1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17028/paranoia-is-good-for-you/

Paranoia Is Good for You

May 20, 2011 by

Privacy is the single most effective means of preserving freedom against an encroaching state. FULL ARTICLE by Wendy McElroy

{ 38 comments }

Ohhh Henry May 20, 2011 at 8:58 am

A piece of interesting trivia – in England, family or surnames were imposed on people by the government for the purposes of taxation. Think of them as the earliest form of SS#. Needless to say, the main purpose of the taxes was to fund foreign wars of aggression, for example against the French and against the Islamic rulers of the Middle East. The taxes caused poverty in England, which led, step by step, to the creation of the welfare state.

Centuries later, the English imposed last names on the Irish in order to control their resistance activities. Presumably the same is true of nearly all “modern” countries. It is interesting that Iceland, traditionally one of the freest countries in the world, also has the most ambiguous surnames, being merely patronyms. I have not studied the situation but with the recent banking disaster in Iceland I assume that there is a movement toward higher taxes, tighter control and therefore less ambiguous identification of the population.

Genealogy based on inherited surnames is a fun and interesting hobby, but remember that the names themselves and their written traces (parish records, census, etc.) are almost entirely due to the intervention of governments for the purposes of stealing, killing and enslavement.

J. Murray May 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Not all surnames. Some surnames came from being granted a position in the peerage, not out of taxation. My surname is a perfect example of this one as it was originally a title based on a region (de Moray, from Moray in northern Scotland) and the spelling morphed (though still pronounced the same) over the years to the current one.

Some surnames are obvious, like Smith or Steward, as the practice of the day to assess a surname was based on profession. For instance, kitchen workers would be given the last name Kitchen to identify what they did as a servant in a castle environment.

Adam Smith May 20, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Do you have problems with reading comprehension? He says that British surnames are “almost entirely” due to the intervention of the English government.

Ohhh Henry May 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Not all surnames. Some surnames came from being granted a position in the peerage, not out of taxation.

Broadly speaking, the peerage itself is a part of tax policy. A hereditary peer, also known as a lord or baron, was an especially favored subject of the monarch, who had a distinct relationship with respect to the powers of taxation, military service, tithes, church and government appointments, law courts, etc.

It is one thing to be called a name based on one’s place of origin or the place where one owns land, but it is essentially a matter of taxation if someone has an officially designated surname which is tied to the special favors and duties which have been allocated by a monarch or other authority. Nearly every so-called peerage in the British Isles is AFAIK derived not from some ancient act of homesteading or tribal election, but happened by special appointment by a monarch which occurred at some point after the Norman Conquest.

J. Murray May 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Good point. Tax collection vs payment. The peerage is the ancient IRS in that sense.

Ricky James Moore II May 20, 2011 at 7:33 pm

If the IRS gave you any advantages.

Ohhh Henry May 20, 2011 at 9:03 am

BTW the word “government” or “gov’mint” is street slang in the USA for the government-imposed and government-recorded official name that is associated with tax rolls, court records, etc.

From urbandictionary.com:

“don’t be using my government out here in the street like that”

Dan May 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

I have nothing to add, great article Wendy. The correlation between increasing government intervention in all aspects of life and the loss of personal and family privacy is worth pondering. Even neighbors frequently act like they should be privy to the details of your personal life. Naturally, the government co-opts this tendency by encouraging people to report “suspicious” activity.

Jeffrey Tucker May 20, 2011 at 9:50 am

A caveat to Wendy’s article: there is a way in which too much privacy can be isolating and disconnect one from a support community that can actually serve as a bulwark against state intrusion. Too much privacy can close off opportunities to form robust intermediating institutions. An example here is how social media has brought people out of hiding and helped form associations and groups that are dedicated to resistance to the government. Those communication networks have turned out to be excellent buffers between the state and the individual, and we have seen how this works in the Arab world where social media (bringing people out of hiding) have led to vast upheavals of the best sort. Sometimes I wonder if the state would rather than we all hunker down and hide in the name of privacy; then we are more vulnerable to being controlled and even eliminated. Coming out of the shell, living a more public life, can sometimes serve as a means of protection against the state.

So while I get Wendy’s point and it is a great one, there is another way to look at this problem, which is a complex one.

J. Murray May 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

I think the idea of the article was privacy of that which you don’t want out in the open. When you voluntarily project yourself out into the world, it ceases being a private issue. The only caveat is if you don’t want someone to know about what you do behind closed doors, don’t tell them. Privacy isn’t about the absence or presence of information, but to what degree you’re able to control your intimate details. Forcibly disallowing dissemination of information is just as much a violation of privacy as forced revealing of that information.

Martin OB May 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm

So, let’s see if I get it right. If you are worried that a terrorist may blow you up, you are a paranoid, and that’s a bad thing. You should “suck it up” (as John McCain put it), accept terrorism as one of the wonders of modernity, believe some simplistic statistics about relative risks and go on with your life. On the other hand, if you are outraged that someone may have a look at your luggage before you board a plane, that’s just minding your privacy, in other words, that’s the good kind of paranoia and you can never have too much of it.

nate-m May 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Well, if you want to behave like a moron then I am sure people here would be happy to treat you like one. But I’ll try to give you the benefit of the doubt and pretend that you actually thought about what you typed before you typed it.

Let me spell it out for you:

Life is full of risks. You can eat food and get food poisoning and get part of your lower intestine removed. You can walk down the sidewalk and somebody can swerve to avoid a accident and then end up running you over. Somebody can steal from you. Your wife could go on a rampage and cut the head of your dog off. Etc etc.

All these things can and do happen.

Now human beings are good at taking everyday risks into account, but are lousy at rare risks.

In order to go throughout life and be happy and prosperous we must be able to accurately take into account risks and be able to delivered a measured response. We must devote resources to dealing with risks in ways that measured and responsible. Also we must choose to deal with risks in constructive ways. That is… we must actually devote resources in ways that actually work rather then devote resources in ways that make us feel good.

This requires actually understanding the nature of a particular risk and knowing the proper response to it.

For example:

THE RISK:
Dying from dehydration is a risk. If you do not drink enough of the proper type of fluids your body will gradually cease functioning efficiently, you will start to suffer from organ failure and loss of consciousness, and eventually you will die.

A INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE:
Shy away from the sunlight and hide in a air conditioned bunker in the Nevada desert. Have milk and juices delivered to you through a complex system of trusted personal relationships with other people and eventually through a slit in the wall by your bedroom. Have a serious of tests and assessments that make sure that the fluids are correct and then drink them. When your finished and you need to pee then pee back into the jars that the fluids came in. At the end of the day line up the jars of pee against one wall and the empty jars of pee along the other and then calculate out the lost of moisture caused by sweat and your activity. That way you can accurately determine the level of hydration your body has and along with charts and journals you can know for certain that your not going to die from dehydration.

A APPROPRIATE RESPONSE:
Drink a glass of water when you get thirsty.

The other thing, besides the importance of risk assessment and appropriate response, is that there are two major approaches you can take to providing security:

1. Actually making systems secure and take appropriate actions based on the level of risk associated with each threat.

2. Make people feel safe. This is known as ‘security theater’

The government is taking approach #2.
For example:
The TSA body scanners.

The TSA body scanners are there to make you feel safe. The actual effectiveness against preventing a terrorist bombing is nil. Even if you did have a plastic explosive on you at the time you were scanned the chances of it being detected is very small. The deal is that these low level x-ray machines are designed to detect very dense objects like metal. So if your carrying pocket change they can detect that pretty easily. However modern explosives can be found in any level of density. If you choose explosives that are relatively the same density as your flesh then you would be able to mold the explosives to fit along your backside or your stomach and the chances of detection are extremely minimal.

Also another form of security theaters is making the people that manage the X-ray machines federal employees. These people are low-wage, low-skilled employees. They have very low levels of motivation and are not really the brightest people out there. If they were better at their jobs then they would be doing something else.

Taking the average taco bell employee, making them work for the federal government, giving them a blue suite and a badge, and then 3-5 weeks of training is not going to all of a sudden produce a security expert who can detect and defend against terrorist threat.

Even if you put thousands of these people in every airport the benefit is minimal.

But having a bunch of people marching around and play-acting actually makes some people feel good.

They are not going to protect you against terrorism. The chances of bomb detection from the pat downs and body scanners is extremely minimal. Even the manufacturers of the devices have said that trying to detect explosives with them is inappropriate use of the technology.

The real reason why there has not been major terrorist action against lots of airplanes and airports is:

1. Terrorism is extremely rare
2. Individuals that are paying attention, who have nothing to do with the government, have stopped the threats themselves.

On the other hand, if you are outraged that someone may have a look at your luggage before you board a plane, that’s just minding your privacy,

See it’s statements like this that make me think that your being intentionally stupid.

Nobody says that inspecting luggage is bad. In fact x-raying luggage is one of the few things that is done right at airport checkpoints.

Here are a few good things that airports can do:

*. X-ray luggage.
*. Have trained professionals with more then a 5 years of security experience in real world situations question people about their comings and goings.
*. Monitor the behavior of people.
*. Profiling threats.

It’s not a question of “Is the government going too far to protect us from terrorism at airports?”
The question actually is:
“The government is defrauding us, lying to us, and not actually protecting us. How do we get rid of those asshats and get somebody into the airport security business that is actually competent?”

Dan May 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Asshats describes them pretty well, LOL. Mind if I steal that term? Thanks for utterly refuting that martin character, saves me the trouble.

nate-m May 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Sure. I certainly didn’t coin it. :)

Martin OB May 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Well, if you want to behave like a moron then I am sure people here would be happy to treat you like one. But I’ll try to give you the benefit of the doubt and pretend that you actually thought about what you typed before you typed it.

Abuse for starters. How cute.

Let me spell it out for you:

Then a long stream of condescending fluff.

Now human beings are good at taking everyday risks into account, but are lousy at rare risks.

The problem is that you are mistaking risk for uncertainty. When you are dealing with unusual future events resulting from human decisions, such as terrorist attacks, any reasoning based on “risk” is useless. Instead, you are dealing with uncertainty. Risk and uncertainty are very different concepts, as first described by Frank Knight, and also discussed by Mises. You can measure risk, but you can’t measure uncertainty. To give the terrorist threat a figure based on crude statistics of past events is, as Hayek would put it, the pretense of knowledge.

People do reasonably well in their assessment of risks, both large and small. Pleople’s brains are fine-tuned by evolution to do just that. When a new threat is discovered, for which no useful risk statistics are available , people rightly tend to switch from the “risk” mode to the “uncertainty” mode, and take resolute steps to counter the threat. Some of those steps may seem excessive in retrospect, but they were wise decisions as long as the magnitude of the threat could not be determined.

2. Make people feel safe. This is known as ‘security theater’

The government is taking approach #2.
For example:
The TSA body scanners.

When people are so quick to dismiss a technology as “security theatre” just because it may not be bulletproof, I wonder whether they have ever heard of “layered security” and “defense in depth”. There are many tactics to prevent terrorists from blowing up planes. Virtually all of them have holes here and there, but in combination they are a powerful defense. For instance, if you combine passenger profiling, body scanners and dangerous item prohibition, you can go a long way in reducing the threat. Even if smart and motivated terrorists can defeat the security systems, you are neutralizing dumb, lazy and incompetent terrorists, who may well be the majority. For instance, Richard Reid the shoe bomber was told by Al-Qaeda to shave his beard (to avoid suspicion) and ignite the bomb in the plane toilet. He did neither, and with some luck he was caught. When a dumb terrorist is caught, new information may be gathered about the criminal gang, which can be used against it.

The TSA body scanners are there to make you feel safe. The actual effectiveness against preventing a terrorist bombing is nil. Even if you did have a plastic explosive on you at the time you were scanned the chances of it being detected is very small. The deal is that these low level x-ray machines are designed to detect very dense objects like metal. So if your carrying pocket change they can detect that pretty easily. However modern explosives can be found in any level of density. If you choose explosives that are relatively the same density as your flesh then you would be able to mold the explosives to fit along your backside or your stomach and the chances of detection are extremely minimal.

The fact that someone, somewhere, managed to smuggle a dangerous item in a TSA test doesn’t mean their effectiveness is “nil”. It just means it’s not total. More than 130 prohibited items have been detected this year, including ceramic knives.

As for their effectiveness against a Beerbelly explosive, the test information is classified, and some experts do have their doubts, but look at this recount by Consumer Traveller (“the oldest continuously published travel news and commentary site”), by an author who is clearly hostile to body scanners (as seen in his conclusions):

I had to ask the operator of the scanner monitor to stop the spin on the image and to enlarge the image to get a good look at what I was examining — the back of a woman’s bra. Only with careful observation can one see the details of the hooks, stitching and stretch fabric, not to mention the wrinkles on the woman’s back.

These whole-body-scanning machines reveal an amazing amount of detail, but only something that looks very out of place would ever be expected to set off an alarm in the TSA viewer’s mind. To really get a look at something, the operator would have to enlarge small areas and scrutinize them. This all takes time and slows down the airport operations

http://www.consumertraveler.com/today/would-full-body-scanners-have-stopped-the-christmas-bomber-probably-not/

In other words, the scanners can detect an amazing level of detail, down to skin wrinkles in your back, but the author thinks the working conditions make it unlikely that the operator will pay enough attention. It may or may not be the case, but if you combine body scanners with passenger profiling (so that less time is wasted in harmless passengers) and special software for feature recognition, then it looks like quite a powerful technique.

See it’s statements like this that make me think that your being intentionally stupid.
Nobody says that inspecting luggage is bad. In fact x-raying luggage is one of the few things that is done right at airport checkpoints.

This is from the OP:

At every juncture, it seems, we are being asked to fill out a form, to answer invasive questions, to submit our bags for a search, to shut up or speak out on command, and to raise our arms to be wanded while we’re at it.

Who looks stupid now? You should read more carefully and show more civility in your replies. Just because you disagree with someone, there’s no need to call them names right away, or be so full of yourself.

John P. Cunnane May 21, 2011 at 9:22 am

I’ll be honest; I tried to read this twice and failed to get through it both times.

War, progroms, genocide, democide, gas chambers, Enola Gay, Dresden, Stalin,Mao, prisons,gas chambers, selective service, hundreds of millions dead and you seem to suggest I should focus on the effectiveness of the TSA as a means of insuring my safety?

Uh…no, that is not my primary concern.

Dan May 21, 2011 at 9:43 am

“Who looks stupid now?”

You do. You do give folks a laugh though. What’s hilarious is that you still have faith in both the tech and the people, both of which have been proven again and again to be largely ineffectual at reducing the risk of bad guys bringing dangerous things onto planes. TSA agents are known to be dullards, and numerous people have slipped guns, knives, etc past them. The tech they use has also been shown to be very limited in actually detecting a good deal of modern explosives (though it works well in allowing agents to look at nude people apparently).

I suppose it doesn’t matter what people say to you, you will always believe the government is there protecting us all from those evil islamo-fascists. Enjoy your comfort and peace of mind. It will probably take a more personal experience with the government for someone such as yourself to come to terms with what a government is, and who’s side it’s really on.

In terms of being uncivil, take a look in the mirror. Your previous posts have been pretty inflammatory. This tends to make people respond in a similar manner (a degree in rocket science is definitely required to see something like that, LOL).

Martin OB May 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Nothing to see here. Just more insults, bold claims with little or no backing, faulty logic and strawman arguments. I personally know some people who are government employees, including policemen, and I don’t think they are anything like the caricature you make of them.

Anyway, as I explained to nate-m, my main point is not about the government, it’s about the way some Americans and other Westerners have become spoiled brats who can’t distinguish real government abuse from reasonable security measures, who can’t accept the smallest nuisance in the fight against a mortal threat. That’s a sign of prosperity, I guess, but it’s still sad.

John P. Cunnane May 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

This is interesting argumentation. You cite “faulty logic” and the start telling us about a policeman you know (anecdotal fallacy).

I am not using a strawman; only stating that large coercive forces usually end up killing and incarcerating large quantities of people. Please provide evidence that war and imprisonment are not externalities of government.

Martin OB May 22, 2011 at 10:45 am

First I must say I was answering to Dan, and the strawman is that I’m a government advocate. I didn’t mention government at all in my first post. All I say is that the fact that a technology is deployed by government doesn’t make it useless, and the fact that someone works for the government doesn’t make them villains. He was generalizing from anecdotal evidence, so I presented my own anecdotal experience.

I guess when you say “wars and incarceration are externalities of government” , you mean unnecessary wars and unjust incarcerations, to the point that government causes more harm than good. Well, it’s been proven time and again that in practice, what happens when a government is toppled is civil war, causing much more misery than most governments ever could. There’s nothing special about government, it’s just organized force. It may not be more legitimate than a militia, but there’s no reason to think it would be more evil; on the contrary, to get overwhelming popular support it needs to adopt the predominant values of the underlying society. A freedom-loving society begets a limited government, and it thrives.

nate-m May 21, 2011 at 11:29 am

Then a long stream of condescending fluff.

You set the tone. If you want to be treated with respect you have to show respect yourself.

The problem is that you are mistaking risk for uncertainty.

I am talking about _A_ risk. Specific risks and our reactions to them. Terrorism is a risk. Your conflating the uses of the terms.

When people are so quick to dismiss a technology as “security theatre” just because it may not be bulletproof, I wonder whether they have ever heard of “layered security” and “defense in depth”. There are many tactics to prevent terrorists from blowing up planes.

Somebody may tell you that covering your head with aluminum may keep hackers out of your PC, but it does not mean that is a effective defense against hackers or that it’s part of a layered defense.

If your going to employ bomb detecting technology it would probably be a good idea to actually use technology that can detect bombs. That is what makes it ‘security theater’. Then even if you have bomb detecting technology that can actually detect bombs you need to use it effectively and economically. Otherwise your just wasting money and resources that can be better spent on other things.

The government is failing on both counts. They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars, billions even, on paper tigers.

It’s a waste of time, waste of money, waste of resources, ineffective against a non-threat and is a invasion of our privacy and costs the economy millions in lost productivity.

In other words, the scanners can detect an amazing level of detail, down to skin wrinkles in your back, but the author thinks the working conditions make it unlikely that the operator will pay enough attention.

Are you serious.. the ‘Consumer Traveler’?

From:
http://kochanski.org/gpk/misc/papers_that_shouldnt_be_lost/2010/kaufman_carlson2010.pdf

Abstract Little information exists on the performance of x-ray backscatter machines
now being deployed through UK, US and other airports. We implement a Monte
Carlo simulation using as input what is known about the x-ray spectra used for
imaging, device specifications and available images to estimate penetration and
exposure to the body from the x-ray beam, and sensitivity to dangerous contraband
materials. We show that the body is exposed throughout to the incident x-rays, and
that although images can be made at the exposure levels claimed (under 100
nanoGrey per view), detection of contraband can be foiled in these systems. Because
front and back views are obtained, low Z materials can only be reliable detected if
they are packed outside the sides of the body or with hard edges, while high Z
materials are well seen when placed in front or back of the body, but not to the sides.
Even if exposure were to be increased significantly, normal anatomy would make a
dangerous amount of plastic explosive with tapered edges difficult if not impossible
to detect

Who looks stupid now? You should read more carefully and show more civility in your replies. Just because you disagree with someone, there’s no need to call them names right away, or be so full of yourself.

You set the tone.

Anyways you guys that are all ‘Terrorism must be stopped at any expense’ types are pissing me off. You imagine that just blowing huge amount of resources and throwing our rights and privacy away are going to help prevent terrorism.

You can line up paper tiger after paper tiger after paper tiger, and then fill the rooms up with one white elephant after another, but it’s not going to help us. It’s not going to make us safer. It actually makes us weaker. It’s not a ‘layered defense’. It’s blowing resources chasing after ghosts and non-threats.

The government (and people with your attitude who are enabling their behavior) are HELPING THE TERRORISTS WIN. They WANT us to blow massive amounts of money and throw away our freedoms. They WANT us scared and going overboard. They WANT us weak, want our economies damaged, want our freedoms curtailed, and want our military running around bombing the shit out of people causing resentment and hardships. This sort of activity will ruin what support we have and create the anti-american culture in their home countries that the terrorists want to see.

Our Freedom, our Liberty, and our Individualism is our strength. They are not the weaknesses the terrorists are using against us. Our government, our media, and our ‘collective sheeple’ reactions are the weaknesses being used against us.

Martin OB May 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm

You set the tone. If you want to be treated with respect you have to show respect yourself.

Being blunt and using some sarcasm is well withing the bounds of civility and respect. Calling people names and talking to them as if they were five-year-olds is not. You should apologize.

I am talking about _A_ risk. Specific risks and our reactions to them. Terrorism is a risk. Your conflating the uses of the terms.

Terrorism is a threat, not a “risk”, except in a colloquial sense. As I said, if you try to apply risk analysis to this threat, the figures you get will be highly misleading. That’s because you don’t have a reliable model of how this threat works. So, you have to treat it as uncertainty. Look up the differences between the two.

If your going to employ bomb detecting technology it would probably be a good idea to actually use technology that can detect bombs.

The body scanners CAN detect bombs. No one who has looked at the images can deny that. They may not be 100 percent reliable, but that doesn’t make them useless “security theater”.

Are you serious.. the ‘Consumer Traveler’?

Yes. After reading your link, my conclusions are:

_ The report you link to is using the published low-resolution images, while the Consumer Traveler report author had first-hand experience in the control room. So, the level of detail can be better assessed by the Consumer Traveler.

_ The report you cite is restricted to backscatter scanners. Their objections do not apply to millimeter-wave scanners. Their main objection is that only front and rear images are obtained. Millimeter-wave scanners produce 3-d images. So, this limitation could be addressed either by adding side images to the backscatter test (asking the passenger to turn and then repeat the procedure), or by a combination of both scanners. In no case does the report show the technology to be useless.

You can line up paper tiger after paper tiger after paper tiger,

That’s what Bin Laden often said about the America. He thought it was a “paper tiger”. Now he knows better.

The government (and people with your attitude who are enabling their behavior) are HELPING THE TERRORISTS WIN. They WANT us to blow massive amounts of money and throw away our freedoms. They WANT us scared and going overboard.

Nonsense. Bin Laden didn’t want to have his brains blown up. He wanted to live and see America fall. Terrorist don’t want Americans to take measures to protect themselves, they want them to think those measures are useless, they want to dictate the American foreign policy. Defeatist appeasement is what the terrorists want.

My main point is not to defend the US government or the TSA. I just want people to understand that you can’t have it all. If you want to fly and you want it to be safe, more advanced security techniques are required, whether the government or the private sector deploys them. Some of those techniques will be uncomfortable and raise privacy issues. It has nothing to do with being statist, fascist, neocon, objectivist or libertarian, it’s a simple fact of life.

Matthew Swaringen May 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm

So by defining it as uncertainty it now makes sense to spare any expense on it? And if there is “uncertainty” related to terrorism on planes how about Walmart? Should we also force them to pay for scanners?

“That’s what Bin Laden often said about the America. He thought it was a “paper tiger”. Now he knows better.”
And it was ok for us to spare any expense for him to “know better?” That’s a huge price to pay to educate someone.

Matthew Swaringen May 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

There is uncertainty about outer space aliens. They might be hostile. We can’t know whether the measures we take are too much since it’s a future threat and the past can’t be used to determine the likelihood of occurrence. Therefore we should support and demand that the state spend any amount of money on space lasers.

I don’t disagree with your specifying uncertainty as opposed to risk, but the control to ridiculous expenditure should be based on consumer demand and not based on political incentives. Consumers aren’t making the choices here, it’s the government making the choices through mandates and socializing the costs while it establishes these procedures using favorite companies that have connections.

Anthony May 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Martin OB,

What about the “uncertainty” about the safety of the scanners?

The full test results were classified and in any case were not of the appropriate type to properly measure the risk of cancer… how does that factor into your analysis?

Martin OB May 22, 2011 at 7:08 am

Matthew,

So by defining it as uncertainty it now makes sense to spare any expense on it?

No, it just means you can’t say there’s scientific proof that people they are wrong to be worried. Which security measures are reasonable and which ones are excessive is something the public must decide through the markets and the ballots.

And if there is “uncertainty” related to terrorism on planes how about Walmart? Should we also force them to pay for scanners?

I don’t think so. The difference is that planes can affect third parties, as they did on 9-11, as they do whenever they fall over a city. Even an anarcho-capitalist society may have rules on the use of items which are potentially dangerous for third parties, such as nuclear bombs and aircraft.

On the other hand, Walmart may be forced by the market to do so.

And it was ok for us to spare any expense for him to “know better?” That’s a huge price to pay to educate someone.

It was a way of speaking, of course. The real education went to millions of potential Bin Lader followers, who will now think twice before they mess with America. Also it boosted the morale of Americans and their allies, which makes them stronger, and their enemies weaker. So, all in all, I think it was well worth the price. And it’s not like killing Bin Laden was the only blow given to Al-Qaeda in all these years. Many of its key operatives were either killed or captured, and many others live in constant fear, exactly what they wanted for Americans.

I don’t disagree with your specifying uncertainty as opposed to risk, but the control to ridiculous expenditure should be based on consumer demand and not based on political incentives. Consumers aren’t making the choices here, it’s the government making the choices through mandates and socializing the costs while it establishes these procedures using favorite companies that have connections.

I agree to some extent. As I said, I’m no friend of State intervention. I just want people to have some perspective and stop denying the obvious, like the fact body scanners are a useful technology, or that in times of rampant terrorism people should be prepared to spend more resources and withstand more nuisances than they used to. All in all, I don’t think the scanners are that far from what the market demands. People are not massively switching to other means of transport. Many say they are glad someone did something to increase flight security.

Matthew Swaringen May 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I can only speak for myself on the matter of willingness, but I know many others have the same opinion. Taking off my shoes was not so bad. Going through a metal detector not so bad. But having images of me looked at through my clothes doesn’t appeal to me, and especially not heavy pat-downs.

I don’t think this is something the market is demanding at all because if it were we would have seen it implemented by the market.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible that the market could expect this much security in some places and at some times, but I am saying I don’t see any demand for this here and now and I personally find it extremely annoying.

If morale is up here and down with terrorists the threat would be less, and the need for severe measures also less. But rather than taking less precautions we are taking more.

It’d be as if a 30 year old who weighed 160 lbs was taking anti-cholesterol medication to prevent a heart attack.

What I saw from 9/11 was 3000 people who died largely because people didn’t fight on-board airplanes because the government told them not to. Well, people know better now and have shown this by how they acted when other potential threats arose more recently. The risk is down tremendously from that alone. If we had done absolutely nothing after 9/11 but teach people that I think we’d be less likely to have an actual successful attack.

Martin OB May 23, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Matthew,

I don’t think this is something the market is demanding at all because if it were we would have seen it implemented by the market.

One reason I think the market accepts (if not demands) the body scanners is that, as far as I know, there was no huge drop in the number of people who take planes in America after the scanners were implemented. There are other ways to travel, but people still prefer to fly. Then there’s the question of why the market didn’t implement those measures by itself. I think it’s a matter of expectations. Flight companies were waiting for the government to do it for them. Also, there’s limited liability. If flight companies had to pay the full cost of another 9-11, they would be more careful:

http://english.irib.ir/voj/news/top-stories/item/79310-airlines-and-airport-security-agree-to-pay-$12-billion-for-9/11-property-damages

http://www.iags.org/costof911.html

If morale is up here and down with terrorists the threat would be less, and the need for severe measures also less. But rather than taking less precautions we are taking more.

There are several issues here. I didn’t say American morale is particularly high, just that each little victory helps boost it, which is a good thing when a lot of effort is still ahead. Also, having a high morale doesn’t protect you from threats, it gives you strength to fight them. On the other hand, when the terrorists have a lower morale, they are more prone to give up and focus on hiding, and it surely discourages many from following their path, which does increase safety. But it would be foolish to relax security measures right now, when the terrorists most need to hit and recover some point after their massive loss. A wounded tiger is most ferocious, but it’s also closer to its death. Americans should just remain cool and work steadily to finish off Al-Qaeda.

What I saw from 9/11 was 3000 people who died largely because people didn’t fight on-board airplanes because the government told them not to. Well, people know better now and have shown this by how they acted when other potential threats arose more recently. The risk is down tremendously from that alone. If we had done absolutely nothing after 9/11 but teach people that I think we’d be less likely to have an actual successful attack.

Yes, I guess that was a major factor, along with the number one measure, which was to reinforce the cockpit door, which a few days ago prevented a terrorist from entering there when the plane was about to land. If he had made it, there would have been no time to avoid a disaster.

But then there’s the issue of bombs, which those simple measures do not address. And if you believe the news, Bin Laden was still intent on attacking planes, along with other targets.

I don’t expect Mises people to praise the government. I’d just like the criticism to be more constructive, with more perspective and more focused on what really matters to people. You won’t win anyone over by insisting that the US government is as bad as Bin Laden, Hitler and Pedobear put together. Also, we shouldn’t assume it’s all about educating the general public. People may know exactly what you are talking about, and still disagree.

Martin OB May 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Anthony,

That’s a good question. Most experts say they are reasonably safe. The amount of radiation from X-ray backscatter scanners is very small:

Are airport scanners dangerous? The Transportation Safety Administration says absolutely not. But travelers have expressed their doubts, fearing that submitting to the scans will expose them to hazardous radiation.

What’s the truth?

CBS News asked leading radiation safety experts from MIT and the respected Health Physics Society for the real scoop on radiation levels from the new scanners and 12 other every day radiation sources, many of which you probably never thought about.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10005685.html#ixzz1NDf46FmF

One scan from a typical “backscatter” security scanner might deliver 0.005 to 0.01 millirem – far, far below the 10,000 millirem that is considered the danger threshold.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10005685-2.html#ixzz1NDdhrbSE

Drinking three glasses of water a day for a year might give you a cumulative exposure of about 0.045 millirems, that’s at least five times more than the dose from an airport scanner.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10005685-3.html#ixzz1NDdzmXSt

Some buildings are made with stone known to emit tiny amounts of radiation. Case in point: New York’s landmark train station, Grand Central Terminal. Wait for your train for an hour there, and you might be exposed to about 0.06 millirem, at least six times more than an airport scanner.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10005685-4.html#ixzz1NDeCMmzp

In New York City and other communities at or near sea level, you might get about 0.8 millirem a day, at least 8 times the dose from airport scanners.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10005685-6.html#ixzz1NDeO2SyE

For many radiation experts the argument over airport scanners makes no sense since the radiation received from flying in the plane is much higher.

That’s because cosmic radiation to which we’re all exposed every day gets more intense the higher you go. If you climb a mountain or go up in an airplane, your exposure will be elevated.

Taking a flight from New York to Los Angeles might expose you to between 3 and 4 millirems, at least 300 to 400 times higher than the airport scanner.

To put that level into context, one minute of flying at 35,000 feet might expose you to as much radiation as you’d get from one airport scan.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10005685-9.html#ixzz1NDeiaWpq

Shay May 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm

The “unidentified” cannot board a plane or train, nor drive a car. They cannot open a bank account, cash a check, take a job, attend school, get married, rent a video (let alone an apartment), or buy a house.

…or return items to a store. Virtually everywhere now requires an ID/driver’s license in order to return anything these days, and it must not have expired either.

Dan May 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I know. Strangely enough I was able to rent my apartment without the landlord asking for ID. I could have given him some random name and he wouldn’t have been the wiser.

augusto May 21, 2011 at 10:21 am

Once a Brazilian cartoonist went to the US (this was in the 70s, I believe), and he stayed there for almost a year. He then collected the letters he wrote to his friends in Brazil and published them as a book. One of the observations he made was precisely this: “here, no one asks for IDs or government papers for anything. If you want to open a bank account, you go to the bank, give your name, hand them the money, and that’s it. If you want to rent an apartment, you find a willing landlord, you sign the contract, and that’s it. Essentially, people trust each other, and they know this is to their advantage. Trust is cheaper and more efficient than having government bureaus to certify that you are who you say you are and that you will do what you say you will do.” (I’m paraphrasing)

I was in Canada a few years ago and this trust-based system still works there. I rented my first apartment picking up an existing contract. I needed the place for just one month, and I had a friend who was leaving town, but his contract was valid for another month. So it was a perfect match. All we had to do was tell the owner I’d be living the apartment for the last month, hand him the cash, he wrote my name on the contract, I signed it, and that was it.

My second apartment, I rented it with another friend. The contract was about 2 pages long. The landlord didn’t ask where our money came from, didn’t ask for bank statements, no. We signed we’d pay, had our names written on the contract, and that was it.

Now, on a Brazilian contract I find:

- It requires that a third party takes responsibility for paying the rent in case the tenant fails to pay;
- Two price indexes are mentioned;
- For articles of the civil code are mentioned;
- One law is mentioned;
- It requires at least five signatures: the landlord, the tenant, the third party, and two witnesses;

jcv May 20, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I will not only shut the door in his face, but also if someone tries to violate my privacy I put a gun to his head…

wastate May 21, 2011 at 10:46 am

This is a timely article in that the Supreme Court has just ruled that local law enforcement now has the right to break down your door if they come to your home and they suspect that you are destorying evidence. The Supreme Court case was brought about from a case in Kentucky where cops were chasing a drug dealer and he ran into an apartment complex. The cops lost him but thought he went into a particular unit. They knocked on the door and found the folks inside unwilling to answer and scrambling around inside. The cops broke the door down. Of course, the suspect they were originally chasing was nowhere to be found but the occupants were doing drugs inside. I believe the case is Kentucky v King.
This case further destroys privacy rights under the 4th amendment as if the patriot act didn’t go far enough. The local police now have access to our homes if they are suspicious and I don’t need to tell this audience how destructive and misused this could become. They don’t need a warrant. The ruling is specific to cases involving drugs and the suspected destruction of evidence. The potential misuse of this ruling is immense.
The argument that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear is so terribly inadequate and illogical but used by so many to put at ease the fears of this type of repression. We soon will have no rights to privacy if we continue to allow these rulings to go unanswered. Please contact your senator expressing your feelings toward this implorable ruling. The only way to overturn it is through legislative action.

overgraduate May 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I think it’s important to point out that privacy is not truly a right. The only real right is the right to not have one’s property (which includes oneself) aggressed against. Alternatively, you could say that everyone has the right to do anything except aggress against another’s property.

In this regard, privacy is at best a “derived right.” In many cases, a violation of one’s privacy is tantamount to a violation of one’s property rights. For example, police searches, in which case the concept of privacy need not be introduced in order condemn the violation.

The problem with identifying privacy as a right is that, in many cases, it can only be a positive right. If I want a loan, the bank has every right to demand my address, phone number, date of birth and income. I’m free to refuse such information and try to get a loan from another bank. But I’m not free to forcefully alter the bank’s loan policies (either personally or through government). That would be a violation of the property rights of the bank’s owners and operators.

As another example, airlines have every right to require a public full body cavity search as a condition for boarding their planes. But the government has no right to force airlines to implement ANY security measure. Again, it would be a violation of the property rights of the airline’s owners and operators.

Absent government intervention banks, airlines and everyone else would adjust their policies to balance their desires for information with their customers’ desires for privacy. And every customer, as a free individual (which they aren’t now), would have the right to refrain from doing business with anyone who demanded too much information.

noah May 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm

“What is wrong for your neighbor to do is also wrong for the government to do, because there is only one standard of morality.”

The problem is, how can one expect ANY standard of morality from a government? When we become upset that government is acting immorally, to some extent we play into the hand of statists who claim government CAN be moral. Government itself is amoral and we should adjust our expectations accordingly.

“The ‘unidentified’ cannot… cash a check. Meanwhile, the ‘identified’ are vulnerable to having their… credit cards canceled.”

Should we really expect otherwise? The owner of my local county store knows me by face and will extend credit to me without any formal ID. American Express will not. How I deal with it is up to me. Years ago I managed to hitchhike across the country with no credit and no problems, and my few encounters with “the state” were non-events.

In the immortal words of Root Boy Slim,
“I ain’t got no American Express card
I don’t need it
Everybody know me where I go
Everybody know me
From Tupelo to the Gulf of Mexico”

I originally heard those lyrics as, “I ain’t got no American Express card – I don’t need everybody TO know me where I go.” But either way works for me. I can try to stay under the radar and tough it out alone, or I can make sure I have a LOT of friends if I feel I need that extra security.

I think that echoes the sentiments of Mr Tucker’s above post: illegitimi non carborundum. It is government that is illegitimate, not the citizen with no ID. (As much as the state would like us to believe the opposite.) With that knowledge, even if the state provides all the delicious ingredients for paranoia, it is up to the individual to choose what state of mind to embrace for himself.

SirThinkALot May 21, 2011 at 6:59 pm

The “unidentified” cannot board a plane or train, nor drive a car. They cannot open a bank account, cash a check, take a job, attend school, get married, rent a video (let alone an apartment),

I think it needs be pointed out that you can, in fact open a Netflix account without a governent issued ID.

newman June 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

I’ve always been quite paranoid and it is realyl true that it is good for you especially if someone really goes after you, the more paranoid you are the better.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: