Anti-Terrorism Spending 50,000 Times More Than on Any Other Cause of Death


Old Man Struck by Lightning

The US spends more than $500 million per victim on anti-terrorism efforts.  However, cancer research spending is only $10,000 per victim.  Evolutionary psychology may offer an explanation for this irrational threat amplification.

But first a message from NATIONAL REPUBLICAN campaign committee:


Over the last decade it has stricken more Americans than terrorists have. It will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life.

Yet some politicians in Washington don’t see lightning as a threat. Barack Hussein Obama doesn’t. In the Senate, he voted to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to the so-called war on terror, while spending absolutely nothing on a threat which has taken far more American lives. He just doesn’t get it.

Barack Obama.

Wrong on lightning.

Wrong for America.

Putting Terrorism in Perspective

Roughly 3,000 Americans have lost their lives to terrorist attacks in the last decade. This averages out to a loss of 300 people a year, which is a tragic figure and, as a country, it behooves us to do everything we can to reduce or eliminate the threat of terrorism. But there are still a lot of other ways to wind up being the main course at a worm banquet. The gravest dangers we face include heart disease, cancer, and celebrity breakups. Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have infinite resources available to eliminate every threat. So the task falls to our government to allocate what resources we do have in a manner proportional to the magnitude of each threat. If we, as a society, want to effectively counter the dangers we face, we first have to put them in perspective.

How You’re Really Going to Die

Ranked by the number of victims, heart disease comes in as the number one threat. It’s responsible for 700,000 deaths a year. This coronary malady keeps food on the tables of funeral directors nationwide. And, like a perpetual motion machine, this very food fills their arteries with cholesterol leading to even more heart attacks.

On to number two. Cancer kills 550,000 people a year. But ironically, some futurists see it as a potential key to immortality. It removes the limit on the number of times that a cell can replicate itself. Thus, if properly harnessed, this disease could be used to defy aging by allowing eternal tissue regeneration. This would enable Joan Rivers to continue enchanting Americans with her iconic brand of celebrity commentary for generations to come.

Runners up for the best solution to overpopulation include strokes with 160,000 casualties a year, respiratory disease with 120,000 casualties annually, diabetes at 70,000 , pneumonia at 60,000 , Alzheimer’s disease at 50,000 , and vehicular accidents at 40,000.

As previously stated, averaged over the last decade which contained the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, terrorism still only killed about 300 people a year. Compare this to the 1000 people who are struck by lightning every year. Hopefully, by putting storm clouds on the federal no-fly list we’ll be able to reduce this number in the future. But until then, based on current trends you’re three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed in a terrorist attack.

Infographic Showing Disproportionate (Imbalance) US Spending to Combat Terrorism


Risk Annual Deaths Lifetime risk
Heart disease 652,486 1 in 5
Cancer 553,888 1 in 7
Stroke 150,074 1 in 24
Hospital infections 99,000 1 in 38
Flu 59,664 1 in 63
Car accidents 44,757 1 in 84
Suicide 31,484 1 in 119
Accidental poisoning 19,456 1 in 193
MRSA (resistant bacteria) 19,000 1 in 197
Falls 17,229 1 in 218
Drowning 3,306 1 in 1,134
Bike accident 762 1 in 4,919
Air/space accident 742 1 in 5,051
Excessive cold 620 1 in 6,045
Sun/heat exposure 273 1 in 13,729
Shark attack* 62 1 in 60,453
Lightning 47 1 in 79, 746
Train crash 24 1 in 156,169
Fireworks 11 1 in 340,733

 Sources: Unless otherwise noted, all accidental death information fromNational Safety Council. Disease death information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lifetime risk is calculated by dividing 2003 population (290,850,005) by the number of deaths, divided by 77.6, the life expectancy of a person born in 2003. *Shark data represents number of attacks worldwide, not deaths.


Screwed Up Spending Priorities

Now that we’ve compared the risks, let’s examine how the government chooses to allocate our limited resources to combat these threats. To the least likely means of death I’ve mentioned, terrorism, the federal government devotes about $150 billion annually. On the other hand, to combat the most likely cause of death, heart disease, the government contributes only $2 billion. And just $300 million is devoted to research on the third most likely cause of death, strokes.

So looking at it another way, we spend $500 million for every death from terrorism and only $2,000 for every death resulting from strokes. That means we spend 250,000 times more per death on terrorism. I’m sure all of this is very flattering to Osama bin Laden, but this disparity might leave some stroke victims scratching their heads, assuming they’ve retained full motor control of their arms.

Graph of US Deaths from Various Causes and Funding to Combat Each Cause

Why is the government response so disproportionate to the threat?


Evolutionary psychology may be able to explain this phenomenon. The human brain has been around for 200,000 years.   More than 99% of that evolution has been characterized by starvation and general scarcity of resources typified the environment in which humans evolved.  In this situation, violent acquisition of resources from other groups was often a necessary survival technique. Hence, human brains most hyper-vigilant and aggressive toward human threats (i.e. terrorists) were most likely to survive and propagate these characteristics.

On the other hand, throughout evolutionary history medical science was almost non-existent.  Hence, there would be no survival value added by a tendency to focus on more likely health-related causes of death. We just weren’t designed for these times.

Anxiety Fatigue

One possible reason is anxiety fatigue. When an individual is subjected to a stimulus for an extended period of time, such as the aroma of a hospital room, the sound of a fan, or the endless nagging of the mother-in-law, their mind eventually just filters it out. Mortality risks such as heart disease and cancer extend farther back in time than even the existence of our current civilization. Our society now more or less accepts these unfortunate facts of life as another cost of doing business.Thus, they’re filtered out of our collective consciousness to some extent. On the other hand, consider the SARS virus scare a few years ago. Despite the absence of a single American fatality, the newness of this airborne illness allowed it to occupy headlines for weeks. Similarly, the Islamic terrorist menace is also a relatively new phenomenon to the US. Maybe threat fatigue for terrorism just hasn’t set in yet.

Economic Consequences

The economic consequences of terrorism would, at first thought, seem like a justification for the level of concern. There was a huge financial cost associated with the 9/11 attacks. Total related insurance claim payments are estimated at $32.5 billion. However, there’s been no definitive proof that the attacks lead to a significant decline in GDP. In fact, a GDP which had been falling due to recession in the quarter prior to 9/11 actually started growing again in the quarter following 9/11.

It’s conventional wisdom that military spending is good for the economy. However, most macroeconomic models show that, in the long term, military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment. This ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment. So if one thinks they’re protecting our economy by taking trillions of dollars away from other productive uses to fight the so-called global war on terror, they should consider upgrading their abycuss to a calculator.

Nuclear Bombs

Another seemingly more justifiable reason for a magnified response to terrorism is the potential for a nuclear attack that could result in a far greater number of casualties than the typical terrorist attacks have to date. According to many experts on nuclear proliferation, the possibly insurmountable technical challenges of building or acquiring a thermo-nuclear weapon are enormous. Including the requirement that the weapon be portable, makes the likelihood of acquisition dramatically more remote. However, there is a real threat that highly enriched uranium could be aquired from a former Soviet state and used to make a crude bomb. This is a serious risk and needs to be addressed by either securing or downgrading the 1000 tons of yellowcake remaining within Russia and her neighbors. The government currently spends about a billion dollars on this effort annually. Compare this to the two billion we spend in Iraq every week and one might assume we have a bonobo setting our national security priorities in exchange for bananas.

Human Psychology

Finally, the psychological makeup of our species could also be a contributing factor to this risk amplification. Just look at the plot structure of a work of fiction. The vast majority of conflicts are between a human protagonist and a human antagonist.We seem to maintain an inherent attraction to interpersonal or, on a larger scale, inter-societal conflict. It’s only natural that this affinity translates to our media diet as well. Many studies have shown that the media sets the public policy agenda.So, the point is that interpersonal and societal conflicts like that between Western civilization and Muslim extremists are simply better able to maintain our attention than conflicts between man and complex, abstract medical threats.

In addition, sociologists and psychologists have determined that society amplifies the danger of risks imposed upon them, such as terrorism. Conversely, society finds risks resulting from voluntary behavior, such as car accidents, more acceptable.

Flow Chart Representing Social Amplification of Risks (Challenges to the Quantification of the Risks of Terrorism)

 Graph Source:

Graph Illustrating Cancer and Terrorism Deaths and Spending (by Tony Piro)

 Graph Source:

  • Brandon Putz

    Yes, but the very fact that people are irrational may be ample justifcation to spend additional resources on terrorism. Shark attacks are rare, but in some areas shark nets are put up to ease the fear of beach-loving tourists. Sure, it’s probably not cost effective, and it probably hasn’t saved any lives. But the economic benefit of to these areas is tangible. Sometimes you have to spend money to assuage people’s irrational fears in order to get business done.

  • Anonymous

    The reason terrorist deaths are so low is because of the spending.

    • That’s a good theory. However, recent research examining every suicide terrorist attach for 30 years suggests that militarism increases the threat of terrorism. This is evidenced by the following two facts:

      95% of suicide terrorist attacks are targeted at occupying foreign militaries.

      0% of suicide terrorist attacks have been directed at countries not militarily involved in geopolitical disputes.

    • “The reason terrorist deaths are so low is because of the spending.”


    • Kevin117

      Even if that were true, we can STOP SPENDING SO MUCH and spend more stopping the REAL killers.

      We simply can’t afford to spend so much on something so benign.

  • Shea Kauffman

    I’d really like to see a breakdown that ranks by number of life year lost. For example, Cancer and Heart Disease tend to kill people when they are nearing or past their life expectancy; I presume terrorism is indiscriminate by age. If we took life expectancy from time of death, for example a 70 year old can expect 17 more years, a hundred year old can expect to live to 102. What would the breakdown be then?

    I do not doubt that heart disease would still be higher, but probably not as much.

  • Shea Kauffman

    I looked some figures up, Heart Disease has an average age of death of 75. Which means a loss of 10.2 years per death.
    Cancer it is 73, so that’s 11.41 years per death.

    If we assume that terrorism kills indiscriminately, and that the average age is 37. Then that’s 40 years per death.

    So the age adjusted rates are:
    Heart Disease: 652,486*10.2 = 6.6 million life years
    Cancer: 553,888 * 11.41 = 6.3 million life years
    Terrorism: 300*40 = 12,000 life years

    Original Ratio HD/T: 2175 times more likely to die from Heart Disease
    Age Adjusted Ratio HD(life years)/T(life years): 555 times more life years lost due to heart disease.

    • Will you quit being a genius? Now I have to fix that, don’t I? 🙁

      Thanks for doing that, though. I need to make this a wiki site. I’m way to lazy for this. I’m even to lazy to spell “to” with two o’s.

    • fugue137

      I wouldn’t assume that terrorism is indiscriminate by age: old
      people don’t tend to gather in public spots as often as do younger
      people, it seems likely that younger people make better targets for a
      terrorist’s agenda, and professionals (average age is probably not too far from 37) may be more exposed than other demographics (especially since WTC dominates the statistics). But these details can’t really affect the message of the article.

      • TestJeff Pierce

        There have been no CIVILIAN deaths in the US from organized terrorism for most of the past decades.

        Boston Bombers were not organized.

        In 2010, there were 2 civilian American deaths, which were in countries outside the US.

        In short, the US is one of the safest countries in the world if looking at organized terrorist groups. This assumes you don’t count organized urban/suburban gangs which kill thousands of Americans a year.


      You and the author are missing the vast majority of deaths. Now let’s add Iraqi, Somali, Yemeni, and Pakistani deaths from the US war OF terror – same money spent, but let’s graph would show loss of life as a result of the same spending.
      These graphs and your corrections regard Americans lives only and fail to give voice to the terror this money has engendered in taking human (not just US) life.
      The graphs nicely show the nonsense behind our leaders spending priorities, but explicitly assume that the spending on the war on terror is preventing terror rather than being another cause of terror.

  • Great post although I have only skimmed it because I was already aware of these issues, but I just wanted to say thanks for compiling the data into a nice blog-post.

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  • Magnolia

    Wrong examples! I do agree that Terrorism defense is unnecessary waste of money.
    But, Cancer and Heart problems are not death threats!

    They are preventable conditions.

    Money should be funding preventative life style education, not pharmaceutical companies who are making billions killing people by permission.

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  • R. Kane

    American citizens are more likely to be killed by their own protective forces (police officers) then they are by terrorist attacks. In the last decade, it is estimated that anywhere between 600 to 800 people have been killed by law enforcement taser related deaths since 2009 alone.

    Since 2009, there have been almost 6,000 cases of police brutality reported. Of those cases, about 23% (roughly 1,380 individuals) were from excessive force and about 10% (600+ cases) have been sexual misconduct. Other misconducts include fraud or theft, false arrests, and raids or searches. There’s no telling how many people have died unnecessarily because of the actions of the very people who are supposed to be protecting us (some statistics suggest about 500 people per year are killed by police officers). Of these 6,000 cases, only 33% (1,980 police officers) of those involved in misconduct are charged with a crime and only 64% of that 33% receive a prison sentence (653 police officers, that’s 10% total). When these people are sentenced, the average length of conviction is generally weakened because of the status of the individual.

    According to – since 2009, there have been 693 police officers who have died due to duty related accidents, injuries, or illnesses. Of those, about half were killed due to intentional harm by those who they were pursuing, the others appear to be accidental. 15 of those were K9 dogs and of those 15, 12 died because of heat exhaustion (thought that was interesting, again, police kill their own animals more than citizens due to neglect) and 1 died because he ate Meth during training.

    In 2010, there were roughly 800,000 police officers in the United States. The overall census for that year was about 309,000,000 citizens of the United States (I’m using these as reference numbers in order to gather my statistics, though I know the numbers fluctuate from year to year). This makes the rate of intentional death inflicted upon police by the suspect about 0.00087% over the 2009 – 2013 period. If we go based on the rough statistics (because, surprisingly, not all deaths caused by police are reported to the FBI) of 500 people per year killed by law enforcement since 2009, it equates to about 2,500 deaths in a 4 year period. That’s a whopping 8.09% of the US census’ 2010 population estimate. Seems like even though there are 38 times more citizens then there are police officers at any given time, we are about 100 times more likely to be killed by them then they are by us.

    Seriously, we need to start spending our money here, in the United States, instead of paying people to go overseas and cause chaos. We need to fix our own shit before we start telling other people how they should run their countries.

    By the way, those tasers that I mentioned in the beginning of my rant expend 50,000 volts into the human body and now they are coming up with taser cuffs that increase that voltage to 80,000. They seem to be TRYING to kill us. It’s ridiculous.

  • Brian

    By the way, the cholesterol theory for heart disease has been largely debunked.

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  • Robert Arnow

    Thank you for this information. It was one our inspirations in making an entire campaign about how small the threat of terrorism is. It’s called the War on Irrational Fear, and we just released it here:

    The research on our “get the facts” page convincingly answers all the questions people pose below.

    • Hi, Robert!

      You’re video is amazing! I know how time consuming something like much work goes into something like that from my brief foray into film-making.

      All your design work is amazing, too.

      I’m very excited about your campaign. I also share a desire to improve resource allocation. I’m trying to abolish suffering on earth using an easy 3 step plan.

      Good luck with your campaign and keep up the great work!

      Would you mind if I embed your video in this post?


      • Robert Arnow

        Thanks, and yes, feel free to embed. Also, sign up for our email list, and like our facebook page to get updates as the campaign proceeds.

    • jamie

      Why wouldn’t you exploit the fear you went to so much trouble to create?

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  • Brilliant. Thank you. At TSA News (, we’ve been hammering this home for years. Alas — and as you surely know — most people aren’t swayed by reason. They’re swayed by the lizard portion of their brains, and are content to do so.

    We can cite logic, risk assessment, statistical analysis, quantitative reasoning, and empirical evidence till the cows come home, and it won’t make a dent. Too many people like their fear and like to lick the authoritarian boot.

    I won’t stop fighting, because it’s the right thing to do, but I have little hope that anything will change in my lifetime.

  • Paul Tripp

    This is a little bit misleading since Medicare and Medicaid do spend significant amounts on the treatment of people with each of those conditions (and in fact Medicare contributes significantly to the cost of providing care to working people, see this video: ). However that doesn’t mean we don’t spend way too much on fighting terrorism. You also could have included marijuana on the list, which kills 0 people per year, while the drug war costs us tens of billions of dollars a year.

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  • jamie

    Can’t you all see it’s all about the Benjamin’s. We can talk figures all we want, but until we start talking about the pockets they stuff, the dialogue is kinda silly. Everybody loves talking about the loss of money during the Wallstreet crashes. Silly. Money,, and I would even venture to say equity in real property is all a sham. As one analyst at the time said, money doesn’t disappear, it just changes hands. And those hands are usually the ones that engineered the “bust” and profited from it. See, J. P Morgans manipulation of the 1929 crash. Notice how simple his tactics were. Anti-terrorism spending is just another market created by the elite to fill their pockets to bursting. The pennies that trickle down in the form of jobs,entrepreneurship, etc. bind the little guy to the mess. That’s why these arguments are so asinine. Nobody wants to endanger their share. Cognitive dissidence at it’s most basic level

    • JL

      I agree about the “pocket-lining” facet of your point. That doesn’t, however, take away from the validity of others’ analysis of this issue’s other facets. Also, it’s cognitive dissonance.

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  • Cynthia Astle

    Why does your graphic have only crosses on top of the gravestones? Don’t Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Ba’hais, Sikhs and people of other faiths die in your statistical universe? You need to seriously think about what your graphics say about inclusiveness.

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  • Smackademic, PhD. Depl. Stud.

    Fallacious argument. You could apply the same false argument to military spending in general: Almost zero deaths from Russians or Communist China during Cold War means we should ever have spent money on the Military. Even the Japanese only killed 2400, why spend money and declare war when more Americans died from car accidents in that same year?

    You never ask the question about how much death, injury, economic instability, etc. is prevented through investments in counter-terrorism. Instead you snobbishly discount the whole affair as the result of stupid humans overreacting, while idiotically overlooking the obvious reason.

    You, like all weak minded conspiratorial leftists fail to understand the threat? How much damage would have been done if a 2004 dirty bomb plot was not foiled at the NYC stock exchange? What would have been the damage in human lives and economic impact of the foiled plot to blow up a natural gas refinery in 2005? These are just a couple of the scores of potentially world changing attacks that have been prevented.

    Maybe you should stop trying to think by numbers and start thinking with reason instead, fool.

    Reading through all the comments it’s sad how many fell for your rhetoric. Pathetic sheep one and all.


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