TCS Daily


A Billion for Bin Laden

By James D. Miller - August 9, 2004 12:00 AM

The $25 million reward the U.S. is offering for Bin Laden's capture just isn't enough. Sure, $25 million would induce a Pakistani peasant to turn in Bin Laden, but it's not enough to attract the financial markets to the Bin Laden hunt. With the possibility of earning a $1 billion bounty, however, professional Bin Laden hunting firms would form, allowing the U.S. to enlist the efficiency and creativity of the free market in our fight against Osama.

The twentieth century's economic battles between capitalism and socialism proved that the private sector is far more effective than the government at providing services. Unfortunately, though, for many activities such as terrorist tracking, private companies have little incentive to engage. But a $1 billion bounty would motivate firms to join the hunt for Bin Laden.

With a $1 billion reward in place, an international group of intelligence, military and terrorist experts that could credibly claim to have, say, at least a 5% chance of finding Bin Laden could easily raise $20 million or so from the financial markets to finance their search. With several such organizations unleashed on the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Osama's margin of safety would shrink.

If my $1 billion free market experiment were implemented and proved successful, the U.S. could offer very large rewards for other international villains. Firms would then likely come into existence that specialized in capturing different types of criminals, some, for example, going after South American drug barons while others concentrated on Middle Eastern terrorists.

I suspect that different sub-branches of the U.S. government currently compete for the resources necessary to find Bin Laden. Given how most public organizations operate, however, these resources probably go to the best bureaucratic infighters rather than those with the best chance of finding our murderous prey. The world's financial markets excel (at least compared with governments) at picking possible winners, so we should give them the power to determine who gets the capital needed to find Bin Laden.

Those who think $1 billion is too much to pay for one sick man's capture should consider the deterrent effect of this bounty. Our government doesn't seem to shine at locating single individuals, so if they're willing to go into hiding, would-be terrorist master-sickos might not fear our wrath. But knowing that a large bounty would be placed on them might give pause to a few of our potential enemies.

If the billion dollar bounty failed and Bin Laden ended up being located by the CIA or the U.S. armed forces rather than the private sector, the bounty wouldn't cost the taxpayers anything. But it still would have sent a powerful signal to our enemies that the massive wealth of the U.S. can be deployed against those who strike us.

Many other nations don't seem to care very much about whether we catch Bin Laden and $25 million certainly isn't enough to change their priorities. But $1 billion would make a difference to nations like Pakistan and perhaps motivate them to search seriously for our main enemy.

President Bush is reportedly ready to announce major new initiatives at his Republican Convention. A billion dollar Bin Laden bounty would make for the perfect convention proposal since it fuses Bush's dedication to tracking down the 9/11 instigator with a Republican faith in the free markets.

James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is a Republican Candidate for the Massachusetts State Senate.

Editor's note: For other articles proposing free market solutions to practical problems see:

An Anti-Terrorism Defense Fund

Doing Well Against Spam By Taking Revenge

Markets Reward Eco-Terror. So Lets Fix Them.

Airport Security


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