David R. Henderson  

TSA's Phony Choice

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This is from an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. The "he" referred to is John Pistole. [Ayn Rand was accused of overdoing it when she used less-obvious names for villains.]

"If you have two planes, one where people are thoroughly and properly screened and the other where people could opt out of screening, which would you want to be on?" he asked.

He makes it sound as if we have a choice. That would be wonderful. If we had a choice, I would choose the latter. But Pistole is toying with us. TSA does not give us that choice. Even better, for reasons I laid out briefly here, would be to have no TSA and let airlines choose what level and kind of security to offer.

To his credit, one Southwest Airlines executive was fairly blunt about what is going on:

"With people getting partially molested at checkpoints, all that is going to be a real shock for them," said Greg Wells, senior vice president of operations at Southwest Airlines. "TSA will create an issue for us. It's going to slow things down."


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COMMENTS (20 to date)
A. writes:

I'm just afraid that another attempted terrorist attack will let them say even more top-down security is justified. Say goodbye to the airline industry as we know it.

Mark writes:

Don't just "opt out" of naked scanners only to be sexually molested/assaulted, instead. Boycott Flying COMPLETELY, until sanity returns! Please join us: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Flying/126801010710392

Joe Cushing writes:

I'm sure that somewhat smart person could still get a bomb on a plane. I just don't see how the screens help us. The terrerists have won this round. Now we have to be groped and viewd naked to fly. I'm so glad there is outrage. I wonder if federal immunity laws can really protect fegeral employees from state laws. If I were a prosecutor or above them, I would test this in state court. Using the threat of force to get sombody to submit to you touching their or their childrens' genitals ior viewinng them naked is a crime under state laws. Child porn is also illeagal.

Ben Hughes writes:

One thing to keep in mind is that tighter security at airports almost certainly costs lives *weekly* as more people substitute for transportation and take cars instead. So there isn't just a trade-off in costs of time-waste or even abstract costs of "hassle", there is a very real trade-off in human lives.

Of course this is merely one of many examples of visible vs. invisible costs.

Matt Young writes:

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Hyena writes:

I don't think the airlines are the best level of security competition. Their incentive, because an attack on one airline is an attack on the entire industry, would be to pool their security resources.

If, however, we had competitive airports security competition could be very real. People naturally associate their level of security with the airport itself, likewise any hassles they have prior to boarding. So a real airport market would create healthy security competition.

Since they lose customers for either a perceived lack of safety or unnecessary hassles, the airports would probably avoid obnoxious security theater.

tim writes:

If someone attempts to hijack a plane today - they will be pounced upon by 50 passengers. That simple and basic change in approach from what it was before 9/11 did more to increase safety on passenger jets than a million gropes will ever accomplish.

Daniel writes:

David, both your analysis and suggested solution seem off.

He wasn't making it "sound as if you had a choice". He was offering up a hypothetical. Which would you rather have? The country we have no, or anarcho-libertarian heaven in which there is no defense department? (I recall from you book, which was excellent, that your first choice is to keep DoD, taxes and all, but go anarcho- on most other things.) See? It's a hypothetical without any suggestion that there is a real choice out there.

As for your solution, it sounds like letting polluters decide how much environmental quality they (and everyone else) "choose" to enjoy.

Their pollution hurts more than just themselves. Similarly, most of the damages from 9/11 didn't fall on the passengers of the flights in question (though much of it did).

Ted writes:

I think the most disturbing part is that if you are selected for this absurd pat-down you can't even refuse - even if you agree not to go on your flight! I was actually flying just two days ago and I casually pointed that out to a friend and the TSA said that wasn't true because you could refuse, you would just have to pay a fine. I then said that it was basically mandatory since most people can't afford to pay the fine up up to $10,000 the TSA will hit you with if you refuse and leave the airport.

Then I thought of something even more stupid about that statement by the TSA agent. Let's remember that private jets are not subject to TSA screening. And guess how much it approximately costs to charter a small, private jet for a family of 3 from Chicago to New York? Some private jet companies give a quote as low as $11,000 round trip! So, in other words, if you were annoyed enough about TSA procedures and could afford the $10,000 fine - wouldn't you just charter your own jet and avoid the whole thing altogether?

Richard Hammer writes:

Private security alternatives would grow quite naturally if the government did not thrust itself into this scene. But, as I suggest in Unthinkable Airline Security, we should not expect mainstream media to describe private alternatives to the TSA's assertion of power.

It seems to me that mainstream media and the state work together in a sort of ratchet. This mechanism normally works in only one direction: growth of the state-media complex. Mainstream media promote "problems", thus setting the stage for the state to enter as a hero with "solutions".

Michael Keenan writes:

If there were low-security and high-security options for plane flights, there might be adverse selection. The high-security planes might be full of relatively timid people who don't have confidence in their ability to stop hijackers themselves. The low-security plane might be full of relatively tough people confident in their ability to overwhelm hijackers. I'd prefer to be on the plane full of badasses.

dave smith writes:

The correct choice would be between: a plane with people who had been properly screened and a plane full of those who had opted out.

Right now I can't fly with a plane full of properly screened people.

8 writes:

Every change in security happened after an incident. One guy has a show bomb, take off your shoes. An attempt to use liquids, then an underwear bomb. The TSA, like nearly all government agencies, is only concerned with not getting hit by the same attack. When a new attack comes, they will be just as surprised as everyone else and therefore not to blame.

If there was competitive security, it would turn into a race to not have any terrorist attacks. They would quickly converge on Israeli tactics and profile for terrorists. Would the government allow it?

Kurbla writes:

Daniel asked right question: if there is a bomb in the aeroplane, it is everyone's problem, not only the problem of the passengers.

From libertarian point of view I think plane owners and passengers should be seen as usurpers of the rights of the people who live or own some property under the flight routes. In ideal case, people shouldn't fly without permission of all (not just majority) of endangered individuals on land, and if the rights of those on land are already broken, stricter safety measures should be seen as "lesser evil."

From my point of view, whatever minimizes the number of deaths is justified.

MernaMoose writes:

Then, in your point of view, you'll have to ban the use of airplanes altogether.

MernaMoose writes:

btw, you'll have to ban the use of cars too.

It is always possible to imagine a scenario where some kind of horrific accident occurs.

I work in the aerospace industry and trust me, there are some vivid and creative imaginations out there. You seem prepared to hold everyone and everything hostage to these imaginations.

Every moment we're alive is a risk. Should we all kill ourselves now and get it over with?

But I doubt that's what you meant. What you meant is that we should all be happy to let the government impose anything it wishes upon all of us.

The risk isn't gone, but it sounds like, from your point of view, it's acceptable as long as the government is involved.


In my point of view, the actions of corporations and private individuals is not necessarily trustworthy. But after spending my career in an industry where government regulates each and every breath we take -- I don't trust the government either. This, in my point of view, is a proper level of distrust.

If Right and Left were ever able to acquire a proper level of distrust, the world would be a far better place. Instead, one side worships A while eschewing B, and the other eschews A while worshiping B.

Peter writes:

I have yet to figure out how they get around the child thing and am waiting for the lawsuit.

1: Child Pornography is illegal and the lay of the land of the past decade or so (especially in America) is any naked picture of a child is child pornography (to the point you won't even see artistic naked children and parents have been charged with taking pictures of their 1 year old in the bath). All these TSA screeners are not only looking at naked children but saving images of them.

2: Children can't consent to being molested

3: Parent's can't consent to their children being molested.

4: There are some caveats on that but I think all require a court order and qualified medical personnel. A cop can't check your kids genital regardless of what he thinks.

Justin writes:

Is it true TSA was professionaly trained to do pat downs? Who is providing professional training for sexual molestation and groping of children at the TSA? What are their credentials? How many years experience does the trainer have and what are his more notable accomplishments ?
How long does it take to make a TSA new hire into a professional child molester under this training course?
How are less enthusiastic molestors weeded out?

TSA ppl who hate doing pat downs, protest with us and call out sick on the 24th

Babinich writes:

I question the effectiveness of the measure as do others.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military/news/tsa-scans-security-theater-interview?click=pm_latest

David Henderson,

Are the modalities calibrated correctly? Who monitors the level of radiation emitted from these modalities?

Mr. Econotarian writes:

Last year, Al Qaeda performed a suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia with explosives and a detonator inserted rectally. This would not be found with the current full-body scan technology.

Explosives could similarly be surgically implanted.

So no, these "screening" systems are not going to make you "more safe".

Better human intelligence is going to be the only way we can truly be safer.

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