries. Do a study on Malmö and get back to me.

My comment wasn't about immigration. It was simply thoughts on "why do people respond to terrorism for reasons other than the body count?"

And the detriment to current US citizens pales in comparison to the horrors to be inflicted upon the refugees themselves. Imagine the Syrian orphans' lives of despair after they have been snatched and settled in the US and saddled with a lifetime of work paying off Obama's trillions in additional debt. Alex and Tyler probably were all giggly about the Elian Gonzales affair, but imagine the inevitable trauma when orphans settled in Christian homes are ripped away to be placed in proper Muslim homes. And then imagine a Syrian orphan raised in an orthodox Muslim home upon reaching college and are ridiculed for their religiosity. The Muslim world is moving towards democracy at the same time the US is racing away from it. If refugees would not want to be settled in China, why would they want to be settled in the US?

Moving toward democracy???

"This article suggests you are more likely to be killed by falling furniture than by a terrorist."
But do I have to assemble the furniture myself of I can buy it assembled? I never was good with crafts.

What? I find that telling my opponents that they are not evolved enough is usually a winning argument!

I think political leaders are afraid of foreigners carrying out a terrorist attack because of the Willy Horton effect. If a natural-born American does something horrible, people will be left second-guessing whether the person received appropriate mental health care, were they raised right, did they play too many violent video games, etc.? If a foreigner does something horrible, people will take that as a sign that immigration and visa policies are too lax and blame whatever Administration is in charge.

... or perhaps we're just a bunch of racist douchebags, and this is the least politically incorrect way for that to surface...

The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.

If we were all completely out-group altruistic, families would not form and we'd die childless in service to "humanity." Out-group altruists will be replaced.

Anti has never heart the phrase, "It takes a village"

Aren't you like, 85, anyway? Sounds like you're going to be replaced before me. Unless some random white dude decides to shoot me.

It takes a village? Then you should go to an Armenian or Greek village and ask them what they think about Turkish immigration. Or maybe go to a Palestinian village and ask them what they think about Israeli immigration. For that matter, go to an Israeli village and ask them what they think about Palestinian immigration. I wonder what Kurdish villagers think of Sunni Arab immigration. Fascinating questions. Travel further east and ask Tibetan villagers what they think about Han immigration. Go to Manchurian villages, find some really old people, and ask them if they'd like to see Japanese immigration.

I've always thought - on an intuitive basis - that treating terrorism as just another serious crime would help defeat it. Ergo, pursue the perpetrators but don't inflate it beyond its true scale and don't give it too much political weight.
Thought exercise : if you knew that there was a shooting crime on a busy downtown street, would you avoid eating out near that spot the next day? Now consider your reaction if there had been a terror attack at that spot.
There are however different circumstances in other countries. For example, Palestinian terrorists were able to derail the Oslo peace initiative in the 1990s by a series of urban bombings. The body count of these bombings exceeded - for a period - the "normal" murder stats in Israel, and they were therefore worthy of being considered a true threat,

Imagine if it was the unrelenting policy of the Chinese government to down four or five domestic American jetliners a year with embedded agents using surface-to-air missiles. Treating this as homicide, it would constitute no more than 10% of the national rate. Given the enormous costs of a war with another major super-power, even a fairly conciliatory diplomatic confrontation poses very high costs in expectation. Certainly the homicide rate could be pushed down 10% in other areas at much lower cost through increased policing. The terrorism as homicide heuristic would suggest that we basically ignore the Chinese aggression in this scenario.

Spend the money on road and bridge maintenance.

Palestinian terrorists were able to derail the Oslo peace initiative in the 1990s by a series of urban bombings.

Not true. The "Oslo peace initiative" continued until Yasser Arafat rejected the Clinton 2-state proposal in 2000 and launched the "intifada". The Labor government referred to the bombing victims as "sacrificed for peace".

If we could do that I think it would work.

However, a majority of Americans are not autistic. They don't regard all deaths as equal.

A death from disease is not as bad as a death from accident, which is not as bad as a death from murder, which is not as bad as a death from terrorism.

Perhaps people shouldn't believe this. But they do.

There is exactly one reason people worry about this: they don't like foreigners. Period. That's it. It can't be "overweighting small probabilities", or they'd be more scared of furniture. It can't be any of 1-4. As much as I hate using preferences as an explanation, that happens to be the explanation. Some people are xenophobic. Someday I hope to live in a world where such a view is considered backward and heinous, and people refuse to do business with--indeed, to even talk to--those who hold it. Sadly, we are not there yet.

People respond to "big scary events" that get on the news more than higher probability mundane causes of death. This can be seen in the responses to other catastrophes that don't have a racial element. For example, see the response to school shootings. Or the greater humanitarian response to a natural disaster that claims a few lives, then a common problem that claims many lives.

I prefer my children to your children and, by extension, my fellow citizens to the citizens of other countries. Why is that so repugnant? It strikes me as perfectly natural.


Keep in mind that the moderators and their confederates draw the same distinction. It's just that the line runs between English-speaking professional people like themselves all over the world (on the one hand) and ordinary working-class people of the sort employed as bookkeepers and groundskeepers at the GMU campus or the petit bourgeois types who man the police departments in Fairfax County (on the other).

See 'Anti-Gnostic' above.

Well for one thing, it's totally illogical. You have a biological and emotional bond to your children. You have an emotional bond to your friends. Strangers in your own country don't logically hold any greater appeal than strangers in a foreign land; unless, of course, you choose to attribute a set of character traits to faceless groups of strangers about whom you know nothing, and then use those attributions as the foundation of your political beliefs. But - har har har - who would do something like that?

If my fellow Americans merit no greater consideration from me than a random Syrian or Afghan, then why am I paying taxes to support this irrelevant entity? Abolish it, and let people form their own communities of shared values.

It seems we both agree: propositional nationhood is coming to an end.

@RP Long

"Propositional" nationhood never quite existed. What might be called 'republican fealty' as articulated by, for example, Teddy Roosevelt, did exist. The major problem we've had is that large blocs of the population no longer subscribe and are mobilized against it. Most saliently, bourgeois types in word-merchant occupations no longer subscribe. The business elites no longer subscribe, though they likely did as recently as 1980. Large swaths of the racial minority population no longer subscribe.

it is non natural ?
you love your DNA
but you don't share DNA with other americans that much, if at all
(waiting to get smacked down by a population geneticist)

So backward and heinous to oppose Sunni Muslims who have values that are highly contrary to modernity.

The absolute number of preventable deaths is what matters to people and not the "rate". For better or for worse, citizens view deaths from terrorist attacks initiated by immigrants (or for that matter, murders / rapes / robberies / other crimes) as inherently preventable given that there was an explicit decision to let that individual enter the country.

A crime committed by a native-born or citizen, an accident, a traffic fatality, medical error, infection, etc. are all negative events that are not always preventable and so they do not elicit the same sort of visceral response.

Economists in general tend to have a bias towards ignoring national borders, sovereign jurisdictions, etc. and so don't typically grasp that to most regular citizens those are the appropriate mental framework that they think through.

I think the economists ignore the borders because the world ignores the borders...

We live in a global production chain, with a globally financial economy. Every American is an immigrant. There are missing border fences that local businesses are all too happy to have. Smugglers import and export things. The world is very influential; we don't get to choose what matters.

I bet if I wandered onto the Google campus and strolled into a research lab and started taking pictures, Google would enforce its border tout de suite. I bet the same thing would happen if I wandered into the big poobahs' conference rooms at that climate change confab in Paris.

FWIW, platitudes on globalization ignore the reality of nationalism and sovereignty to a dangerous level. In reality these global supply chains are vulnerable to disruption (and arguably getting less important with the increasing network effects in high-value industries), borders are strictly enforced in most settings, immigration restrictions on labor flows and other assorted barriers a near-universal, popular attachment to ethnic and national identities extremely strong and on a micro-level (e.g., property access restrictions, etc.), not even challenged as per above comment.

Not sure what point you are making but it doesn't sound very sophisticated (though I may be misunderstanding).

"Borders don't matter, so let me live inside of yours."

The top 5% in the US don't feel the need for borders. They have licensing regimes which make entry into their field both difficult and expensive. The top 1/10th of 1 percent don't care about borders, unless you're talking about abridging the sovereignty of Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands. Now those borders apparently matter. We are supposed to think labor and capital should be free to roam as Citizens of the World (money is people, too....), but tax inspectors and military draft managers should have no such freedom. The benefits are to run free, the costs of a real society are supposed to stay put. Klart.

Merely defending economists. I totally agree with what you're saying; I just hate it when people try to claim there's some sort of economist-led conspiracy theory to pay attention to the rest of the world.

"Every American is an immigrant."

Everybody was an immigrant at some point - nations don't spring out of the ground. 100 years, 300, a thousand, ten thousand, where is the cut-off between native and immigrant? This America nation of immigrants nonsense has to end for us to be able to discuss policies without saccharine BS. It isn't even a nation of immigrants, it's a nation of settlers - there's a big difference between somebody carving a nation out of a wilderness and conquering it from another warrior tribe and building everything from scratch and today's immigrants arriving to find a fully laden welfare state and living in cities, with all of the amenities.

The whole schtick is not only wrong, but also used dishonestly because they've exported the rhetoric to other countries. They're even presenting France and Britain as propositional nations now. Every time they analyze a Roman skeleton and find that it was someone from Roman North Africa or Syria (big difference compared to today), they come out crowing that Britain has always been a nation of immigrants, even though most of the population is still Celtic in origin, and other "immigrants" fought their way in and were bitterly opposed. And you should also sandblast that poem from the Statue of Liberty. Nobody voted to put some rich Zionists' poem there (yes, she was a hypocrite) and be thought of by America's incompetent descendants as a proclamation of perpetual policy.

Let me leave you with a quote from Israel Zangwill's Melting Pot, written in the early XXth century.
"A: A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians-into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.
B:"I should have thought the American was made already–eighty millions of him."

Sailer is coming...

Yup...abortion rates and crime rates. The never born person commits no crime.

I've been wondering about Tyler's fascination with ethnic food. Food is easy--not surprising Thais have some good stuff given their environment. I think this is an easy way to subtly push the false blank-slate narrative and is hence inherently anti-West and anti-Semitic . . . .


Open borders..... bringing in people to kill the people that Americans just won't kill.

God, I do so hate these bogus arguments why terrorism is just like any other risk.

1. Terrorism is not random, unlike falling furniture or getting crushed by a drunk driver who just happens to drive head on into your lane.
2. Terrorism is directed at changing our society for the worse and is in the service of an evil ideology.
3. Having a plane engine blow up and finding yourself descending 20,000 feet to your certain death is not the same as a bullet from a bank robber, even if the bullet does kill you, it might not - there is some hope.
4. The terrorism risk peaks with certain things - like traveling the subway in NYC or attending a concert in a big city. If I spent my life on a farm in Kansas I guess I would not worry for my personal safety.
5. Terrorists are part of a network and the risk increases in a non-linear way the more you allow in, unlike the random crazy shooter.
6. There are, at a conservative estimate, 300 million people on this planet in poverty or difficult circumstances, and I expect we could let in, say, a 100,000 black South Africans or Zimbabweans, and there would not be nearly the level of worry given that we know 99.99% of them would want to fit in and not conspire to destroy this society. Why the angst about this Syrian group which we know contains seriously potential risks and not the other 300 million?
7. We are in a war with a virulent ideological enemy and apparently the penny hasn't dropped for a bunch of people with mush for brains.

1: Falling furniture and death by drunk driver are not random. 2: Dead is dead ideology or not. 3: The robber's bullet is more likely to leave me suffering horribly...much worse. 4: Quit watching The Taking of Pelham 123! 5: Not if there are enough random crazy shooters. 6: Given the violent crime rate in South Africa I am more afraid of them than of Syrian refugees. 7: All brains are gelatinous and mushy, as well as fatty.

#6 Murders and other persistent violence mostly happen to poor people in backwards places, while terrorists strike nice areas full of people who work in the media and government.

"Muslim refugees become terrorists at a lower rate than Americans become murderers."

How many people does the average American murderer kill, on average? How many people does the average terrorist attack kill?

Yeah, this might be a fine equivocation if Muslim immigrants to the West didn't also have a long track record of becoming street criminals as well. E.g. in Sweden Muslims make up 5% of the population, but over 50% of the prison population.

A related phenomenon is the outrage that accompanies any crime committed by an American soldier stationed at an overseas base. Everything I have seen suggests that in places like Korea, the Philippines and Japan, American soldiers commit crimes at lower rates than the general public. But the fact that their presence there is a privilege rather than a right combined with a very visceral dislike of any perceived disrespect coming from outsiders means that misbehavior by soldiers can trigger protests and political and diplomatic retaliation.

(This is the other Ricardo...)

It is indeed a "related phenomenon," and I suspect the relationship involves identity politics. The disproportionate outrage about these crimes in Asia is racial in nature.

How many trillions did 9/11 cost us when you add in the expense of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?

"A new exhaustive analysis undertaken by Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Linda Bilmes indicates that the U.S. military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in "the most expensive wars in U.S. history." And, as a result she argues, the federal government will face some extremely difficult defense budget tradeoffs in the years ahead.

"Bilmes, who is a former CFO of the US Department of Commerce, calculated all direct and indirect war related expenditures, "including long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs." The total pricetag, she calculates, will amount to between $4 and 6 trillion dollars."

Invite the World / Invade the World is expensive.

Any analysis which claims the War on Terror was more expensive to America than the Civil War can be safely disregarded.

Also, all the above (provocative) comments are backwards-looking and non-predictive, and should be restated accordingly:

"Muslim refugees have become terrorists at a lower rate than Americans have become murderers, to date."

"This article suggests you have been more likely to be killed by falling furniture than by a terrorist, so far."

"an American has heretofore been more likely to be shot by a toddler than by a terrorist"

None of this proscribes taking relevant precautionary measures with regard to the current stream of refugees. A terror attack is the prototypical Black Swan event, and using historical data to assess current risk is nonsensical.

So how shall we assess?

The fear of foreign terrorism is rational if you believe others will irrationally fear foreign terrorism, because irrational fear leads to long airport lines, invasions, costs, loss of freedoms, etc.

> 4. The successes of foreign terrorists increase existential risk, so even a “simple murder” by one of them is fraught with high negative expected value. But note here the difference between inference and causality. A foreign terrorist murder may indicate that a WMD attack is more likely, but does it cause the likelihood of a WMD attack to up? In fact, might it not cause that chance to go down, given tighter security precautions?

This pre-supposes that a Bayesian updating of probability should not be viewed as a "big deal". Imagine a man engages in risky intravenous drug abuse, sharing dirty needles. He starts exhibiting worrying disease symptoms. Luckily the diagnosis comes back as treatable bacterial infection, instead of HIV or hepatitis. Would it be irrational for the man to take this scare as a wake-up call to change his ways?

Similarly, luckily Paris was just executed with suicide vests and kalashnikovs. But next time it could be dirty bombs or VX nerve gas. Is it irrational for society to take the scare as a wake-up call?

'Somewhere in my Twitter feed I saw a claim that an American is more likely to be shot by a toddler than by a terrorist.'

The only way to stop a toddler with a gun is to have more toddlers with guns.

Gun control laws don't seem to be stopping terrorists from getting them in Europe.

How do you know how many terrorists have been stopped from getting guns in Europe?

I can deduce that if terrorists want to get AK's and explosives in Europe, they are able to do so despite what we are constantly told are more enlightened and strict gun control policies.

There hasn't been an actual flare-up of the public over this (maybe there's something in the water), but police in various European countries have intercepted quite large amounts of weaponry, purely by accident. Some of them have been reported in the media, but it's as if there's no life left in the Europeans after singing "Imagine" on a piano in the streets still dirty with blood near Bataclan. The French raids after Bataclan also uncovered serious firepower, including rocket launchers.

Muslim gangs in Marseilles are also toting AK-47s

Successfully navigating the hazardous waters of geopolitics is not altogether different than surviving under "prison rules". It's difficult to understand living within a peaceful, prosperous nation with the fair rule of law. But the global state of affairs is total anarchy, with many many ruthless thugs who would kill any one of us without batting an eyelash. Not altogether unlike the state pen. Luckily for those of us in the West, our gang has been by far the toughest, scariest crew in the yard for quite some time. That's afforded us a fair bit of individual reprieve from the stress, fear and danger of prison life. It's even allowed us to become civil, courteous and civilized with other members of our gang. But that doesn't change the fact that the other gangs still hate our guts just as much as ever. If a rival gang ever caught any of our homies alone in the shower, it'd be quite ugly.

The behavior of a rational utilitarian and a prison thug are two very different things. If a rational utilitarian has his biscuit stolen at breakfast, that's no worse than if he had lost it himself. Either way, you're out one biscuit. But to a prison thug, you'd laugh about the latter, but would be ready to shank the thief in the latter. If you're part of a big, bad gang, you and your homies would jump the fool until he stopped drawing breath. In prison there's no greater failure than being made to look like a b*tch. Particularly being made to look like a b*tch, by somebody weaker than you.

The first linked article (Cato) is fuzzy and anyway did not quote the source of the statistics. It speaks of "refugees", "Syrian refugees" and "muslim refugees" as if the terms were equivalent, and they are not. Muslim refugees are the problem non any other kind of refugees. Being on the run does not necessary mean be nice people: Nazis were a few decades ago.
Disclaimer: Islam is not a race; therefore disliking a political ideology that forbids anithing I love (music, wine, free speech etc.) is not "racism"; indeed converted are the worst.

Have people forgotten about the boats coming in from Africa? I don't want African Christians either, not just Muslims, and let alone whatever religions drives General Butt Naked to cannibalism fueled victories. Is that racism? Even if there were no terrorism risk, there would still be plenty of reasons not to want them in your country, displacing you. People are not fungible and neither are cultures. Religion is just one coordinate. Genetic and conditioning are others.

A terrible depiction of moral deprivation, TC.

It's funny how much the reactionary stance on immigration and accepting refugees starts to sound like the most hyperventilating of leftist environmentalists.

Yes, terrorism poses a significant tail risk worth taking action against. That just raises the question, however, why the same people complaining here about Tyler's supposed lack of concern about terrorism aren't equally alarmed about the tail risks of global warming or GMO agriculture or a giant asteroid hitting the earth.

Because a fear not based on logical deductions from data cannot be assuaged by logical deductions from data.

No problem going after tail events, but even they should be measured against opportunity costs.

If you were free to spend $1B in government money right now to save lives, where would you get highest return on investment, in lives?

Tobacco is still off limits?

It's an ok position as long as you are consistent, however by this logic people should shut up about police shootings of African-Americans and focus on the homicide rate with the AA community. I have never seen you advocate for this particular position. It seems to me that people use this argument against policies they already disapprove of and ignore it when it comes to ones they favour.

I dislike murder, but I think when it is trotted out in a comments thread it is more a foil than a plan. How would you address violent hot spots? They would be easy to find with big data, wherever they lie. Do they get more crime budget? An FBI initiative? Or just a scolding?

Reducing carbon emissions, switching to organic food and detecting asteroids are all very expensive propositions. There's a cost-benefit analysis to be done. The issue is how fat is the tail. In contrast, denying Syrians visas literally costs nothing. It's a pure free lunch. The issue is that the tail exists at all.

Denying "Syrians" is free stagecraft.

What is the point of the quotes? Is the term Syrian to describe someone from the nation of Syria now considered "problematic" by the PC police?

I am saying that "Syrians" is a pointless distinction, low cost and low benefit. If you want to make a claim, go big. Immigrants? Middle East immigrants? Muslems?

To be specific, Sunni Arabs from countries with active Islamist insurgencies. I'm fine with the West taking Kurds, Yazidis and Maronites. Even Shiites and Alawites. (The secondary reality is that Middle Eastern Christians and other religious minorities, probably need an explicitly ethnic homeland). But the problem is that a substantial proportion of Sunni Arabs in Syria support ISIS. This can easily be seen by looking at the territory controlled by ISIS and the territory of majority Sunni Arabs. I doubt many Sunni Arab Syrian refugees are directly working for ISIS, but the problem is that a substantial portion are at least sympathetic. Among all Syrian refugees, 13% have positive feelings towards ISIS, and 31% oppose destroying the Islamic State. Since nearly all non-Sunni Arabs oppose ISIS, among the Sunni Arab refugee population those numbers will be significantly higher.

At best those sympathetic refugees are going to create communities in the West that turns a blind eye to ISIS terrorist activities. Molenbeek is the archetype. American ghettos have largely become un-policeable, despite criminals making up only a sliver of the population. That's because the vast majority view law enforcement as a hostile entity and follow the creed of "Stop Snitchin' ". Combine that community activity with terrorism instead of gang-activity and you have a recipe for disaster.

There are no Arab ghettos in America, and no suggested level of immigration is sufficient to create one.

"American ghettos have largely become un-policeable, despite criminals making up only a sliver of the population. That’s because the vast majority view law enforcement as a hostile entity and follow the creed of “Stop Snitchin’ “

There are several tells on the internet that let you know when you're hearing from someone with actual firsthand knowledge of the thing on which they're commenting and when you're hearing from someone who digests a steady diet of partisan web sites.

This comment exhibits several of those tells.

Everything has a cost. Even if it's an opportunity cost.

Syrian refugees could be an economic gain to the economy. Refugees and immigrants are very good at heading to those places in the country with the most use for their skills/labors. They are much more mobile than the native born.

Not to mention there is a cost associated with handling the whole Middle East/ISIS/"GWOT" poorly. It is my personal view that the best thing we can do to fight terrorism and make the world safer is to assist in relocating people from this current humanitarian disaster, which is at least partly of our own making. Demonstrating that we are not at war with the Muslim world would go a long way to denying ISIS and other extremists the potential support of large swaths of the population of the Middle East.

Attempting to keep a half-Syrian "anchor baby" out in 1954 would not have been a free lunch.

On the flip side in Afghanistan/Pakistan it seems that death by drone is much worse than death by Taliban/local violent group.

This would provide more data on the MRS of killed by foreigner vs domestic actor.

Those Afghanis are so irrational! Let's drop leaflets from the drones as explain this to them.

You know the Open Borders crowd is getting desperate when their arguments boil down to getting killed by foreigners is no worse than getting killed by your co-nationals.

This comment reminds me that online political discussions are the one of the few areas of human communication where people purposefully try to misunderstand their interlocutors.

If you did this sort of thing in other interpersonal interactions, people would think that you were mentally retarded.

You know I love when you essentially accuse him of being mentally retarded for going ad hominem - and then you go ad hominem.

Really, this is the depth of your argumentative skulls - just yelling at people. The more facts come your way, the louder you yell. I mean, you surely have optimised your way of "reasoning" for shouting comment boards. Meanwhile, let me laugh at you.

The depth of my argumentative skills go much deeper. Those skills just were not needed then.

And I can guarantee you that I'm not yelling. Nothing about this conversation makes me want to yell. I ain't that invested.

Speaking as an Open-Borders person, I hold that apparent overreactions to broken-windows make just as much sense for "foreigners" as for Americans.

This might be relevant:

Off- topic: I wonder if, in 100 thousand years, scientists will theorize that modern man came out of Africa 100 thousand years before, because of population pressures, and spread across the world eliminating the pre-modern humans, whose only remnant is a bit of DNA in the current population. Few traces of them have been found and they couldn't have been very advanced if they were so completely subdued by the waves from Africa.

On-topic: A book suggestion for you - War before Civilization by Lawrence Keeley

It's not the federal government's job to stop furniture from falling on me or from accidents happening my home.

Alas, Ferris, you are wrong.

Unless you meant that it *shouldn't be* the federal government's job to do these things...

I enjoyed this article, but it is by way of illustration a very cognitive approach to a non-cognitive problem. No one fears terrorists because they work out that they are the greatest threat to themselves, or even their way of life.

People fear terrorists in the way they love the first half of a horror movie, when you know something is out there, but you don't know exactly what it is.

It is danger, novelty, uncertainty.

If terrorists stuck to a game plan they would be as boring as bank robbers. In time.

Of course if we do try to work it out, in a cognitive way, we should become less fearful, sooner.

Actually, terrorists are now the monsters in many of our movies. We process as more real than zombies, but still unreal enough to fit in scary entertainment.

If your family member had died in a terrorist attack you wouldn't spout such meaningless horseshit.

And if one died on the freeway I wouldn't be mad at all?

If blogs existed in 1941, the typical post would mock Americans for not understanding that their chances of dying at Pearl Harbor were actually quite small.

Nah, the typical blog post would have been arguing for the need to either register or imprison certain American citizens for the common good (and a bit of private profit, of course). As happened, of course.

Actually, that depends. FE's point was well thought-out but badly written. He should have added that he meant (implictly) that the mentality of today would have reigned then. You're correct in the sense that the typical blog post back then, with that kind of mentality, would have been arguing for something else entirely.

But regardless of FE's poor language skills, his thought remains fundamentally correct. Nobody who looks at the numbers thinks terrorism is a big danger today, but the ease of which many of the open borders people want to downplay the issue is absolutely ideological, because they fear their project is at stake(which it is), because this kind of Islamist terrorism is imported.

But really, terrorism to me is a red herring. A much bigger deal is the way of life. Look at cities like Rotterdam or Malmö and then come back and tell me if you're optimistic about mass muslim migration. The issue isn't that muslims are all terrorists or murderers or whatever(which is a laughable proposition), it's if the cultural mix can happen smoothly in the way it has for other migrant groups.

But white people are too anxious to say that, so they just yell terrorism over and over again.

To repeat myself a bit, but to summarize .. I think the contrast to tobacco is the really interesting one:

"Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including nearly 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.

This obviously dwarfs any terrorist risk. Why do we care so little about it now, when the danger is known and the benefits of use are so few?

I think it is because we are lazy thinkers, and we categorize tobacco as an old, known, boring risk.

3 people dying from terrorism is much more exciting than 1300 dying each and every day from tobacco.

If we actually cared about risk, rather than novelty, we would react differently.

It is outlandish to think terrorists, shooters in general, are going to up their game to 1300 per day.

It is emotional to let the vague sense that they will cloud our thinking.

I also think we care a lot more about preventing killing than preventing dying (for which we've only had temporary success so far). I think that's why the campaign to stop second hand smoke was so successful, as compared to efforts to force people to stop smoking themselves. That doesn't explain why we care more about being killed by terrorists than we do being killed by random gun crime, but it does apply to terrorism v. smoking (eating unhealthy foods, etc.).

Perhaps because I see taking up destructive lifestyles as less than rational, I see them less as a conscious choice. People, not just children, can be in a dark place in their lives, and choice architecture can lead them astray. The cigarette merchant is not blameless.

No argument that cig merchants are not blameless in the deaths of smokers. But my point was not normative, or really about blame in any way. I'm simply pointing out that we are more willing to spend resources stopping a murder than a death, even if that money could save move lives applied to other causes of death. Maybe that's irrational, maybe not.

1. The taxes on cigarettes are very high. IMHO we do too much to try to stop cigarettes smoking. To were effort to reduce smoking leads to people getting choked to death.
2. Smokers know the risk. Are you for doing more to prevent people from driving motorcycles?

Helmet laws split people somewhat predictability.

Football brain injuries might be another example of a place where what we learn is at odds with our traditions, and we are slow to react.

We've already thrown a lot of muscle at tobacco deaths. Only 21% of adults smoke, and a majority of them will die of something else or only lose a year at the end of their lives.

You brought up second-hand smoking, and you know why you did it: because it's seen as worse than a death by smoking. Even though they are both deaths.

I actually thought the line was an odd one, because it is the lower number, but I didn't break up the quote.

I would go for the 1/2 million per year. Big opportunity for good.

We feel we understand domestic violence better. We know which streets to avoid, how to recognize dangerous situations, etc.

Terrorists usually want to spread fear, which means that they deliberately target places where people expect/hope to feel safe. This means that it increases the general stress level more?

The murder rate within societies is not at all evenly distributed; with the rare exception of outbreaks of class warfare, those who commit and those who are victims are generally associated. The people upset at the risk of terrorism are not those who live at the greatest risk of murder, frankly. As a result of heterogeneity, the entire line of argument being advanced is a rhetorical misuse of statistics.

I'm gonna be mean but...
Islamic terrorism is not as great a concern as it seams? Post the Muhammad cartoons on your blog, Tyler.
What I'm trying to say is that relative number of fatalities is not the only concern. Terrorism is already working, in changing people's behavior at a relatively small cost for the terrorists (a small number of them have died in relatively few attacks, with relatively few victims).

When an American kills another American, it's usually because he wants the second American dead. Americans seem to be pretty good at pulling this off.

When a foreign terrorist kills an American, it's usually because he wants all Americans to be terrorized. Is it really a surprise that they are pretty good at pulling this off?

When an American kills another American, he usually wants to live to tell about it - or at least privately enjoy the benefits. This means, among other things, not conducting the murder in a way likely to incite mass hatred or fear and thus an all-out hunt for the killer. The killer would probably rather not even make page three of the local newspaper, if he can help it.

When a foreign terrorist kills an American, the act will be specifically calculated to be as broadly terrifying as possible. It will be newsworthy, it will be spectacular, it will be frightening, and it will be sufficiently unpredictable that nobody will feel safe on account of not being in the target class. Really, the actual killing will be incidental and the act may not even be murder. Hostage-taking and bombing empty buildings have been common terrorist tactics, with the frightening implication that it's entirely up to the terrorist's mercy who lives and who dies.

Really, people are surprised by the fact that acts designed to be terrifying tend to frighten more people than acts designed to go unnoticed? Humans have a fear response. So long as that is the case, and you don't want to think about the failure modes of the alternative, people will hack the fear response for their own ends. Saying "you shouldn't be afraid, that's stupid", is about the same level of faux-smart as attempting computer security by saying "you shouldn't execute malware, that's stupid".

If terrorists are not really "that good" then yes, this is a defense of unreasonable fear.

I noticed that if terrorism were quietly reported on page 3, the terrorists would probably stop doing it.

But we aren't going to get that to happen.

I think the whole fear-and-attention theory about terrorism is wrong. People like Osama bin Laden believe in something. Terrorists believe in something. They feel very alone, maybe even desperate. That's why they use terrorism in the first place.

Notice how dishonest #1 is? There's a fear that a terrorist attack is a harbinger of things to come, that the Charlie Hebdo shootings might mean a more serious attack later. Prof Cowen says we needn't worry about this, because after every attack, we increase security, making future attacks more likely. But the reason this happens is because of our worry! Its a bit like saying that because somebody is in good shape, they don't have to eat right or exercise.

There are enough radical Muslim extremists that would indiscriminately kill us that we need to be concerned; even if furniture kills more people in any given year, it's totally rational to be more concerned with terrorists than furniture, if we let them, I have no doubt that terrorists would commit multiple attacks on the scale of 9/11 if we allowed them to.

No one has suggested cutting FBI funding, it is more recognizing our strengths, and that we are not the weak party in this equation.

No mention of Black Lives Matter?

I'm more concerned with the risk of net tax consumption and ghettoization, periodically erupting into riots and criminal assaults on both small and large scales. I'd rate that risk rather high. How many street vendors, street beggars and run-down stores do we need? These people were surplus in their home countries and will be even more surplus and marginalized here.

In the last 50 years the amount of 'headline inventory' has likely gone up at least 2x every year. We are probably exposed to more than 1,000x the number of headlines in a single day than a typical person was in 1965.

That headline inventory has to get filled with something. Watch local news and you'll find alerts about car accidents, rapes, murders, and scandals whole states or even hemispheres away. Plus, every news outlet needs a _leading_ headline that has to feel and sound worthy of it's slot, so further we go to find this news.

Is this bad? No, it's just the way it is where the cost of headline space approaches zero. The one major cost however is that "very bad news" feels like its everywhere when the reality is that "very bad news" is increasingly rare.

[my first MR comment!]

The furniture article appears to be based on data that counts US deaths from terrorism "since 9/11." It seems tendentious to measure risk of a catastrophic event by counting from the day after the last catastrophe.

How about: External killings are in addition to all the internal killings!

We're constantly told that our internal killings are reason to tear up the constitution, create lists of American citizens, restrict their basic human rights. But external killings by people who are not citizens and do not have those protections in addition to all the internal killings are what now?

I guess the "opponents of taking Syrian refugees are bigots" arguments failed so now "yokels are stupid and cowardly to worry about terrorism" is this week's tactic.

As opposed to "it may be stupid, but its our stupid."

Somewhat related to #5, I think we tend to think that domestic nutcases, as well as things like auto accidents are the product of trade-offs we make between safety and liberty. We could cut auto accidents with lower and more tightly enforced speed limits, but we don't, since we find that reduction in liberty intolerable. We at least pretend it's under our control.

I wonder if that explains some of the resistance of tighter gun control to address it. If we pull that lever, and it doesn't solve the problem, then what do we do? At least now, we can pretend that we have something we could do if things really escalated.

Foreign terrorism was not part of this trade-off, and they were not participants in constructing it. Thus, it's more threatening.

Similar to how I might lock my doors at night, but eat a Big Mac for dinner.

Are Big Macs dangerous this week? The advice keeps changing...

Most of the articles discounting the terrorism threat start with "Since 9/11...", basically saying that from 9/12/2001 to present, terrorism is not a problem.

Those deaths on 9/11 are so inconvenient to the story people are trying to spin.

I prefer to use the start date of 9/10/2011, which adds nearly 2,974 deaths to the tally.

Terrorism doesn't have to take the form of flying bullets or exploding vests. One example of it is the US government's incarceration of octogenarian Irwin Schiff for advising people that they don't need to pay their taxes.

1) Clearly part of the analysis has to include the issue of planned, targeted intent (terrorism) and that of, more or less, random events (drunk drivers, mass shootings, serial killers).
2) There's an interaction between the personal view and responses and the institutions that than promote the "problem" to be solved (media, politicians, military/indellience communitee and the industry that supports military/intellegence) that have their own motivations (the usual Public Choice aspects).
3) Comparisons or terrorism to random events has a place in the discussion/analysis but there is an aspect of apples-to-oranges here than needs to be kept in mind.
4) In light of 3) comparisons of our reaction to terrorism probably should be compared to things like MADD, the gun debate and similar political movements. Part of our reaction may also be related to the novelty relative movely and low frequency of terrorism compared to the other types of risks; we have a problem coming up with our subjecvtive probabliities of our personal danger for terrorism than from random dangers. There is also a complication in that risk assessment from our patriotism that leads to a greater solidarity with those directly harmed by terrorism that we see as a form of personal harm (therefore increasing the subjective risk assessment) that may not exists with things like drunk driving deaths or mentally distrurved/sociaopath that go on a shotting spree.
5) When considering the MRS the important question will be what portential influence the varios institutions, item 2), have on determiniing the observed value and how weill that woiuld reflect the "competitice market" (there isn't really a market here, hence quotes) equalibrium MRS.

"Terrorism" is more random.

Mostly you can avoid getting killed just by not adding fuel to fire.

Also people have the idea that it is mostly not people like us who get killed by criminals.

National pride - these are targeted against the one thing that "unites" us all (however so loosely). Misery loves company as does the search for a scapegoat & unification.

Xenophobia &/or racism

I've got an elegant solution for all that: they stay over there, and we stay over here.


What's your solution, rtd? Change human nature?

I'm not certain the "human nature" you're referencing. In any case, it's a really tough question as shown in the debate being had. I'm not certain the answer, but I don't feel arbitrarily-defined political borders being enforced despite an individual's complete lack of control over which side of said border they're born is the optimal solution. Also, the "they" vs "we" approach doesn't seem to be particularly useful.

Why Terrorism Matters

Jonathan I. Katz

But terrorism doesn't work in achieving its actual goals, or so the studies say. So maybe it matters for producing chaos or violence in general but Katz is partly wrong

Is the answer not obvious? It's about being in control. Why do we push the "door close" button in elevators even though it only gives us an extra half a second? Why do we move to safer neighborhoods? Life is all about minimizing risks. Homegrown criminals are something we know how to (mostly) avoid, for example, by avoiding being in high-crime areas. Foreign killers however mean that a new avenue of risk is being opened (foreign killers pouring in and infiltrating our society in hard to defend against ways). So naturally we want to close that door tight shut.

It's hard enough keeping on top of the problems I do have in life without importing new ones.

You'll be ignored but that's a pretty straight forward answer. Too much mental gymnastics on the part of the open boarders crowd.

What about the fact that the probability that an American agrees with a foreign terrorist's agenda is much less then the probability that an American agrees with a domestic terrorist's agenda. Even if someone disagrees with the methods used, they might be sympathetic to the cause of a terrorist group, and therefore in some way can accept the act.

There are sizable minorities of Americans who have been sympathetic to terrorist acts for animal rights on the left, or anti abortion on the right. But there isn't much support for, say, Islamic, Shining Path's, or the Tamil Tigers' goals by Americans so yes, to almost everybody it is worse if foreigners kill us.

I think the proposed solutions completely miss taking account of our cultural attitudes towards death.

Why do people prefer to die doing something they love than in their sleep? (i.e. "at least he died doing something he loved").
Why do they prefer to die in their sleep than, for example, on the toilet?

Given that people have a ranking of more and less preferable things to be doing at the moment of death, even for equally painful (or not painful) deaths, it is no surprise that some murders are considered worse than other murders. If you are going to hypothesize about why some murders are more highly-ranked than others, you should include explanations that at least recognize the existence of our normal death-situation ranking scheme.

Anti-Gnostic, fair point, it does indeed look like we agree on that. Thanks for noting that my comment was directed to you.

There was a similar mass hysteria in the years after December 7 1941. Far fewer Americans died that day in the Japanese attack than died of heart disease that year, but the country went into a hysterical xenophobic frenzy.

This begs the question. The real point is if we do not allow immigrants/refugees then they cannot kill Americans. Yes some Americans will still commit murders but there will be less murders if we end immigration/refugees.

Yes, its worse when foreigners kill us because it is easier to prevent: Keep them out. Problem solved.

Tone deaf Madness!!! You're missing things only an economist would miss, Tyler. Put yourself in the shoes of a Frenchman and your daughter has just been killed at a rock concert. According to a Newsweek poll, 16% of French citizens support ISIS.

Imagine that. Statistically, In every building you walk into, there will be someone who is in some sense sympathetic to your daughters death. Now consider Belgium, where a moment of silence for the victims was booed at a soccer game. So, you and Alex go to a hockey game in Canada and a moment of silence for your daughter is met with boos. That's the society that exists in France due to immigration. People don't want refugees because they see French society and want no part of it. There's a lot of talk of trusting refugees because they wouldn't harm the country that saved them. But that's imagining them being similar to yourself. There's a not insignificant contingent of Muslims who believe in world domination at any cost. Think about the 16% earlier. You're totally naive not to take that threat seriously.

The use of the term "african primates" in that context is somewhat distasteful

Puzzlement about this question maps directly onto Jonathan Haidt's listing of fundamental moral values and their political significance. Of the following six, his research found that politically liberal individuals generally give little if any weight or consideration to those beyond the first two:

1. Care/harm: cherishing and protecting others.
2. Fairness/cheating: rendering justice according to shared rules. (Alternate name: Proportionality)
3. Liberty/oppression: the loathing of tyranny.
4. Loyalty/betrayal: standing with your group, family, nation. (Alternate name: Ingroup)
5. Authority/subversion: obeying tradition and legitimate authority. (Alternate name: Respect.)
6. Sanctity/degradation: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions. (Alternate name: Purity.)

This question of course comes under the heading of #4. The way it mystifies liberals without puzzling conservatives for a second tends to confirm Haidt's intuition.

What categories of crime ARE most important in terms of QALYs lost?

People are surprisingly relaxed about risks they perceive they are controlling. People drive fast, smoke, eat bacon, get fat, have a lot of whisky all at once, etc. Even though those are very dangerous.

People are extremely nervous about risks being imposed on them by others. They hate the idea of dying in a vehicle piloted by someone else or because they were poisoned, which is It's why aviation regulations and emissions controls are strict.

This is why you can find a chart that shows the costs of lives saved would be far far lower from increasing enforcement of seatbelt laws compared to regulating, say, reducing heavy metals in the water.

I'd suggest that the internal murderer/ external terrorist dynamic is an extension of this, albeit at a group level. We accept risks that we see as being a part of our own cultural choices far more readily than risks we perceive are imposed from outside.

Nonetheless many American (and European) citizens seem to think that a murder by a foreign terrorist is much worse than a murder by a domestic nutcase, and that murder by a foreign terrorist is a major deal, these days at least. What might be the reasons for that view?

A murder by a foreign terrorist is more "preventable" than a murder by a fellow native, because we don't exile convicts and mentally ill people to penal colonies anymore. If we did these two categories would be more comparable. Not perfectly so, because the natives are already here, and we cannot pre-emptively remove them from the public (although I suppose insane asylums are close), whereas we deliberately chose to allow the foreign terrorist in, even if he entered under false pretenses.

Put differently, getting murdered by natives is an unfortunate cost to living in the same communities where those natives live unless you're willing to deport natives as a preventive measure. It's like getting struck by lightning. Getting murdered by a foreign terrorist means someone screwed up and made a deliberate choice to let him in.

in a capitalist society
news outlets *profits* from hyping stuff like terrorism

Think about all the stuff you didn't hear today: you didn't hear about car accidents, or cancers, or....
If the news media hyped car accidents, with gruesome bloody photos of dead babies, we would be up in arms about that.

One aspect of terrorism I find interesting is that speech appears to be used to facilitate this crime-they are actively recruiting from among the population and to do that they need, e.g., a social media presence. Do other types of criminal organizations exploit speech like this? And should it be illegal to post beheading videos or other propaganda that obviously has no artistic value and simply spreads a nefarious message?

Also, this can cut both ways-you may think the primary cost of terrorism is in the irrational social response rather than the act itself, but silencing bad speech would seem to cut this cost also.

The question "Is it worse if foreigners kill us?" is misleading.

The issue is getting killed by a foreign terrorist.
1./ Terrorism is a direct threat of killing you and your loved ones, along with a demonstration of what is to come.
2./ Foreign Terrorism is an invasion of your country with the specific purpose of killing you and your loved ones.

This is a similar distinction to the one between an 'ordinary' killer and a serial killer.
The serial killer and the terrorist both threaten more murders to come.
A foreign terrorist is not only a direct threat to you and your loved ones but also a threat to the entire country.

Most people fear air travel more than car travel, even though the former (at least on commercial flights) is two or three orders of magnitude less dangerous. Why? It's a 'foreign' experience that they do not control and when it happens its a horrifying catastrophe while car wrecks tend to be private tragedies. Likewise we fear unlikely terror much more than everyday murder because right or wrong most of us feel very safe, indeed all but immune to murder in our own environments and terror explicitly targets people like us in our safe spaces. Our office buildings rather than our ghettos, Paris night life rather than Banlieus.

Terror terrorizes the way that crime does not - it has far greater psychological effects. That's why they call it Terror.

To understand it you must look past the economics to other aspects of human nature. I'm not sure economics really matters on this issue much (heresy, I know).

What's the equivalent of "broken windows" policing? Cracking down on an apparent triviality might discourage far worse attacks.

"Terrorist" barely kill anyone! Remember 9/11? The buildings weren't even full. I think more people die from eating cheese!

The intellectual stance of not differentiating between just and unjust deaths (just focusing on numbers killed) and how choice/selection plays into it shows a large gap in your Moral Reasoning and practical reasoning as well. Do you do the same calculations when differentiating between types of cancers vs types of activities? Pathetic.

This article suggests you are more likely to be killed by falling furniture than by a terrorist.
Somewhere in my Twitter feed I saw a claim that an American is more likely to be shot by a toddler than by a terrorist.

I never like this kind of argument. It's too much like pointing out a very small percentage of Jeffrey Dahmer's diet was human flesh. Outliers can be very important, and intent matters.

Posts like this help to illustrate what’s wrong with economists’ thinking, namely that it ignores faith and spirituality. Why do you think that conquering Muslims put up Mosques at important sites in the territories of enemies they’ve defeated? Why do we Christians put up crosses or the American flag in our homes, courthouses and in cemeteries? Because the value of symbols can be more significant than the sorts of measurable gains/losses economists spend their time thinking about. It demoralizes or inspires depending on the perspective.
Think of it: Do Bryan Caplan or Tyler Cowen honestly think that the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars did so due to economic calculation? Love of God and country, sense of belonging and spiritual well-being are what animate groups of people to do things *together* rather than as autonomous individuals. That is how The West established and maintained itself when threatened by Islam throughout the ages. When a terrorist successfully attacks us, we know he is doing so for the same intangible, faith-based, tribal reasons that animate the creation and destruction of great nations. Non-economists perceive the audacity of terrorist attacks because of what they inspire in others. Think of the consequences if the US Army were to desecrate some holy site to Muslims without even killing anyone?
An economist or libertarian might chalk all this up to human irrationality. But they would do well to remember that the country in which they live was built by the sacrifices made by people who are motivated by intangible considerations: in-group love and feeling, faith in God, love of family and tradition. If our symbols are allowed to be desecrated by foreigners our traditions will be put in jeopardy. How would we inspire our children to carry on what our forefathers built? They will lose faith in the society they belong. Why would our children even respect us if we were so lacking in self-respect as to treat an act of aggression by a foreigner on the same terms that we would treat a single bad apple who is one of our own? Normal people understand this intuitively. Only an economist feels baffled when a terrorist attack by people who want our civilization annihilated provokes a reaction in us that seems disproportionate to the actual quantifiable damage.

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