I’ve just read New York Magazine’s fascinating feature, “What if 9/11 Never Happened?” In it, a number of people were asked to imagine that different world in which four planes were not commandeered by hijackers and sent on their deadly journeys. Of course, speculating about counterfactual history (the technical term for “what if?”) tells us nothing about history. Mostly, it tells us about the psychology of the author - their perspective on events, their understanding of what matters, their personal quirks.
I tend to agree with the writers in the piece who imagine a world not terribly different from the one we are in – different details, but shaped by social, political, and economic forces into more-or-less the same place we are now. Most of the writers who talk about politics in their piece assume that Bush would not have gotten a second term, or alternately, that his bullhorn moment would have taken place in New Orleans, not New York. Maybe, there’s no knowing. It is entirely possible, as Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic suggests, that without 9/11, there would have been 9/12, or some other date, that bin Ladin really was determined to attack within the U.S., and September 11, 2006 would be different only in that the five year anniversary would still be a few weeks, months, or a year or two away.
For me, the most surprising piece came from real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller:
September 11 prompted this housing boom. Just before 9/11 we were in a recession; housing prices began to fall and volume really dropped off. We would have seen a continuation of a slide throughout much of the next two years. A run-up occurred as the result of the Fed’s post-9/11 action to drop interest rates, which led to a sharp decrease in mortgage rates. It’s that decrease that ultimately led to the price appreciation we’ve seen.I was stunned at the parochrialism, but then I thought, no, this is no different from Thomas Friedman’s piece obsessing about China – these essays are about the personal focus of each author, not about history. And, this is New York Maganize – in New York, what 9/11 did to the real estate market is very important to a lot of people.
Notably, only Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant, makes the obvious statement – 3000 people would still be alive.