David R. Henderson  

The Only Good News about the Fed's Stealing $75,000 in Cash

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My Failed Gotcha... The Fed shouldn't reason from ...

On Tuesday, Lisa Farbstein, an employee of the Transportation Security Administration, tweeted a photo of a bag containing $75,000 in cash and said:

If you had $75,000, is this how you'd transport it? Just asking. TSA @ #RIC spotted this traveller's preferred method.

(RIC stands for Richmond International Airport in Richmond, VA.) Happy Independence Day to you too, Lisa.

She apparently saw nothing wrong with bragging about the fact that the TSA wanted to publicize this photo. It gets worse. The federal government stole the money without filing any charges against the owner.

So where's the good news? There's one small piece and one big piece. The small piece is the Twitter storm (and here) that came at Lisa for bragging about what she should have been ashamed of.

The big piece? The TSA now admits that it will cooperate with the rest of the government in stealing your stuff. I know that if I were carrying things that are vulnerable to theft, I would appreciate it if the thieves, or their spokespeople, warned me about where they are and what they will do. Thanks, Lisa.

By the way, here, according to this puff piece, is what Lisa thinks TSA does: "We help ensure people's freedom of movement." Calling George Orwell.


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COMMENTS (18 to date)
The Original CC writes:
what Lisa thinks TSA does: "We help ensure people's freedom of movement." Calling George Orwell.

Holy cow. DH, I think one of your commenters a while back once suggested that TSA stnads for "To Serve Americans". (As in the Twilight Zone episode.)

I'm starting to think that we should have t-shirts made.

David R. Henderson writes:

@The Original CC,
Holy cow. DH, I think one of your commenters a while back once suggested that TSA stands for "To Serve Americans". (As in the Twilight Zone episode.)
Good one.
I'm starting to think that we should have t-shirts made.
Hmmm. Interesting idea.

Chris Wegener writes:

No matter how much you hate the TSA, and many people have been inconvenienced by airport security before and after 9/11 your ire is misplaced.

The issue is there are people who try to destroy airplanes and their passengers in flight either by bombs, hijacking or direct assault. Until that ends we need some form of screening.

Chris Wegener writes:

The issue of federal confiscation of money and goods through extra legal means without charges is spread equally through federal and state law enforcement and far and away impoverishes the poor and is slow percolating into the national consciousnesses.

foosion writes:

The issue is there are people who try to destroy airplanes and their passengers in flight either by bombs, hijacking or direct assault. Until that ends we need some form of screening.

The problems include that the TSA is no more effective than pre 9/11 screening, while causing many people to drive instead of flying. Given that flying is safer, more people die. TSA screening has vast costs, both in terms of dollars and hours wasted. What prevents hijackings, etc. today is hardened cockpit doors and passenger reactions, not the TSA.

Why do we need to spend vast amounts to prevent airplane problems, yet don't spend anywhere near as much to prevent deaths from other causes? Why is dying in an airplane so much worse than dying in a car, by disease or by almost any other cause?

Jesse writes:

Chris says:

The issue is there are people who try to destroy airplanes and their passengers in flight either by bombs, hijacking or direct assault. Until that ends we need some form of screening.

And when a bad cop beats or tases an unthreatening, subdued and compliant suspect, the issue there is people speeding.

ColoComment writes:

"The issue is there are people who try to destroy airplanes and their passengers in flight either by bombs, hijacking or direct assault. Until that ends we need some form of screening."

As foosion notes, TSA is pretty ineffectual for the extra time, massive inconvenience, and billions of dollars of cost. And, there is no way that passengers will ever again allow another plane to be used as a weapon.

PS: if I were a terrorist, I'd simply wear my suicide vest into the terminal, and standing in the most dense area of the security screening lines, pull the ripcord. You don't have to board a plane to do terrorist acts. (Were that to happen, TSA would probably have us all stripping naked out in the parking lots. Heh.)

Andrew_FL writes:

@Chris Wegener-There are terrorists, sure, but how do you know they are targeting airplanes? You state that as if it were a matter of known fact. Given the recent reports on the effectiveness of TSA screening and the lack of aviation related terrorist attacks, it seems to me that terrorists have moved on from attacking airplanes.

Phil writes:

This story is even more atrocious. $11,000 taken by government agents from a student who was never charged with a crime, and now 13 different agencies are claiming a piece of the take.

Incentives matter.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Phil,
I’m not sure it’s worse, because we don’t know anything about the person carrying the $75K. But it’s really bad, I’ll agree. If someone put a fund together for the kid, I would donate $50. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice, one of the 4 charities to which I donate every year, is taking his case.

Methinks writes:

@Chris

The problem is that you can (apparently) easily get a nuclear warhead past a TSA agent.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/investigation-breaches-us-airports-allowed-weapons-through-n367851

But few TSA agents will let your iPad, jewelry or cash slip through their sticky fingers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/tsa-thefts/

I'm not sure how any of that protects us from terrorists .

NZ writes:

I'm continually blown away by how Joe Biden's name NEVER comes up in civil asset forfeiture stories like this.

Joe Biden was instrumental in getting CAF into the center front pocket of the War on Drugs toolkit.

Only Radley Balko seems to have made the connection, but he hasn't written about it in a while (at least since 2013 if a quick Google search is accurate). These stories have been out long enough by now that he could have.

ThomasH writes:

I know it's fun to complain about TSA but why not just think about this like a Liberal and apply some economic analysis. Keeping airplanes from getting blown up by a terrorist or anyone else is a valuable service. Neither passengers nor airlines like having it happen. But Holy Cow, is the market failure that justifies having the government intervene in this market? And if if there is one, why is having a government agency perform this service the first best response to that failure?

My guess is that if we did not have TSA, airports and the companies that fly out of them would come of with ways each though best to do the job. They would have an incentive to find lower cost and more effective ways of performing the service. There might be a role for the federal government to regulate this like it does meatpacking with inspections that insure than not more than x/billion weapons and explosives are smuggled aboard planes although just requiring pubic audits might do as well.

So many public policy problem result from the failure to do cost benefit analysis of proposed actions!

[comment language revised with commenter's permission--Econlib Ed.]

Mike W writes:

How is TSA different from the US Postal Service or Amtrak in its waste? They're not really intended to be efficient...they're jobs programs.

ThomasH writes:

Speak for yourself, Mike, I rather appreciate cheap, reliable mail delivery.

I'm all for giving the USPS more flexibility to set prices and reduce unnecessary costs, (and anyone who wants it the freedom to compete for "first class mail" delivery) but even with the inefficiencies, the ability to reliably deliver a check or an invoice for $0.47 is pretty remarkable by international standards. Maybe you have never lived anywhere that does not have mail delivery.

Phil writes:

David replied,

@Phil,
I’m not sure it’s worse, because we don’t know anything about the person carrying the $75K.

What I found particularly troubling about the second story was the revelation of the mechanism for doling out the money to the law enforcement agencies. Thirteen agencies are attempting to get part this kid's money, when most had nothing to do with the arrest. That apparatus needs to be dismantled -- or some semblance of due process added to check that power -- else we will be reading many more similar stories.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Now all this "civil forfeiture" occurs under the "color" of law provided by statute - enacted by Congress.

Can Congress correct this - yes.

Will they - no.

Why not? The Mancur Olson thesis applies.

Methinks writes:

@ThomasH

re:"Keeping airplanes from getting blown up by a terrorist or anyone else is a valuable service."

The probability of dying in an airline terrorist attack even with the old non-TSA, anti-shampoo security extravaganza was around 1 in 25 million. That's a number that is not significantly different from zero. So, how valuable a service is the TSA really providing?

To reduce that near-zero probability to something slightly closer to zero, we suffer the TSA and its abuses. Worse, the TSA seems to be so over-focused on the low-hanging fruit of your 4 oz. body lotion and items in your luggage TSA workers might possibly yearn to add to their personal collections, that when tested they let sail on through 95% of real weapons.

I agree with you that private security measures will likely be much better, but not if they're regulated by the government. Regulation is a top-down mechanism that prevents better methods from emerging because they both kill the feedback loop and the ability to experiment. Nominal private ownership with government control will only produce what it produces in all industries subject to such a model and that'll be something pretty close to the TSA. Though, simply randomly testing the existing security systems, as you suggest, is not regulation and is probably a good idea.

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