An absolutely incredible and little-noted essay last week in the Wall Street Journal - Understanding the Terror Threat by Paul Campos – should be required reading for anyone in a position of authority in this great country of ours.
Campos main point: - in both business and politics we have become a nation of “irrational cowards," and of Chicken Little "sky is falling" doomsdayers.
And in so doing, we have done a grave dishonor to the sacred heritage of our country. A country built by risk-taking immigrants, by pioneers and action-driven leaders like George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King.
Campos makes his point via citing the actual statistical probability of being a victim of an act of terrorism:
• In the decade of the 2000's, only one out of approximately 25 million passengers was killed in a terror attack aboard an American commercial airliner (all on 9/11)
• To put this in perspective, a person has about a one in 500,000 chance each year of being struck by lightning.
• Deaths from terrorism on airlines were at least five times less common in the 2000s than in any decade from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Campos does point to the one exception in the back of everyone's mind - the threat of nuclear terrorism. He agrees that this is a statistically real serious threat to which an intense, global policy response is very warranted.
Beyond this, though? Fuggedaboutit! The probability of any of us being the victim of a "terrorist attack" is for all practical purposes zero.
Now the pure flip side of fretting over terrorism is, as Teddy Roosevelt so famously said, is to be “in the arena,” to be a "doer of deeds" and to spend oneself in a worthy cause.
And in 21st Century America, it is our nation’s entrepreneurs who are most purely in the arena. It is they that are most courageously pursuing the opportunities that make America fly and thrive.
And you know what else? In terms of public perception, entrepreneurs suffer the opposite problem from terrorists. People think the odds of bad things happening to them (failure, bankruptcy, etc.) are worse than they really are.
For example, while most people think that 9 out of 10 businesses fail within one year, the real statistic is that only 1 out of 2 actually do.
Or while the media portrayal of entrepreneurs and small business is usually one of too much work and too little reward, less reported is how on almost all career satisfaction rankings being an entrepreneur ranks at the top of the list.
Or my favorite – most people consider investing in start-ups and small companies as the riskiest class of equity investing out there. This is anecdotally true but by no means collectively true.
As I pointed out in a recent blog post, over the past 10 years early-stage private company investing was the ONLY asset class other than gold to outpace inflation.
My favorite line from Mr. Campos' essay - Cowardice is among the most shameful of vices.
Washington and Roosevelt and King (to say nothing of the Wright Brothers) would turn over in their graves at the sight and sounds of the irrational fear-mongering that passes as public discourse in this great country of ours.
His advice and mine: Fight back.
In ways large and small, a good place to start is by learning the real odds.
And when you do, you will sleep easier on that next red-eye to JFK.