After 9/11, the U.S. Congress created the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. America went to war, overtly and covertly, in several countries. Nearly $8 trillion was spent on what is called "security," Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project estimates.
Was it worth it?
Yes, in many ways, says author Ann Coulter. No, says Reason magazine editor Matt Welch. Both will be guests on my Fox Business show tomorrow night.
There's no reason at all that the bureaucratization of security is going to make us any more safe," Welch said. "All we have to do is go on an airplane ... to see that there's a difference between security and security theater, between federalizing a problem and actually solving the problem."
Coulter thinks the government got lots of things right.
"Whatever liberals screamed bloody murder about was very important on the war on terrorism," she said. "I think Iraq was a crucial part ... ." Welch dissented.
"We're on the verge of bankruptcy. ... We are at the sort of tipping point of imperial overstretch."
Imperial overstretch? Welch has a point. Politicians talk about tight budgets, but National Defense Magazine recently ran this headline: "Homeland Security Market Is Vibrant Despite Budget Concerns." I fear this is the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about. Military contractors collude with politicians to keep the money flowing.
I blame the politicians. The contractors just do what they're supposed to do. The politicians are supposed to spend our money well. They don't.
After 9/11, the Senate voted 100 to zero to federalize airport security. Then-Sen. Tom Daschle said, "You can't professionalize if you don't federalize."
Nonsense. Before TSA was created, private contractors paid airport inspectors not much more than minimum wage. They weren't very good. Now we spend five times as much, and they're still not very good.
Today even the TSA knows that private security is better. In one of its own tests, its screeners in Los Angeles missed 75 percent of explosives planted by inspectors. In San Francisco, one of the few cities allowed to have privately managed security, screeners missed 20 percent.
In a reasonable world, the government would disband the TSA and move to a private competitive system.
But we live in a Big Government world.
Randolph Bourne, who opposed U.S. entry into World War I, said, "War is the health of the state." He meant that in war, government grows in power and prestige -- and freedom shrinks. As Robert Higgs documents in "Crisis and Leviathan," government never recedes to its prewar dimensions.
Shortly after Sept. 11, Sen. Charles Schumer declared that the "era of a shrinking federal government is over." This was more nonsense. The government hadn't been shrinking. But for politicians like Schumer, 9/11 was an excuse to take more power. Price was no object.
I can't tell you what Homeland Security does with your money. Much of its spending is secret. Certainly much is wasted. The department made a big fuss over its color-coded airport security system, then scrapped it because it provided "little practical information." The department spent billions on things like special boats to protect a lake in Nebraska, all-terrain vehicles for a small town in Tennessee and 70 security cameras for a remote Alaskan village.
That's what politicians do. Members of Congress say: "You want my vote? You'd better give my district some cash." And when people are scared, they let bureaucrats spend.
This played into Usama bin Laden's hands. In one videotaped message, he talked about "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."
The attacks on 9/11 were largely a failure of government. Our so-called "intelligence agencies" knew nothing about the plot. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, charged with keeping track of foreigners who overstay their visas, didn't pay attention to the 19 hijackers. And as Rep. Ron Paul points out, history did not begin on Sept. 11. Part of the failure was America's interventionist foreign policy, which needlessly made enemies.
So government failed on 9/11, and yet the politicians' answer to failure is always the same: Give us more money and power. And we do. When will we learn?
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. The show airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. and midnight ET. It re-airs Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 9 p.m. and 12 midnight, and Sundays at 10 p.m. (all times eastern). He's also the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity."
To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.