No one is admitting to any hard numbers right now, but it looks like Pope Francis’s visit to the United States may be costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in security alone. That’s a conservative estimate. That doesn’t count the cost of lost commerce to small businesses in impacted “security zones” and the massive opportunity costs involved with the shutting down of roads and highways for security purposes.
Private funding will cover some of it, but much of it will be funded by federal tax money:
Because the visit is designated a national special security event by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, some security funding is expected to be provided through federal grants from the department as well as the U.S. State Department.
Highway shutdowns, snipers on roofs, and bomb-sniffing dogs taking over a city center are nothing new for us, though. Americans have become accustomed to highways being shut down and everything forced to a standstill when a President is in town. Heck, even presidential candidates can shut a highway down as they travel around campaigning. Americans seem depressingly tolerant of these physical manifestations of the fact that ordinary people don’t matter when the safety of a member of the ruling class is at stake.
But this Papal visit tops even the usual spending, according to one Secret Service agent who called the preparations “one of the largest security programs for an individual in U.S. history.”
Unlike Presidents, however, Popes exercise approximately zero power over the average American, and Francis’s assassination would have no effect on anyone’s military capabilities. He has no nukes. He’s also 78 years old and could die of natural causes at any time. Dozens of popes over time have been murdered. There’s a well established process for electing a new one. So, it’s hard to see how so much security can be defended.
But, in many ways, the current security theater is just humdrum special interest politics. American security agencies, which are massively over-funded and brimming with new weapons and vehicles, are ecstatic at the chance to show off their toys in a “real life” setting. They’ll spare no expense (i.e., taxpayer loot) on drills and “precautions” to show off just how essential they are. It’s a police state field day.
And even better, it’s a great way to earn some overtime and pad your already generous salary if you’re a law enforcement officer. So, there will be no lack of volunteers for those coveted sniper positions on every roof top. New York City spent $100,000 on police overtime alone, when Obama visited the city.
Since the Pope is an international celebrity his visit also offers prestige for the political classes of Philadelphia and DC and New York, where Francis will be visiting this time. And those political classes will be claiming that all the expense will be “worth it” because the visit somehow will be a big economic shot in the arm for local businesses.
It’s the same principal at work as when politicians claim that big sporting events will be a big plus for local economies. The problem, of course, is that such a claim is demonstrably false. There is no evidence at all that big events such as these produce a net economic gain for the local economy, and these mega-events can be demonstrated to have big negatives for the businesses that are unfortunate enough to be located near the big shows.
Moreover, in this case, what few economic benefits can be measured are likely to be even lower in this case than in the case of other large events. People who go to papal events spend less and have less money than, say, someone who goes to a political convention or a Super Bowl.
So, DC and Philly and NY are just burning taxpayer money with no net benefit.
If the Pope can’t travel without incurring huge crowd control and security costs, then he should stop traveling. The Globe-Trotting Pope is a 20th-century invention — as is the Celebrity Pope phenomenon — and has nothing to do with the actual practice of Catholicism.
Of course, we should apply the same principal to Presidents as well. They too should stay in their little DC security zones for the duration of their terms and leave the rest of us free to go about our daily business in our home cities.10:43 am on September 22, 2015 Email Ryan McMaken