On Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, Stuart Hoffman, senior vice president and chief economist for the PNC Financial Services Group, will perform an act of defiance.
He will board a passenger jet at Pittsburgh International Airport and fly to Dallas to attend the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, his professional organization.
That may not seem so defiant, but to Hoffman, who was in New York 10 years earlier to attend the same meeting of the same organization at the World Trade Center, and was inside one of the doomed towers when they were struck on 9/11, it is very defiant indeed.
“In a small way that’s my act of defiance,” Hoffman told the Chronicle in an exclusive interview. “I’m not letting the fact that it’s 9/11 prevent me from boarding an airplane and flying to a conference.”
And once he’s there he will continue to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, not with another defiant gesture to al-Qaida, which launched the attacks, but by remembering.
He and other NABE members who survived the attacks will gather during the four-day meeting, he said. They will trade stories and share memories. They will support each other. They will not forget.
“Those of us who were there feel like we’re reaching out to one another in the exact same professional setting that we were in 10 years earlier,” he said. “It’s the perfect setting to do business, but also to be together to share memories and support one another.”
Hoffman arguably is one of the more high-profile individuals to survive 9/11. The Jewish Pittsburgher is frequently quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Barron’s. He is a regular guest on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, The Wall Street Journal Radio Report and NPR. The Associated Press and Reuters frequently interview him.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Hoffman was at a NABE breakfast lecture in the mezzanine of the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, which was linked to the South Tower, when the first plane hit. Hotel staff ushered the guests into the plaza. In previous interviews with other media he has recalled making his way to West Boulevard looking up and watching flames pour from the North Tower, which had just been hit by American Airlines Flight 11. He then watched as another jet, United Airlines Flight 175, struck the South Tower.
Ten years later, Hoffman is certain that the memory of 9/11 is not fading from the nation’s collective memory, and the will to resist remains.
“I don’t think the national memory has faded at all,” he said. “More important, the consequences of having adversaries with that capability or worse, that memory hasn’t faded. It [the 9/11 attacks] happened once and can happen again, and there are people out there [who] would love nothing more than to have it happen to us again.”
An economist, Hoffman sees Americans returning as much as possible to a normal pre-9/11 lifestyle — living their lives as President Bush exhorted them to do — as a way to fight back.
Economically speaking, it does appear as though America did fight back after 9/11 — soon after, in fact.
According to a 2010 study by the USC-based Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, the economic impact of 9/11 was far less than original estimates. The study concluded that the impact of the attacks ranged from $35 billion to $109 billion for GDP, or between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of the GDP — lower than previous estimates, which have ranged as high as $500 billion, or 5 percent of the annual GDP.
And Hoffman noted that Wall Street was operating again just days after the attacks, despite the disruption to lower Manhattan. Even the economy, which was in recession at the time, bounced back.
“I remember at that time thinking the growth in the fourth quarter would be decidedly negative,” he said. “It turned out it was barely negative. … We were in a recession and that deepened the recession, but it does not appear it prolonged it more than just another couple of months. … The economy rebounded in early 2002.”
All of which, like Hoffman’s decision to board a passenger jet for Dallas this Sunday, are arguably acts of defiance.
“We didn’t want to give our enemy the satisfaction of disrupting our way of life both in terms of enjoying it and the economic impact,” he said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)