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Terror Futures Are Not Immoral

Terror futures markets have been proposed (and rejected). The idea is to use a dedicated futures market to forecast political and terrorist events. One objection is that the market could be manipulated by the evil-doers themselves. Specifically, they could trade on predictions they know are false; this would be costly but could erode the predictive power of the market. Alternatively, they could make accurate predictions to finance their own activities (but this would also improve market predictions). These are valid concerns but it seems likely that a small and specialized market could be well monitored for such schemes. It should also be noted that the terrorists already have viable alternatives that are harder to trace (short-selling on the conventional market).

Be that as it may, the point of this letter is not to establish how effective these markets would be in practice. I write to refute the main argument of The Tech editorial (Aug. 28, majority view), which categorically states that terror markets should not be used because “It is immoral to gain a profit or advantage in life based on the death of a fellow man.” Gunslingers and assassins behold! And funeral directors, coroners, and crisis counselors, you are immoral too!

This is not right. Clearly, we must distinguish between those who gain profit by causing the death of their fellow man (they are indeed immoral), and those who gain profit by successfully alleviating the suffering (they are not).

A terror futures market falls into the second category. Traders would make money by accurately forecasting terrible events; thereby reducing the evil by helping the rest of us to be better prepared. They are no more immoral than the analyst who gets paid to do such forecasts today, or the coroner in the previous example.

The editorial rhetorically questions if this technology “...would help enough to outweigh its immorality.” My response echoes that of the insightful editorial dissenting view: if it does any help at all, then it is worth using! I challenge the editorial majority to answer the question they have brought up themselves. How many prevented/mitigated attacks or saved lives would it take for the editorial majority to overcome its “moral” objections?

The position presented by The Tech editorial is popular and politically correct, but it is not logically coherent. If terror analysts and coroners are not immoral, then neither are terror futures. I’ll wager the board majority will find it difficult to explain why they are different!

Tor Schoenmeyr