Fear industry empties pockets
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, February 14, 1991
People are haunted – not by terrorism, but by the threat of terrorism. And the terrorists seem to be winning.
We were told last week that American travel to foreign countries is down 70% compared with last year. Travel within the United States is down 60%. Foreign travel to the U.S. is down 50%.
We aren’t told that airlines are flying with most seats empty than filled. Just last week, America West airlines started a new fare war by offering deep fare cuts and free tickets for frequent flyers.
Tourist buses in Washington are running empty. Europe’s tourism sector is in a deep slump. European newspapers blame it on the wimp factor in the American traveler.
Whatever the cause, our personal freedom and the health of our economy are being restricted by threats of Saddam Hussein, memories of Abu Nidal and the bugaboo of terrorism.
No one denies the need for precautions against terrorism. The problem is that fear of terrorism has been blown out of proportion by the “risk managers,” “counter-terrorism experts,” and “security” consultants who now infect large American corporations. These experts are also ready interviews for CNN and the other networks, adding velocity to the spread of virus of Nidalism.
Corporations – once they’ve hired these guys – are hoisted on their own petard. Once they’ve sought the advice of their “security” consultants, insurance companies and corporate lawyers make it almost impossible not to follow it. The result is the rash of “do not travel” directives to employees.
Many major corporations have all but banned overseas travel by their employees and they discourage domestic travel. If you are a corporate “risk manager” or “security advisor”, the gulf war provides a great opportunity to justify your existence.
Those who stay home and take a trip by car to the mountains to ski instead of that business trip to Europe are much more likely to die or be injured than their colleagues who fly to Europe. What do you think the odds are for the executive in New York City who bypasses the trip to Paris and, instead, goes jogging in Central Park?
As the recently published book Innumeracy points out, the risk of being killed by lightning or a drunk driver is many times greater than the risk of being killed by a terrorist.
The problem with counter-terrorism experts on the corporate payroll is the way their advice gets linked to insurance and other personnel issues. Like analysts everywhere, risk analysts only have “no” buttons. Their way of looking at the world, their methodology, does not equip them to say “yes”.
They only know shades of “no,” and a dozen different ways to implore caution.
I flew to Mexico City last week on Continental Airlines. The flights were full going and coming. At least some people aren’t listening to the experts.