Wednesday, 13 July, 2005

Chris made this interesting point over on his blog, he said:

I wonder if it occurred to them that there is _significantly_ more risk of being killed in the car on the way to London than there is the chance of being killed by a terrorist whilst there.

Chris is right. In fact, I want to expand on this point because it is important. It's quite clear that the restrictions that the US put on their troop were silly but what about the more rational questions people ask? Suppose I decide I'm not going to take the train to work today and go in my car instead because of the threat of terrorism. Is this a rational strategy?

The answer is no. This year, only fifty or so people have been killed by terrorists. According to Chris' blog roughly four-thousand will die as the direct result of car-crashes this year. By simple division, we can calculate that it's roughly hundred times more likely that I'll be killed in a car on the way to work than I'll be killed by a terrorist exploding a bomb on my train. Even then, the fifty people killed by terrorists this year is the exception rather than the rule. In terms of the real probability taken over many years, the threat of being killed by a terrorist is probably closer to a thousand times less likely than being killed in my car.

Terrorism works not because it leads to grand policy changes but because it causes people to change their behaviour. After September 11th, many people decided they didn't want to fly because they thought it was too risky. As a result, the airline industry took a turn for the worse and it hasn't really recovered since. The real impact of terrorism is felt not through policy but through the economy.


17:09:08 GMT | #Randomness | Permalink
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