Did 9/11 cause the economic crisis?

August 11, 2011

There have been plenty of arguments that 9/11 led to the wars, or that our fear of terrorists led to us to vote opportunist politicians into office, but I get tired of people blaming the government for all our problems.

Wars and politics aside, I wonder if we allowed subprime mortgages, Bernie Madoff, predatory lending, and corrupt banks to survive because of 9/11.

The terrorist attacks were a tragedy, to be sure, but a tragedy which ushered back to life an era of fear and suspense, the greatest sales tools known to man. It was a sales opportunity like no other, in that nobody knew what they were afraid of. It was Muslims who carried out the attacks, but there are too many Muslims within our ranks to turn them into enemies. What’s worse, it was too difficult to convince Muslims to disavow their faith. It was easy to fear communists—if one did know of a communist, if you could convince them to wave an American flag and vote in November you’d have a moral victory giving you a sense of safety for a while. We tried to get the Muslims to disavow themselves, but got a resounding “fuck you, we didn’t do it.” Then it was us waspy Americans who were left with a decision—profess our hatred for all Muslims, or decide they weren’t the enemy. Some chose the former, but for the most part, too many Americans had a friend named Ahmed for the culture war to really develop teeth.

So instead, we blamed a lack of privacy. It wasn’t a rational decision, and we didn’t come to that decision ourselves—we were given it, by people who knew how to make privacy profitable. The enemy became anyone and everyone who wanted our information. We guarded our credit cards, stopped answering our phones, and refused to give anyone our social security numbers. We paid for people to purge our names from the internet. We protested social websites who posted our information every time we clicked ‘post.’ We blocked advertising companies and market researchers from finding out where we shopped and what we bought.

For many industries, it was a dream come true. If they could dangle a carrot in front of us just long enough to let them into our lives, they could eat us away from the inside, and nobody would ever find out because we wouldn’t let anyone else in to see what they were doing. Credit card companies started charging enormous rates and fees. Mortgage lenders sold us houses we couldn’t afford. Stock brokers put our money into fake assets, and nobody saw any of it happening because we wouldn’t allow anyone to check them out. The giant corporations actually got us to fight on their behalf, getting us to revolt against any effort to investigate their records, lest some unknown enemy get a hold of the bank account number they set up for you and use it to fly a plane into a building.

That’s my theory, anyway.