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Free Market Security

An article in VOX makes the case that the TSA should be abolished. Their point? There is no evidence that the TSA makes us any safer. None. And there is plenty of evidence that the time and money we spend on security theater damages our country far more than terrorism could ever hope to do.

But what I found especially interesting is near the end of the article. They propose making airport security be the responsibility of the airline. That way, some airlines could provide tougher security for those people who want it, and other airlines could provide more casual security, for those people who would rather trade a little security for convenience and personal dignity. It would also allow us to determine what security measures actually help prevent terrorist acts, and which ones are a complete waste of time (e.g., checking liquids and nail clippers).

Personally, I think airport security has always been a waste of time. It was originally implemented in the wake of a rash of airplane highjacking, but what reduced the incidence of highjacking was Cuba throwing highjackers in jail.

I think it would do more to prevent terrorism if we would stop killing random civilians using drones.



  1. Michael wrote:

    This is the second time I’ve encountered Dylan Matthews, and I can’t help but walk away feeling he’s an aspiring Libertarian hack.

    For the present issue, I have one word: externalities. On the rare chance where someone IS able to hijack a no-screening airline, they pose a threat to more people than just those aboard the plane. In essence, the no-screening airline would be imposing costs on third parties that have nothing to do with their airline. It’s always funny how free market zealots ignore such a fundamental economic concept.

    Sure, TSA is a joke and it’s all security theater. Behavior profiling is very promising and probably the most effective tool overall, but it’s certainly not perfect. And reinforcing cockpit doors has been a HUGE step, as well. The plain truth is that we don’t know how to eliminate the risk of terrorism, so we either have to go overboard or live with a certain amount of risk. The problem is that almost no one is able to think rationally about risk. That’s not just a generalization, there’s a significant amount of social science research that backs it up: people routinely overestimate the risk of rare threats (terrorism, shark attacks, etc.) while drastically underestimating common threats (auto accidents). I just do not see a solution that is practical and politically possible.

    As for the previous time I encountered Matthews, it was in his 10-part series on WaPo called, “The Tuition is Too Damn High.” There were some good parts to it, but here was his ultimate best recommendation: “Even better would be ‘human capital contracts,’ as proposed by Milton Friedman and developed by Miguel Palacios, in which students and investors sign agreements for the former to pay a percentage of income back to the latter, who in turn provides tuition money upfront. The percentage would vary based on how much the tuition is and what the investor predicts the student will make. That’s probably the most direct method for using your future earnings to pay for tuition now.” That’s right. He is explicitly advocating indentured servitude as a solution for tuition costs.

    Friday, May 30, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  2. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Our security apparatus ie. the TSA is a classic attempt to put out fires instead of preventing them. It’s a typical bloated government waste of taxpayer money. There are some good employees who do their job well for sure, but there are too many who have no business being security.
    There are a number of airports that have “opted out” of having TSA provide security and I’m not sure what the criteria for doing so is, but all of them should consider it. My guess is they gat federal dollars in free labor. It should be the airports and airlines expense and the Fed should only be overseeing that it is performed to a set of standards.

    What I find funny is when Soldiers are deploying many times they use commercial airlines to transport them. They all carry weapons and store them on the floor next to their seat. They’re also allowed to carry large knives, Gerber type tools, and other assorted equipment of war. But, when they are traveling domestically (not in route to a war zone) they aren’t allowed to have nail clippers or a pocket knife.

    I’ll go out on a limb here, but I believe if you asked domestic air travelers if they’d feel safer having gone through TSA or having no TSA, but half dozen Soldiers on their flight with their weapons the answer would be a no brainer. Incidentally, unless on official duty business they don’t even want us to wear uniforms like we’d typically do when en-route to a training event or class.

    I completely agree IK

    Friday, May 30, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink
  3. il-08 wrote:

    Patriotsgt, what airports have opted out of TSA? That sounds like a good idea.

    Very few things in life piss me off more that the way your treated at airport security. Its a disgrace.

    Friday, May 30, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  4. PatriotSGT wrote:

    IL-08 there are currently 18 Airports who have opted out. Here is a link to TSA that explains the program.

    Friday, May 30, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  5. westomoon wrote:

    Reading the article at the link, it struck me that Matthews was being awfully kind in not mentioning the substantial number of crimes committed by TSA personnel. I only knew there had been issues, so I searched it.

    Wow! It’s a far more disorderly crowd than I realized. There’s a good summary on Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s study of this at . And just run a quick search yourself on “TSA screeners crime” to get all the local news stories about them — pretty startling stuff.

    Friday, May 30, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  6. Jon wrote:

    Ah, but the TSA employs people who might otherwise not be employable, in jobs where they are not a danger to themselves or others, and are closely supervised… GREAT for the economy!

    Friday, May 30, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  7. ebdoug wrote:

    -Remember after 9-11, Bin Laden said “We accomplished our goal.” Instilling fear in the US.

    Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink
  8. westomoon wrote:

    Ah, but Jon, they are a danger to others in their TSA jobs. And the only way to avoid the danger they pose is either to be rich (no TSA for private flyers) or not to fly.

    Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  9. FB Gold Digger Revie wrote:

    Ah, but the TSA employs people who might otherwise not be employable, in jobs where they are not a danger to themselves or others, and are closely supervised… GREAT for the economy!

    Monday, June 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  10. Don in Waco wrote:

    Oh good grief, there must be at least 10 categorical targets for terrorist attack that would be easy pickings, especially when compared to commercial passenger airplanes. That being said, I’m so glad I don’t have to fly travel anymore.

    Friday, June 13, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink