Skip to main content

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center is this Sunday. Its direct cost in human lives was 2,996. That is the number who died in the towers, in the Pentagon, as firefighters on the ground, and in the four planes that crashed. Its indirect cost in human lives was even greater. It sparked off the invasion of Afghanistan, where Coalition forces have suffered some 2613 military deaths. The number of Taliban deaths is unknown but has been estimated at around ten times that number. The number of civilian deaths is even less well documented, is astonishingly vague and uncertain, but certainly runs into many thousands.

Each of those people who died left people who grieve for them – widows who lost husbands, parents who lost children, children who have had to grow up without a parent. Multiply the actual number of deaths by some suitable number, say three, four, or five, to get an estimate of those bereaved in that way.

That number may or may not be meaningful. Grief and loss of that kind may be one of the things that can be neither quantified not multiplied. To speak of a ‘cost’ in lives is frequently done, and is frequently necessary; it is a reflection of the ‘cost’ in unhappiness, but no more than a reflection.

That has been the human cost. The psychological cost of the 9/11 attack was incalculable. Its monetary cost is perhaps the least important of the three but it has been staggeringly huge. The website of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security gives some estimates:

The four civilian aircraft that were lost: $385 million.
Replacement costs of the World Trade Center buildings: $3 to $4.5 billion.
Damage to the Pentagon building: up to $1 billion.
Cleanup costs: $1.3 billion.
Property and infrastructure damage: $10 billion to $13 billion.

So much for what you could call the hardware costs. The Institute adds in economic effects. They calculate that direct job losses amounted to 83,000, with $17 billion in lost wages. The City of New York lost $95 billion in jobs, lost taxes, damage to infrastructure, and clean-up costs; the insurance industry took a $40 billion hit. And the loss of air traffic revenue they estimate at $10 billion.

You can add also such things as the enhanced security at airports, which we all encounter whenever we fly anywhere. All that equipment costs money; the people who run it, and frisk us when we travel, need their wages to be paid as well. The Institute analysts lumped those costs in with the cost of the war in Afghanistan to come to $40 billion.

They also assign a monetary value to each life lost. It is certainly possible to work out how much a man would have earned in the years that were denied to him, and the tax lost thereby and costs of supporting his widow and family which must be born by someone else; but as I have hinted above, that is not the real value of a human life.

Nor does the monetary costs of airport security include the extra half-hour or so by which all we travellers have to turn up earlier for our flights, which adds another economic burden of wasted time, time which we could – some of us, theoretically at least – spend contributing to the economy and earning money instead.

The Institute estimates a total for all these things that exceeds $100 billion. They go on to add in the loss of stock market wealth, from lower profits and volatilities brought on by the uncertainties that followed the 9/11 attack. These, they reckon, bring the total to nearly £2 trillion.

And still the ramifications continue. Who knows what flights may have been missed, what business deals may have fallen through, what huge contribution to the world will not now be made because the person who would have made it died in one of the Twin Towers? The consequences of a  butterfly fluttering its wings can be a hurricane. Planes crashing into buildings bring effects far greater. The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security sums up the economic consequences of the 9/11 attack in a single word. That word is ‘incalculable.’

Leave a Reply