NEW DELHI: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the American reaction to them continue to resonate. America’s disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer is an obvious sequel, and the impacts clearly go far beyond that.
Much of what seems broken in America today, writes journalist Spencer Ackerman in his new book “Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Desestabilized America and Produced Trump,” can be traced back to the actions and reactions of the early days. 2000s.
Around the world, Norwegian defense scholar Thomas Hegghammer argues in the latest foreign affairs issue, surveillance capabilities developed in the wake of the attacks have shifted the balance of power towards governments and away from individuals.
The “War on Terrorism” also accelerated the rise of right-wing violence in the United States and elsewhere, argues US extremism researcher Cynthia-Miller Idriss in the same magazine. And so on.
Finding statistical evidence of the lasting effects of 9/11 is more difficult. After a colleague asked me a few weeks ago about the economic changes caused by the attacks, I started downloading data series and making graphs, as is my habit. What I found in most of the economic series was not so much an absence of impact as a fleeting one, and also a much smaller mark from September 11 than from the Covid-19 pandemic.
When I looked at things that could be said to directly measure reaction to the attacks, such as military spending and employment in the security services, the effects of 9/11 were more lasting, but still seem to have faded in recent years.
To some extent, this speaks to stat limits, or at least the stats I have chosen. Those who attribute transformative effects to September 11 are not necessarily wrong. But on an anniversary of a major event like this, which will generate all kinds of great claims, graphics can provide useful context. Here are 10.
Things that went up
Since the United States first invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq in response to the September 11 attacks, military spending is an obvious metric to consider. After fiscal year 2001, which ended on September 30, 2001, it increased dramatically as a percentage of gross domestic product, the standard way to track government spending over time.
During the second half of the 20th century, the share of military spending in GDP mostly declined. So far, at 21 it hasn’t, which seems like a big problem.
However, the long decline appears to have stalled a couple of years before 9/11, and even at its 21st century peak in fiscal 2010 (which was largely due to the 3.1% drop in real GDP during the previous fiscal year, lowering the denominator in the expenditure / GDP calculation) spending was even lower than in all but two of the years 1941 to 1990 (I left the WWII years because spending more than 35% of GDP back then would make the rest of the graph effectively unreadable).
Much of the security response to September 11 was not strictly military, as new detection procedures and surveillance techniques proliferated in the country. Employment in private security and investigation services in the United States increased dramatically in the months after the attacks, although the creation of the Transportation Security Administration and the subsequent federalization of airport security in early 2002 eliminated many of those jobs. from the private sector.
No such timely monthly data is available on law enforcement personnel, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics groups into broader government job categories. The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts occasional surveys of law enforcement employment, showing a large increase at the federal level in the 2000s.
There was no such evidence of an effect of 9/11 on police departments, in part because they had already hired heavily in the second half of the 1990s thanks to funding included in the now highly criticized federal crimes law of 1994. Police employment then fell from 2007 to 2016 (in absolute terms, as well as the per capita measures shown here) as state and local tax revenues plummeted during and after the Great Recession.
Public concern about terrorism understandably increased after the attacks. It has remained stubbornly high in the two decades since, if you look at Gallup polls, which have consistently found that 40% to 50% of Americans are very or somewhat concerned that they or members of their family are victims of terrorism.
On the other hand, web search activity tracked since 2004 by Google shows a large decline in searches for “terrorism” since then, albeit interrupted by occasional spikes around news-generating terrorist attacks.
Overall, then, the decade after the 9/11 attacks saw the kinds of increases in military spending, security sector employment, and public concern about terrorism that one would expect. But by the 2010s, most of these had stalled or were declining.
Things that happened
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the attacks appeared to have changed the United States in many other ways beyond the rise of the security state. The economic damage was feared to be serious and lasting. It was not.
For aggregate measures like GDP, employment, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, it seems to have been so fleeting that I’m not even going to bother with the charts.
The US economy had already been in a recession since March 2001 when the tech stock bubble deflated and the attacks briefly accelerated the recession, but by the end of the year GDP was growing again.
The S&P returned on its post-attack losses in less than a month. Stocks began to slide again after that and the employment slump continued into 2003, but other factors such as the bear market for technology and the “China shock” in the manufacturing industry surely played a bigger role than 9/11.
For specific locations and industries, the effects were more severe. New York City was the main target of the attacks and the airline industry its clearest economic victim. In fact, the trend of the previous quarter century toward globalization of the American economy was under threat. But things also changed quite quickly on all these fronts.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, New York City reeled, losing 112,000 payroll jobs in just two months. In hindsight, those two months now look like a brief acceleration of an already established recessionary downtrend (so brief that I could not write it down on the chart because it obscured the decline), which in 2003 ushered in a long recovery that stopped only briefly. for the Great Recession.
The job losses in the city since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic are on another scale altogether, raising legitimate questions about its economic future. The same goes for air travel, for which the seemingly apocalyptic months after 9/11 now seem like a bump compared to what has happened since March 2020.
The number of international visitors to the US shows a similar trajectory, albeit with a much lower recovery so far this year.
The disruptions to the movement of people caused by 9/11 seemed really significant at the time, and it took more than two years for airline traffic and almost four for international visitor numbers to rebound. But the pandemic has raised much more formidable barriers.
Trade in goods and services, on the other hand, was not more affected last year than in 2000 and 2001, at least not if its share in GDP is taken into account.
In both cases, the traumatic events simply accelerated the business declines that were already underway, but both declines ended up being much less severe than the decline that followed the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.
Trade has been declining as a percentage of US GDP for the better part of the last decade, and one has to think that last year’s global supply chain disruptions will eventually lead to further declines as ” relocate “part of the production abroad.
The number of international visitors had also been stable since the beginning of 2016. One could argue based on these statistics that the interconnection of the United States with the rest of the world is declining, although it would be difficult to link that directly to 9/11.
Another, narrower measure of the interconnectedness of the United States may provide that link. The number of refugees admitted by the US dropped dramatically after 2001 as research requirements tightened and then recovered, but never to the average levels of the 1980s and 1990s. Under President Donald Trump it fell to new modern lows.
Trump cut refugee admissions so much in large part because he could. Presidents have almost unilateral control over how many refugees are admitted, which is not the case with most other types of immigration. But his rhetoric about refugees and immigrants in general also dates back to 9/11 and the War on Terror that followed, in which newcomers, especially from Muslim countries, were treated with much greater suspicion by the government. and many Americans.
Moreover, last month’s airlift from Kabul is sure to result in a large increase in refugee admissions, which can also be directly traced to 9/11. The reverbs continue, but not always with the expected effects.