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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5028/will-the-tsa-be-always-with-us/

Will the TSA Be Always With Us?

May 10, 2006 by

It’s hard to know which Bush policies – every day, another disaster – will most immortalize this administration. But on this day, in this hour, I’m going to suggest that his name should be forever mud for his catastrophic decision to nationalize airline security after 9-11. There is war, spending, and missed opportunities all around, but generations hence might still be suffering at the hands of the Transportation Security Administration. It was hardly opposed by any mainstream voice of opinion. But anyone with a brain cell of economic understanding knew that airline socialism was not the best way to deal with the hijacking threat. FULL ARTICLE


Scott May 10, 2006 at 8:23 am

Interesting perspective, but it seems you are trivializing the war against those who would destroy us. Every single president that we now look back on as a “Great president” was seen, in his time, as a failure for domestic or financial policies.

Thanks for the article.

- Scott

Mike Tennant May 10, 2006 at 8:55 am


It all depends on who the “we” are who “now look back on” these guys as “Great president[s].” I can guarantee you that neither Lew nor most other libertarians would consider most of the so-called “great” presidents to be great in the least. Therefore, Lew is being quite consistent in criticizing Bush because he would use the same criteria to criticize any other president, including the “greats” such as Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and latter-day acolyte Reagan.

If one defines “great” as “securing our liberties and defending the Constitution,” not one of the so-called great presidents qualifies. Better candidates under this definition are, for example, Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding.

If, on the other hand, one defines “great” as “expanding the size and scope of the federal government at the expense of our liberties,” then all of the standard “great” presidents qualify in spades.

From a libertarian perspective, the supposedly great presidents were abject failures both in their own lifetimes and in retrospect.

Oh, and please explain how any number of individual Muslim fanatics can “destroy us” when Stalin and Mao couldn’t. The best they can do is take potshots at us. They may even do some significant damage, as they did on 9/11. But there’s no way they can “destroy us.” The greatest threat to America comes not from Arabia but from D.C.

Sag May 10, 2006 at 9:49 am

Well said Mike! I have nothing to add.

Glen May 10, 2006 at 10:36 am


The individuals can destroy ‘us’ only if one accepts some of the basic tennets of libertarian thought but if one accepts that line of reasoning, there is nothing to destroy.

C. Cathey May 10, 2006 at 10:42 am


“the war against those who would destroy us”

Those who would destroy us are less of a concern than those who are destroying us.

Substance farming goat herders who, if given half a chance, would fall back to fighting amoungst themself are not threat compared to an organization that:
- maintains the worlds largest and best funded military with a history using nuclear weapons after terms of surrender have been presented
- steals half of my income
- tracks me and mine and declares attempts to avoid being tracked as a crime in itself
- indoctrinates children and declares attempts to avoid being indoctrinated as a crime in itself
- has stated a goal of disarming me and mine
- declares itself above any and all laws.

That those in the pay of that organization call it great is of no import.


Angelo May 10, 2006 at 11:19 am

Will do.

Nick Bradley May 10, 2006 at 11:33 am

The only thing the article seems to be overlooking is the fact that the GOP first initially opposed a Department of Homeland Security AND TSA. The GOP wanted no part of DHS and wanted airport security provided by private contractors. The Democrats wanted unionized TSA workers and a DHS. The Democrats helf a +1 majority seat in the Senate at the time, and Bush caved to Tom Daschle.

So I would say that Bush “allowed” TSA as opposed to giving it to us.

Daniel M. Ryan May 10, 2006 at 11:58 am

One interesting facet of Mr. Rockwell’s article was his note that the service by the airlines themselves is a blessed relief after being poked and prodded by TSA officials.

It suggests, if not implies, that a corporation may be more sanguine to being regulated by heavies than is often realized. If customer service seems much better by comparison after a government official’s brusqueness, then the typical customer is inclined to see the service as better than that customer would if the rough treatment beforehand didn’t exist. The relief factor would make customers more loyal to the airline company than would otherwise be the case.

This implies that a corporation can find a comfortable niche by soothing customer irritation at, or after, that customer is treated brusquely by government officials.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, without libertarian writers and scholars emphasizing what is really being lost as the government expands, liberty wouldn’t have much of a chance. The typical profit-maximizing corporation doesn’t provide much of a bulwark against tyranny because it’s too easy for one to find a compensatory niche in a tyrant’s state by assuming a kind of soother’s function.

Government Employee May 10, 2006 at 12:09 pm

Harry Browne used to say that if you want confirmation that a government program stinks, just ask its employees. My brother works for the TSA and always has a new horror story to tell. I work for the government, too, and have my own stories… I need to get back to the private sector.

George T. Kysor May 10, 2006 at 2:07 pm

“So in those terrifying minutes before the first hit, two brave women on the phone inside Flight 11 were calmly telling American Airlines ground officials exactly what was happening.

The airline’s reaction: Nothing. It did absolutely nothing.

The managers could have picked up a phone and told all their pilots what was going on. They could have called officials in New York. There is a real likelihood people at least could have evacuated the second tower.

If someone on the ground had acted, Flight 93, sitting on the Newark airport tarmac, might well have avoided the hijack.” – JAMES RIDGEWAY

Vince Daliessio May 10, 2006 at 2:26 pm


Are you trying to indict the individual airlines involved, the airline industry, air traffic control?

All of the big airlines are, literally speaking, wards of the state, being financially bankrupt virtually in perpetuity, and largely controlled by the FAA and their unions, which carry the force of the federal government with them.

I aver that a fully private, free-market air system would have resulted in little more than a dozen or so dead terrorists.

George T. Kysor May 10, 2006 at 3:14 pm

“I’m going to suggest that his name should be forever mud for his catastrophic decision to nationalize airline security after 9-11.” – Lew Rockwell.

Vince I was pointing out that the airline security before it was nationalized was not very good, to say the least!

BTW, Bush’s name should be mud for lots more reasons than for nationalizing airline security!

Vince Daliessio May 10, 2006 at 3:54 pm

Sorry George, I was reacting to Ridgeway’s words, not yours. Although he has a few good points, he isn’t even close to the libertarian version of alternate history, where the free-market airlines do whatever it takes to protect their own passengers and planes from harm, hence my scenario of a few dead terrorists vs Ridgeway’s of 1500 dead in #2 WTC and none on Flight 93.

C. Cathey May 10, 2006 at 4:24 pm


“I was pointing out that the airline security before it was nationalized was not very good”

Before 9/11, airline security was private only in the since that government programs and policy was carried out by contractors. Companies did not compet to see who could provide the best security for the price, but rather on who could comply with government requirements the best for the price. It can not be argued that 9/11 was the result of private control over airline security because there was no private control.

“BTW, Bush’s name should be mud for lots more reasons than for nationalizing airline security!”

I agree whole heartly.


TokyoTom May 10, 2006 at 9:29 pm

Dear Mr. Rockwell:

I do blame the TSA on Bush, as well as the gross ramp-up in government spending designed to reinforce political dominance and to reward friends – with the Republicans we have rent-seeking, influence peddling on a grand scale, unchecked growth in Presidential power, a steady erosion in personal liberties, and runaway gerrymandering designed to lock up congressional seats and frustrate voters.

Yes, I suspect the TSA will be with us forever, as government agencies are loth to dismantle themselves. But let’s hope the rest of the Bush legacy can be dismantled more quickly.

By the way, while I do agree that in a free market airlines will compete to make their customers happy, I cannot agree with your statement that “So here is one example among trillions: the airlines’ interest is the same as the consumers.” Airlines have differing interests from their customers, as is evident in the uniform caps set on liability for loss of life or baggage.

George T. Kysor May 10, 2006 at 9:58 pm

C. Cathey, if Rockwell’s statement (that airline security was nationalized after 9/11) is correct, then my statement (that airline security was deficient before it was nationalized) is obviously correct.

Michael May 10, 2006 at 10:52 pm

Mr. Rockwell,

I am a TSA Screener, and former, private security employee.

Why don’t we privatize all law enforcement agencies and make them “for profit”?

Airline security in a for profit capacity was terrible for the simple reason that the cost was passed on to the airlines either directly or through the governing body of each airport. The lowest bidder was always chosen for the contract and you can be sure that we, as consumers, got what we ultimately paid for. Complacency, low pay, terrible working conditions, and 16 hour shifts were the norm, as well as staffs of security personnel that did not speak a common language. In a for profit capacity things will always slide back to this level.

When I or my family is flying, my preference is that everyone getting on board is screened prior to flight. I think this is a prudent and universal way to look at the issue. Long before 911, airlines from our country (USA) and others were targeted, because an aircrash is a spectacular, devestating event that generates a lot of press for whatever misguided group has an issue. I certainly don’t want to be on a jet that falls off the radar screen, and I feel bad for those that were just going about their normal business when something like that happened.

Most of the airline security measures that affect boarding passengers could be eliminated with a simple rule stating that no carry on items be allowed in the cabin. Are the customer friendly airlines going to say, that you cannot take your laptop and carry on bag on the jet?

Every airport and airline in the US has the option to opt out of TSA security and hire a private company. Some airports have chosen this option but most have not. The reasons they don’t opt out have to do with profit, and liability which would affect future profit should a company jet go down.

Most of what goes on within the TSA at an airport is unseen by the public. Individual Screeners are constanly tested by the agency, taught new skills, and kept up to date on the potential threats that could affect a flight. This is the first job that I have ever had where I have to take and pass a rigorous multi element test that determines whether I can keep my job for another year.

Yes, like every entity in the world we have a few apples that have proven bad. Your luggage is touched by us and many other airline, and privately employed people. In that chain we are the only ones who leave a “valentine” in your bag that announces we were there. We have become the most conveniant scapegoat for what happens to your bag. It’s easy for the customer friendly airlines and customer to blame us.

I urge you to think back to how security was prior to 911. I recall with great clarity, and feel that these first steps are correct, and in the best interest of the flyer who wishes to get from Point A to Point B with some risk eliminated.

Michael Lee
TSA Screener
Logan Airport – Boston

averros May 11, 2006 at 2:45 am

Michael Lee –

Why don’t we privatize all law enforcement agencies and make them “for profit”?

That is a very fine idea. As the basic economics teaches us, replacing monopoly with competition will reduce cost and increase quality and availability of the product.

Besides, it may actually cause law enforcement to stop protecting the “law” written by demagogues in Washington, DC, and start protecting the people – the actual customers. No more drug war insanity, no more morality policing, no spending time and efforts on catching “criminals” who forgot to buckle up. And, because of that, fewer police needed, and so they get decent pay for their work.

Every airport and airline in the US has the option to opt out of TSA security and hire a private company… The reasons they don’t opt out have to do with profit, and liability which would affect future profit should a company jet go down.

You are absolutely right – there’s no reason to pay for something when you force someone else (all taxpayers) pay for it. Security isn’t free, so someone got to pay. And since “the government” does not produce anything and merely takes money from some people (under the threat of physical violence, that’s why nearly everyone pays, because everyone knows what happens if he refuses), TSA is basically a beneficiary of the organized theft, and so are the non-joining airports.

I urge you to think back to how security was prior to 911.

Yep, it was screwed up. By the very same government. Which made 9/11 possible by prohibiting even the pilots to carry firearms on board (which is truly idiotic, if you think of it, since they can kill everyone on board with a flick of a wrist).

Now, it would be a very good idea to let airlines do their own security, the way they think makes sense. And make them fully liable for all losses in case of a terrorist act – no more generous handouts from taxpayers money. So their insurance companies watching over their money would have them to implement truly effective security measures and not the ridiculous security theater we have now.

Note that I said “airlines”, not “airports”: airports are regional monopolists, and customers cannot usually go to another airport if they don’t like the security or convenience of the one they used. But they can easily switch airlines.

averros May 11, 2006 at 2:52 am

“non-joining airports” –> “non opting-out airports”, sorry.

Mike D May 12, 2006 at 12:29 am

I travel backwards and forwards from LA to San Francisco every week. At the security checkpoints, certain people are singled out for extra intensive screening. The first time I was singled out I figured I was selected at random. The screening was done politely and professionally, although I can understand why a woman would find it overly invasive. As I travelled backwards and forwards, I found that I was being selected nearly every time. I would have been concerned had it not been for the other people who were being selected – an 80 year old woman, a woman with a baby, a family with two small children. Finally, I asked the TSA agent. “The airline picks out on the boarding pass the people to be screened – do you book one-way?”. I nearly always book one-way, since I don’t know in advance when and if I’ll be travelling. I’ve since started booking round trips and changing. I’ve not been stopped since.

The key point that I think is being missed is that people think that the TSA inspections will thwart hijacking. My current observations would indicate that the TSA security will make it more likely that a future attack will succeed. (I do, however, think that the screen of checked baggage has closed a major security gap).

Incidentally, I beg to differ with Lew – I’d take the state run Mossad over any federal or federally regulated private security. The key reason is the Mossad know what they are doing, and more to the point, why they are doing it. The goal should be to identify potential hijackers, not to confiscate an 80 year old Chinese grandmothers toenail clippers. There is nothing wrong with Uma Thurman travelling in business class with her Hattori-Hanja Samurai sword!

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