Putting Price Tags on the 9/11 Attacks

There have been a series of attempts to gauge the tragedy's monetary cost

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This week, the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 makes it every newspaper and magazine's duty to present a "big picture" assessment of American life in the years following the 2001 attacks. And because one of the most tangible ways to convey the impact of a shared event is to slap a number on it, everybody's doing it. Observe: the various ways to quantify the cost of 9/11:

The airline "security fee"  After 9/11, airline passengers were met with longer lines, more expensive snacks and more pat downs. Over at CNN Money, Jessica Dickler put a price on those additions:

For each leg of a journey that requires them to board a plane, passengers now pay a $2.50 September 11th Security Fee, which goes toward financing the TSA's staff, operations and screening equipment -- like those new body scanners. (Passengers don't pay the fee more than twice per one-way trip.)

Last year, airlines and passengers contributed $2 billion in taxes and fees to the TSA. The federal government -- in other words, taxpayers -- picked up the rest of the organization's $8 billion tab.

Now, there's a proposal in front of Congress to double the September 11th Security Fee to $5 per enplanement.

The agency by agency cost In Today's New York Times, Shan Carter and Amanda Cox gather estimates from a range of experts and breaks down the attack's fees agency by agency with a grand total of $3.3 trillion, including costs for war funding, homeland security, economic impact, veteran's care and physical damage. Here's a portion of their department breakdown. See the whole thing here.

The al-Qaeda vs. America cost ratio  The New York Times David Sanger looks at the figures another way, noting the investment al-Qaeda made into 9/11. "America’s bill for fighting a 21st-century 'asymmetric war' comes to at least $3.3 trillion. Put another way, for every dollar Al Qaeda spent to pull off the Sept. 11 attacks, the cost to the United States was an astonishing $6.6 million."

The grand total government costs In a Thursday post by John Stossel at Reason, the libertarian writer pulls the grand total costs of the attacks from the National Priorities Project. The federal transparency group cites a much higher number than The Times for total costs, which stands at $8 trillion. In a breakdown of that figure, the group scores $5.9 trillion from Pentagon spending. $1.36 trillion from the total costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars up to this fiscal year and $636 billion on homeland security costs, all adjusted for inflation.

Is putting a tally on all this worth it? As we noted in May when the Financial Times introduced its more modest $2 trillion price tag on America's response to 9/11, this is a really difficult process that isn't likely to produce a definitive answer (no matter how badly we want one). As Atlantic Wire colleague Adam Martin wrote, "People have all kinds of costs they can pin on 9/11, from the Florida Gators 2001 football championship to criminal prosecutions against drug dealers... Trying to put a price tag on him is just going to drive everyone crazy."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.