1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/14740/the-tsa-and-the-economics-of-institutions/

The TSA and the Economics of Institutions

November 23, 2010 by

At the suggestion of an editor, I wrote a sequel to last week’s proposal to abolish the TSA (and I just published a third piece for your reading pleasure while you’re passing the time in an airport security line). Tyler Cowen offers a cool-headed and dispassionate analysis, noting (correctly) that there are probably more important challenges to our liberty and our safety than the TSA. I don’t expect a solution to emerge magically, but I view the furor over the TSA as an opportunity to introduce good ideas into the discussion and move the proverbial ball forward. At the margin, the TSA matters.

My back-of-the-envelope theory of social change includes the proposition that people are generally moved to consider one set of ideas when they encounter a very vivid set of complementary ideas. If people are mad about being groped on their way through airport security, then perhaps they will start to ask why we aren’t allowed to bring liquids on flights or why we have to take our shoes off when we go through scanners. Or why we have a TSA (or a state) to begin with.

I hope this also leads to new research questions. As I’ve mentioned before, Chris Coyne and I are working on a couple of papers in which we are arguing, essentially, that there should be a free market for institutional constraints and a free market for enforcement of those constraints using the Memphis Riot of 1866 as our setting (here is the first paper). One of the points emerging from our research is that the interaction between government control and private control really matters, even for nominally free competition. In Memphis, there was vigorous competition among black and Irish draymen at the docks. The docks were under government control, which introduced uncertainty into who had rights to offer draying services near the docks. In addition, political control of violence meant that some people could inflict enormous costs on others at minimal costs to themselves.

The application to airport security is straightforward. Since the government ostensibly owns the friendly skies and since airports are government-owned, the market’s search process has not been allowed to operate. The divergence between market incentives and political incentives along numerous margins distorts economic calculation.

I don’t expect any major changes right now and would be very surprised if the TSA ceded much ground, but I think that at the margin–and with apologies to Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok–we are taking small steps toward a much better world.


Phinn November 23, 2010 at 10:12 pm

FTA:“have Americans shift to a more European attitude on nude bodies”

Yeah, let’s get right on that. While we’re at it, let’s adopt a more European attitude toward hygiene, dental care, perpetual graduate school and the support of dictators.

Tyler Cowen lost me a long time ago, but even if he hadn’t, he would have lost me with childish crap like this.

Beefcake the Mighty November 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm

“Tyler Cowen offers a cool-headed and dispassionate analysis, noting (correctly) that there are probably more important challenges to our liberty and our safety than the TSA. ”

I assume you mean by this that he puts forth his usual sophistry that is designed primarily to make himself look really clever while staying safely within the bounds of acceptable opinion on the matter? Thus a court intellectual maintains his (self-cultivated) reputation as an “original thinker.” At least his comments here aren’t as thoroughly ignorant (really dishonest) as when he attempts to assure his readers at the New York Times that there’s really nothing about Austrian Business Cycle Theory that they need acquaint themselves with.

I see Pete Boettke isn’t the only Austrian who’s drinken the Kool-Aid when it comes to Tyler Cowen.

Beefcake the Mighty November 24, 2010 at 10:11 am

Anyone who doubts that Tyler is a tool should consider his comments here:


Here’s a gem that pretty much sums him up:

“I view 1929-1932 as a better illustration of the workings of “a world without a Fed” than “a world with a Fed,” even though of course we had a Fed then. ”

Good comments from Tabarrok:


Bogart November 23, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Tyler Cowen speaks as if the purpose of the scanners and pat downs is to provide security or keep people with bombs in their underwear off of an airplane. I maintain that the purpose of these machines is to force people to obediently subject themselves to humiliation and danger from radiation. The fact that the TSA has intercepted exactly ZERO terrorists in is existence should be proof that there are more nefarious intentions behind what the TSA is doing.And look at what the head of the DHS has said that she wants to keep ahead of the terrorists and bring these devices and procedures into ports, bus stations and train stations.

So my opinion is that what could be more important in the advancement of freedom other than to rid the country of this sick procedure. Think of how people feel who have medical devices and the like hidden under their clothes and get subjected to searches of these things.

Matthew Alexander November 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Even mroe telling than the fact that they have caught no terrorists, is that they have diverted none either. There simply aren’t any terrorists out there with the desire and ability to attack us.

guard November 23, 2010 at 11:56 pm

One of the next logical steps toward totalitarian government is the control of travel. Considering the historical record, conspiracy should not be called a theory anymore. It should be called a law.: government will inevitably increase control of the populace until it destroys itself.

Ohhh Henry November 24, 2010 at 12:09 am

“cool headed and dispassionate” ???

Maybe you think so, but I call it equivocating, say-nothing, know-nothing drivel. Tyler Cowen has nothing intelligent to say about this or (apparently) anything else. For example:

… There’s even an available status attitude where you don’t mind or notice the scans, much as the King allowed himself to be dressed and handled by commoners. That’s the intelligent argument for the current shift in policy. Maybe the enhanced scans simply aren’t useful or maybe Americans can’t or won’t shift their norms. Those would be reasons not to do it (and I am not pronouncing a definitive opinion here) but it’s simply not, in principle, that objectionable of a policy …

I’m not pronouncing a definitive opinion here, but Cowen is a tool. The king allowed himself to be dressed by commoners because they were his employees. He could fire them or have them imprisoned or even executed if they got too familiar. They didn’t feel up one hundred different people before dressing the king with the same filthy, disease-spreading pair of gloves. They couldn’t arrest and fine the king if he decided he didn’t want to be groped. They didn’t leer at naked pictures of the king’s wife and children from the privacy of locked rooms, and even if they could do so, they wouldn’t get away with telling the king outrageous lies about not being able to save, print, publish or share the pictures.

Robert November 24, 2010 at 2:01 am

I don’t understand your view of Tyler Cowen at all. I clicked the link you provided to read what he had to say. He seems like one of the most negative influences there is for liberty. He is both anti-liberty and intelligent enough to convince people on the margin that it is better to adopt a European attitude towards nudity than get upset about losing the right to privacy or being the victim of unreasonable search and seizure.

Robert November 24, 2010 at 2:08 am

Wow I just finished reading all of your articles at forbes.com on the TSA topic. Holy cow you have done a fantastic job! Just wanted to mention that and not simply focus on my mini-rant for praising Cowen’s take on the matter.

pussum207 November 25, 2010 at 4:38 pm

“Tyler Cowen offers a cool-headed and dispassionate analysis, noting (correctly) that there are probably more important challenges to our liberty and our safety than the TSA.”Given the sheer scale and breadth of the assault on individual liberty, I would not doubt that there are many very important challenges to our liberty. Some of these may be as important as the TSA procedures and some may well restrict the scope of our freedom of action to a greater degree.However, the singular importance of the TSA procedures lies in two very profound things: a) we are required to either submit ourselves for approval of the gatekeepers unclothed (in effect, via the scanners) or to submit to a physical invasive search, and b) it is widely agreed that the search is “theatre” and adds nothing to our safety. In fact, by diverting resources away from activities that may actually be effective in ensuring safety, the TSA is reducing our safety.The symbolic importance of a) simply cannot be overstated. It is a horrific invasion of our personal inviolability. It is a dehumanizing and shocking display. The facts that i) we must submit ourselves in this way to low level functionaries and stand idly by while our spouses and children are subjected to the same treatment, and ii) the TSA proceduers serve no valid security purpose, make the humiliation complete.How any lover of liberty can view this matter coolly and dispassionately is beyond me.Adding to the threat to our liberty is the fact that we are by and large, acquiesing to this appalling intrusion of the state. The message we are sending is that no matter how humiliating, intrusive and pointless the rule, we will comply.Is there anything more dangerous than a government that recognizes that it has a docile populace, inured to arbitrary rules?I wonder what would happen if everyone in the US just stopped flying for two or three weeks?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: