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Forgotten Victims of 9-11

August 28, 2002

In all discussion of 9-11, one year later, much attention is given to the firefighters, police, and emergency workers whose services, as employees of the public sector, were called on that day. You may hear about the innocents who died on the airplanes that were hijacked and used as missiles. The people you won't hear about are those who were specifically targeted and murdered.

They were, after all, working for the private sector. They were traders and merchants, people working in the field of economic enterprise. In an ironic tribute to their value, these people were targeted because the terrorists hoped to cripple the US economy. It would appear that the terrorists understood something that even our own elites do not understand.

If you find that observation shocking, consider the current campaign against business. Though a Republican administration, the Bush administration has followed the FDR model in subtly and not-so-subtly blaming the private sector, specifically those in finance and accounting associated with large enterprises, for the current recession and the gutting of pensions that resulted from falling stock prices.

These people have been scapegoated for the downturn in the business cycle, just as the terrorists scapegoated the New York financial sector for what they see as the belligerence of US foreign policy. Not understanding the resilience of American enterprise, the terrorists hoped to put a big dent in American prosperity.

US government elites, however, have for a year attacked the same class of people while overestimating the extent to which financial markets can be hamstrung, hindered, and harassed without consequence.

True, the campaign has so far been limited to those individuals and institutions that can readily be accused of "fraud" even though most of the issues under consideration are complicated matters of accounting principles that no jury is competent to adjudicate. Make no mistake, however, the merchant class as a class is under fire, just as it has been throughout history during periods of economic downturn.

Congress, of all institutions, has hauled business executives in front of them to accuse them without trial, asking questions so asinine that they can't possibly be answered with a straight face. Greenspan himself has blamed the "infectious greed" of the business class for the downturn in the markets.

Most outrageously, Bush has drawn an analogy between the 9-11 terrorists and the American business class! That was the subtext of his remark that "In the aftermath of September 11, we refused to allow fear to undermine our economy and we will not allow fraud to undermine it either." Thus did he promise "No more easy money for corporate criminals. Just hard time…. This law says to every dishonest corporate leader, you'll be exposed and punished. The era of low standards and false profits is over."

But look at the names of the businesses that suffer destruction and death in the 9-11 attacks. They were Deutsche Bank, Fiduciary Trust, Kemper Insurance, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Cantor Fitzgerald, OppenheimerFunds, Credit Suisse First Boston, and others involved in banking, finance, insurance, accounting, management, and the craft of trading generally.

These are the companies that invest our savings, provide insurance, trade currencies, and coordinate prices across borders and markets. They are not perfect. They are not all-knowing. And during this bear market, many of them have lost money. But it is they who take the risk to find entrepreneurial opportunities in markets of all sorts. Even today, as in ancient times, their craft is wrongly considered ignoble and perhaps even inherently dishonest. And yet, they are the people who work daily to sustain prosperity and improve the lot of mankind.

After they were so cruelly attacked on 9-11, the federal government stepped in to make two great promises, both of which turned out to be lies. First, the feds assured us that they would bring to justice those who brought those attacks about. They have not done that. They have violated liberties and stepped up leviathan, but Osama and his co-conspirators remain at large, and one wonders whether the government prefers it this way in order to keep us all constantly afraid.

The second great promise the government made was that it would protect us and American prosperity from further attacks. And true to form, the same people have spent the last year attacking business, casting aspersions on traders and those in the financial industry, rounding up executives, and deliberately obscuring the difference between boom-market accounting and outright fraud.

Let us not forget that all this began with a multiple hijacking. And what has the government done to prevent that in the future? It has vastly increased the inconveniences for average travelers, which has in turn bankrupted several airline companies (also private enterprises). These companies are still not allowed to arm their pilots to protect their planes—an entire year later! Meanwhile, the US is engaged in a foreign policy that might as well be designed to incite further attacks.

What lessons have we learned since 9-11? As usual, nothing. What should we have learned? First, that enterprise has its enemies and these enemies have no hesitation about using violence to achieve their ends, whether that violence comes from terrorism, the Justice Department, or the sidearm of the officially empowered regulator. Second, we should have learned that we cannot trust the government to give us justice or provide us security.

During this anniversary, you will hear many tributes and much discussion of the meaning of it all. Keep track, if you can, of all the times when you hear mention of the occupations of those who died in the WorldTradeCenter, the vocations to which they dedicated their lives. I wonder whether you will find any examples at all.

And yet it remains true that those who understand the contribution of enterprise to civilization must mourn the lost lives of those who worked in the WorldTradeCenter. We grieve for their lost vocations as well, and we owe it to them to appreciate anew their contribution to society.


Llewellyn H.Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Mises Institute and editor of the highest trafficked libertarian news and commentary site, Lewrockwell.com. See also his Tribute to Trade, a classic the day after the original attacks. See also his archive and send mail to rockwell@mises.org.


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