The death you predict may be your own - Clay Wilson

At first I was a little concerned, because I thought I was agreeing with Hillary Clinton.

Having not been totally subverted by the liberal media, I have retained enough conservatism to be disturbed by that idea. But at first glance there seemed to be no way around it.

According to a recent Associated Press article, Ms. Clinton said she was "appalled" that the Pentagon wanted to establish "a futures market in death."

Apparently the Pentagon, in the form of DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), was planning a "market" that would operate on predictions about the Middle East and other hotspots.

The market would have allowed traders to "bet" on whether there would be a specific event in the Middle East n such as the assassination of a certain leader or overthrow of a certain regime.

Those who bet correctly would collect the money invested by those who predicted wrongly.

According to the article, the market would have been similar to current energy markets in which traders bet on the future price of oil.

The Pentagon's rationale behind the program was that increased activity in the market can be used to predict terrorists, the article said.

"Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results," the AP quoted a Pentagon statement. "They are often better than expert opinions."

I must say that upon first reading the article, I, too, was disturbed by the idea of "betting" on disaster. I know that people prospering from others' misery goes on all the time in a thousand guises, but seldom is it so blatant.

Imagine, for instance, that someone had invested on the possibility that a car bombing would occur in Jerusalem soon (although, unfortunately, only foolish oddsmakers would offer that scenario).

Then if a car bombing did occur, what kind of person could actually rejoice in the windfall reaped from the grim projection? Again, I'm sure there are thousands who could, but I hope I'm not sharing personal space with them.

Upon further consideration, though, I've come to think that, however macabre it may seem, odds are such a system would work in predicting terrorist attacks.

Because odds are there are people who are stupid enough to make investments based on inside knowledge they have of upcoming events. (The Pentagon's Web site said that government agencies would not have access to traders' identities.)

If the CEOs of economic empires aren't afraid of tipping the market when they have inside information, who's to say that terrorists or the friends to whom they've carelessly boasted wouldn't do the same?

As DARPA is quoted in the story, ""The rapid reaction of markets to knowledge held by only a few participants may provide an early warning system to avoid surprise."

As it turns out, the moral and ethical ramifications of investing in catastrophe may be moot.

According to the article, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced that he and the program's director had agreed that it should be discontinued following an outcry from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

That certainly doesn't hurt my feelings. The market may have been yet another tool in the "War Against Terror," but it still seems pretty inappropriate.

After all, greed, money and death already interact all too often in this world. Maybe we shouldn't be creating new opportunities for their mingling.

Clay Wilson is the education and public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.