The Blue Menace

 

Pasted image at 2016_01_06 12_47 PMThe passengers on United 93 removed a major threat to our national security: The potential for commercial aircraft to be transformed into missiles against specific targets. The remaining threat — largely from explosives — is real, but basically limited to the crew, passengers, and people immediately below them. Though nothing to scoff at, the risk to airplanes is no more grave than the risk to other potential targets.

Which rather makes one wonder why we continue to tolerate the existence of the Transportation Security Administration, especially given the risks to liberty it poses. As the Cato Daily Podcast notes, the TSA is now contemplating turning away passengers from states that don’t comply with the Real ID Act,* making it harder to opt out of body scanners. The agency is increasingly the spearhead of the movement to make domestic travel a privilege that can be granted and revoked at the whim of the federal government.

Of course, one could argue that the same is true of our highways, the use of which is conditional upon our education, licensing, and registration. But the analogy breaks down quickly. At least until recently, if you displayed a valid license plate and stayed within the confines of your lane and the law, that was generally enough for you to go about your business at liberty. In other words, travel by automobile still functions largely under a presumption of innocence, and most of the reasons you’d come to the attention of law enforcement relate directly to concern for others’ safety. The contrast to airline security in this regard could hardly be more pronounced.

Airline security is a serious matter. It needn’t be an affront to liberty to have some federal involvement or assistance. (Providing databases of potential terrorists seems like an obvious function, albeit one that’s been abused badly.) But the risks in a post-United 93 world largely accrue to the airlines and passengers. They should easily be able to exceed the TSA’s competency, and moreover, the airlines would have an incentive to innovate and compete against each other.

* I confess I am long overdue to form an opinion about this topic.

Published in Domestic Policy
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  1. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Bryan G. Stephens:The TSA should be eliminated. Go back to 1980’s Security. It will be fine. TSA stops nothing. Do it by executive order.

    Arm the pilots. Put two Marshals on every flight with the money saved from TSA.

    Boom.

    Or, more to the point, not-Boom.

    • #31
  2. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Not all downside.  TSA gives me the chance to sample being a Hollywood bit player.

    Every week at LaGuardia Airport I get to live inside a bad Spike Lee movie for 30 minutes.

    These men and women (particularly the men) wouldn’t last one hour working at the Au Bon Pain ten gates away.

    • #32
  3. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Jager:Wow, in a couple of days California IDs would be non-compliant with no extension of waiver. The TSA is really going to declare 30 Million citizens in a mostly democratic State that there drivers licence is no good. I don’t see it happening.

    No.  They’ll blink before it happens.

    They threaten like this every so often.  They’ve been doing it for ten years but never pulled the trigger.

    • #33
  4. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Pilli:We are coming to the point of being required to provide “papers” in order to do anything.

    That’s true.

    And its worse some g-man demands a citizen show their papers when they’re just driving down the road.

    You know, like with those internal immigration checkpoints.

    • #34
  5. American Abroad Thatcher
    American Abroad
    @AmericanAbroad

    Most of my air travel, thank goodness, is outside of the US, so I rarely deal with the TSA.  When I do, however, it is invariably unpleasant.  They are petty little tyrants who have inconsistent rules.  It is a national embarrassment.

    It is quite common for my non-American friends to return from a trip to the States and complain about the TSA.  Their final memories of the “Land of the Free” is to be yelled at by some two-bit cop wannabe, pumped with radiation and photographed naked, and then touched all over by some greasy agent.  It is shameful.

    • #35
  6. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Fat, drunk, and being a TSA agent is no way to go through life, son.

    • #36
  7. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    That a federal agency is allowed to act the way the TSA does is an outrage. That Congress allows Them to get away with this shows the disgusting failure of Republicans to act.

    • #37
  8. American Abroad Thatcher
    American Abroad
    @AmericanAbroad

    Mike LaRoche:Fat, drunk, and being a TSA agent is no way to go through life, son.

    I manage the first two quite well.  It is the third one that is the problem.

    • #38
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Fred Cole:That a federal agency is allowed to act the way the TSA does is an outrage.

    Every single government federal agency acts this way. It is just that we have more exposure to the TSA.

    • #39
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I haven’t seen much in the way of solutions amongst the critiques, so how about this:  We abolish TSA, and take our chances.  When the inevitable happens, we explain by saying “Well, that’s going to happen every now and then.  It’s the cost of freedom.”

    • #40
  11. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Hoyacon:I haven’t seen much in the way of solutions amongst the critiques, so how about this: We abolish TSA, and take our chances. When the inevitable happens, we explain by saying “Well, that’s going to happen every now and then. It’s the cost of freedom.”

    Trouble with that approach is the cost is borne disproportionately by a small segment of the population who travels a lot.  The rest of Americans are perfectly happy to say, “If it’s for safety, I’m for it.”

    • #41
  12. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Mark Wilson:

    Hoyacon:I haven’t seen much in the way of solutions amongst the critiques, so how about this: We abolish TSA, and take our chances. When the inevitable happens, we explain by saying “Well, that’s going to happen every now and then. It’s the cost of freedom.”

    Trouble with that approach is the cost is borne disproportionately by a small segment of the population who travels a lot. The rest of Americans are perfectly happy to say, “If it’s for safety, I’m for it.”

    You’re right, of course, and “the cost of freedom” would be of small comfort to the families of anyone lost in a terrorist attack on an airliner.  The point IMO is that there isn’t much in the way of an “in-between” here.  Once you go down the road of “protecting” the flying public, you get a TSA or something pretty close to it.  If you don’t want that, all bets are off, so let’s recognize it.

    • #42
  13. Rocket Surgeon Inactive
    Rocket Surgeon
    @RocketSurgeon

    It would seem that TSA has outlived its usefulness. So:

    1. Put the airlines in charge of their own security, what ever level they want.

    After all, they – the flight crew – have more to lose, are most at risk, more than anyone.

    2. Remove the legal prohibition on “profiling”.

    If they don’t like your looks, you can go on some other airline that still wants you to  remove your shoes or allows a burka. The same applies to those worrywarts that can’t accept any lesser degree of intrusive security.

    • #43
  14. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Rocket Surgeon: 1. Put the airlines in charge of their own security what ever level they want.

    Disagree.  There is no reasonable way for layman shoppers to evaluate the relative risk of various security schemes against the relative costs. I don’t think this is a situation where market forces would result in an equilibrium.

    • #44
  15. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Hoyacon:I haven’t seen much in the way of solutions amongst the critiques, so how about this: We abolish TSA, and take our chances. When the inevitable happens, we explain by saying “Well, that’s going to happen every now and then. It’s the cost of freedom.”

    Honestly, I’d vote for that.

    • #45
  16. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    Mark Wilson:

    Rocket Surgeon: 1. Put the airlines in charge of their own security what ever level they want.

    Disagree. There is no reasonable way for layman shoppers to evaluate the relative risk of various security schemes against the relative costs. I don’t think this is a situation where market forces would result in an equilibrium.

    Airline X has 3 planes blown up by terrorists in a year, Airline Y has zero.  I think the layman can figure that out.

    • #46
  17. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    I think a couple of you have it backwards.  The “cost” here isn’t the potential for a hijacked aircraft (which we can prevent with reenforced cockpit doors), but rather the cost is the damage done by the TSA.  It costs time, it costs freedom, it costs efficiency.

    • #47
  18. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Frozen Chosen:

    Mark Wilson:

    Rocket Surgeon: 1. Put the airlines in charge of their own security what ever level they want.

    Disagree. There is no reasonable way for layman shoppers to evaluate the relative risk of various security schemes against the relative costs. I don’t think this is a situation where market forces would result in an equilibrium.

    Airline X has 3 planes blown up by terrorists in a year, Airline Y has zero. I think the layman can figure that out.

    That’s precisely my point, but not in the way you intended.  There are far too many other variables to pin this on an individual airline’s security procedures.  Schedules, destinations, aircraft types, luck, current events, media coverage.  A “layman’s approach” of simply counting terrorist attacks in the news would not be anything close to an accurate risk assessment.

    • #48
  19. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Fred Cole:I think a couple of you have it backwards. The “cost” here isn’t the potential for a hijacked aircraft (which we can prevent with reenforced cockpit doors), but rather the cost is the damage done by the TSA. It costs time, it costs freedom, it costs efficiency.

    The cost I was referring to in comment #44 was the combination of airfare, fees, time, hassle, an violation of privacy/dignity for the passenger who is shopping for a ticket, comparing airlines with different security procedures.  He has no reliable way to determine how any of the particular cost increments for an airline’s security measures actually affects his level of risk.  Not to mention that the risks levels we are talking about are marginal changes to baseline risks in the range of 1 in a million to 1 in a billion, which are practically incomprehensible.  Not a problem well suited for the consumer market.

    • #49
  20. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    That’s true.  But we can measure the risk versus the cost.

    • #50
  21. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Fred Cole:That’s true. But we can measure the risk versus the cost.

    That’s an assertion I’ve already stated my disagreement with above.

    Markets work well when both buyers and sellers receive timely, accurate, and relevant feedback about quality, quantity, and price.  Feedback to which an ameliorative response is relatively straightforward.  This is sort of like a well-behaved linear system.

    But when a market system is dominated by exceptionally rare, but catastrophic and black swan events which pass out of living memory, and which involve secrecy, randomness, and luck, market-based feedback mechanisms are not effective.

    • #51
  22. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Frozen Chosen:

    Mark Wilson:

    Rocket Surgeon: 1. Put the airlines in charge of their own security what ever level they want.

    Disagree. There is no reasonable way for layman shoppers to evaluate the relative risk of various security schemes against the relative costs. I don’t think this is a situation where market forces would result in an equilibrium.

    Airline X has 3 planes blown up by terrorists in a year, Airline Y has zero. I think the layman can figure that out.

    Except maybe for some of those who were early adopters on Airline X?

    • #52
  23. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Fred Cole:I think a couple of you have it backwards. The “cost” here isn’t the potential for a hijacked aircraft (which we can prevent with reenforced cockpit doors), but rather the cost is the damage done by the TSA. It costs time, it costs freedom, it costs efficiency.

    If hijacking was the principal concern, I’d agree.  However, I don’t think hijacking is as much of an issue as explosives.  If we can rationalize an occasional airplane being blown out of the sky with a hundred or two people on board, then we can certainly be more efficient.

    • #53
  24. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    Luggage screening for explosives existed long before the TSA.

    • #54
  25. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Fred Cole: Luggage screening for explosives existed long before the TSA.

    The new screening rules we all hate are intended to find explosives being carried on: no liquids, take off shoes and belt.

    • #55
  26. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mark Wilson:Not to mention that the risks levels we are talking about are marginal changes to baseline risks in the range of 1 in a million to 1 in a billion, which are practically incomprehensible. Not a problem well suited for the consumer market.

    Hm. It bears repeating that the TSA is NOT effective. Anything the airlines drive will be better than the status quo.

    • #56
  27. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    iWe:

    Mark Wilson:Not to mention that the risks levels we are talking about are marginal changes to baseline risks in the range of 1 in a million to 1 in a billion, which are practically incomprehensible. Not a problem well suited for the consumer market.

    Hm. It bears repeating that the TSA is NOT effective. Anything the airlines drive will be better than the status quo.

    Agreed.  It’s an extremely hard problem.  I was only trying to dampen the enthusiasm to turn the private airlines loose on this, blithely assuming the free market would “fix” it.  It won’t.

    • #57
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