How serious a problem is terrorism? Krueger’s table of relative risks shows that the answer is “not very.” An American’s lifetime risk of being killed by a terrorist, calculates Krueger, is 1:69,000. Compare that to the 1:88 chance of being killed in a motor vehicle accident and the even more serious 1:7 risk of dying from cancer and 1:4 risk of dying from heart disease. Based on other risks he shows in his table, he writes, “In 2005 the average American’s chance of being killed by a terrorist was much less than his or her chance of being killed by lightning or in an airplane crash.”

People often respond to this by pointing out that, with terrorism, someone is actively trying to kill others, whereas with the other risks fatalities “just happen.” While that certainly should affect our moral evaluation—lightning is amoral, while a terrorist is virtually certain to be immoral—it should not affect one’s evaluation of relative risks. Krueger doesn’t address this response, probably because he sees it as the red herring that it is. But his table of risks implicitly answers the argument. He shows that an American’s lifetime probability of being murdered is 1:240, which is 287.5 times the probability of being killed by a terrorist. In both cases, the killing is intentional.


This is from David R. Henderson, “Perspective on the Terrorist Threat,” Regulation, Fall 2018. It’s my review of Alan Krueger’s What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism.

Another excerpt:

He [Krueger] never suggests that government officials be fined or even fired for misreporting facts. But he doesn’t have the same tolerance for private-sector actors. He writes, “Perhaps the FCC could keep track of inaccuracies in reporting on terrorism and fine media outlets if they repeatedly make mistakes.” It is certainly true that the media hype terrorism and that that has bad effects. But his confidence in proposing that a government agency be given the power to fine those who are exercising their freedom of speech is breathtaking.

Read the whole thing. To get to it, you need to scroll down a good bit.