Who said that the US government doesn't understand marketing?
With yesterday's terror plots, everyone seems to be readily accepting that they should throw away their liquids, pack their laptops and iPods in their bags, and stand in multi-hour security lines. But as Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine points out, that's because the threat of terror has been promoted to be much more significant than the probability of your being affected by it.
... according to the National Safety Council this means your one-year odds of dying in a car accident is about one out of 6500. Therefore your lifetime probability (6500 ÷ 78 years life expectancy) of dying in a motor accident are about one in 83.
What about your chances of dying in an airplane crash? A one-year risk of one in 400,000 and one in 5,000 lifetime risk. What about walking across the street? A one-year risk of one in 48,500 and a lifetime risk of one in 625. Drowning? A one-year risk of one in 88,000 and a one in 1100 lifetime risk. Even if terrorists were able to pull off one attack per year on the scale of the 9/11 atrocity, that would mean your one-year risk would be one in 100,000 and your lifetime risk would be about one in 1300. (300,000,000 ÷ 3,000 = 100,000 ÷ 78 years = 1282) In other words, your risk of dying in a plausible terrorist attack is much lower than your risk of dying in a car accident, by walking across the street, by drowning, in a fire, by falling, or by being murdered.
Cognitive scientists have known for years that people don't always make rational choices; that's one of the tools of the marketer's trade. We want consumers to make irrational choices, like buying an iPod as a fashion statement rather than for its music playing ability or purchasing a luxury car because of the perception it will project a better image of ourselves. We craft messages and images that fuel those perceptions. And most of the time (not always), we use aspirational messages to drive sales, not dark, unreasoning panic.
In most times of crisis, government's role is to reassure the public and to act to address the true threats to public safety. Given just how much publicity this latest terrorism event has received compared to the actual odds of it affecting our lives, we must ask the question: is this outcry justified or is the risk of terrorism being marketed to the public for political gain? Are we truly at risk, or are we being sold FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt? Based upon these odds, it's looking more and more like the latter.
Ronald Bailey wraps up the article better than I could:
It's easy to overreact when an atrocity takes place—to heed those who promise safety if only we will give the authorities the "tools" they want by surrendering to them some of our liberty. As President Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural speech said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself— nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." However, with risks this low there is no reason for us not to continue to live our lives as though terrorism doesn't matter—because it doesn't really matter. We ultimately vanquish terrorism when we refuse to be terrorized.