Saturday, November 27, 2010


I recently came across this provocative post from Tyler Cowen who seems like the only person who is defending the recent changes to our airport security.

This quote makes the most sense to me:

"Hovering in the background is the reality that a few successful downings will kill many people and furthermore probably wipe out the insurance market and thus lead to nationalization of the airlines. It's not clear what the freedom-enhancing path looks like and there is no default setting of market accountability. It's 'elephant interventions' all the way down."

and this one:

"The funny thing is this: when Americans insist on total liberty against external molestation, it motivates both good responses and bad ones. It supports a libertarian desire for freedom against government abuse, but the same sentiments generate a lot of anti-liberal policies when it comes to immigration, foreign policy, torture, rendition, attitudes toward Muslims, executive power, and most generally treatment of 'others.' An insistence on zero molestation, zero risk, isn't as pro-liberty as it appears in the isolated context of pat-downs. It leads us to impose a lot of costs on others, usually without thinking much about their rights."

and finally:

"The issue reminds me of the taxation and spending debates; many Americans want low taxes and high government spending, forever. For airline security, at times we want to treat it as a matter of mere law enforcement, to be handled by others, and one which should not inconvenience our daily lives or infringe on our rights. At the same time, so many Americans view airline security as a vital matter of foreign policy and indeed as part of a war. We own and promote this view and yet we are outraged when asked to behave as one might be expected to in a theater of war."

Another example how Americans want their cake and eat it too.

By the way here Megan McArdle links a video about TSA going over the top harassing a lady who refuses to send her breast milk through a scanner.

But if our airlines are truly one of the fronts on the war on terror, these kinds of overreaches are possible. Its hard to imagine that this kind of activity helps our national security. But, to me, its not hard to imagine when we give an organization the thankless job of preventing a terrorist from bringing down a plane (they are blamed when they fail, no one notices when they succeed), abuse is surely possible.


Sean Elcock said...

In this case, I think the commenters to Cowen's post have better points than Cowen himself.

He banters between several points, basically making the central point that liberty from naked scans and "molestation" pat-downs also involves other costs. He seems to completely ignore the additional costs (financial and otherwise) brought on by the TSA policies.

tempe turley said...

Sean, I don't think Tyler is expressing an opinion either way, I just think the points he does make are worth considering.

I remember when Napolitano said, in the case of the underwear bomber, that things worked because private citizens stopped the bomber, she was scorned for the comment.

I'm definitely not defending the scanner, I'm just recognizing the fact that the TSA has a pretty thankless job.

And I'm not sure what the liberty enhancing route is especially if you consider that if we are too lax on security and 2 or 3 downed planes occur, it would basically force a nationalization of the airline industry ( a point I hadn't considered before).

So, if we are ok with the risks of terrorist attacks as an exchange for government to get off our backs, we have to live with the consequences of terrorist attacks (havoc to our markets).

But in general, if we say that we want the government to guarantee that we will never have anything close to another 9/11 again, but in the same breadth we also want no inconveniences or intrusion, (which seems to me to be what the public generally seems to be saying), it seems a little contradictory to me.

That point is the one that resonated with me, more than whether or not scanners or intrusive body searches were a good idea.