Abolish the TSA

The post mistermix linked to at The League includes my desire to A) abolish the TSA and B) implement Israeli-style profiling if we are going to focus so much on our security. Personally, I find the focus on airtight security to be more than a little silly. That we should spend so much time and money on an illusion strikes me as rather…unfortunate. But if we’re going to do it, we should do it right. To back me up, here’s mistermix from the other day:

The oldest cliche in the pundit arsenal is to say “let’s do it like the Israelis do it”, and it is true that the Israelis do an excellent job with airport security. They use a combination of profiling and screening implemented by multiple layers of highly-trained security personnel to implement a high-quality, fast security process. That’s because they take it seriously. We don’t.

If we took airport security seriously, the Democrats wouldn’t have used it as an opportunity to hire an army oflow-paid, soon-to-be-unionized federal employees who are more likely to vote Democratic. The Republicans wouldn’t use every terrorist scare as an opportunity for a big contract for some donor that makes screening equipment of dubious value.

If by some miracle we decided to start taking airport security seriously, we’d have to perform an massive unfucking of a decade of bad decisions. We’d have to fire some of the TSA agents we’ve hired, because they can’t be trained to the level of skill required by the Israeli model. We’d also have to throw away a lot of the useless equipment we’ve purchased, and cancel lucrative contracts for upgrades. That kind of change is far too risky, so instead we just have to listen to snotty Israelis telling us how fucking dumb we are.

Now on to the concept of privatization.

Airport security used to be handled by private firms. There is nothing inherently wrong with having private security manage airports. It’s been done, and it’s worked. Security is never going to be 100%, so there’s no way we can say that it was our lack of a naked-scanning, genital-groping TSA that made us so vulnerable on 9/11. Far more likely it was our lack of knowledge about the lengths that the terrorists would go and the lack of a locked cabin that made us easy targets. Now cabins are locked and passengers are fully aware of the horrors these particular terrorists are willing to inflict. The next hijackers will need to get past a much fiercer group of passengers before they make it to a locked cabin where an armed pilot will be waiting for them. No simple task.

I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job handle security than the TSA which, so far as I can tell, is accountable to nobody. I’ve said plenty about the limits of privatization in the past. Often as not government contracts to private companies are not actually privatization, but rather the creation of a monopolistic entity, protected from competition and the vote. But demanding that private organizations (the airlines) hire private security is not the same thing as giving a previously government-run operation over to a private company. The TSA is the outlier here, not the other way around.

But I’ll go ahead and take each of mistermix’s points one by one:

Quality. One of the major complaints against the TSA is that fields an army of low-paid, poorly-educated agents to do its work. There is no magic by which a private company, which needs to make a profit, will hire better employees than the TSA. Since they’ll need to pay even lower salaries, they’ll probably hire even less qualified, less educated employees.

Two problems with this: First, the TSA has not measured up to any conceivable standard of quality. No, there is no magic by which a private company will perform any better except that a private company can be replaced. That’s important. Nor is there any magic by which a public bureaucracy will do any better than that private company or that private firms will pay lower salaries. This is just speculation. The TSA is a huge, burgeoning bureaucracy and a lot of the costs associated with it are not wages. Expensive equipment, lots of red tape, administrative costs, etc. A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.

Economy. A key issues with our huge airline security structure is that we need it to follow the same procedures everywhere, otherwise terrorists will board airplanes at the weakest airport in the system. In order to coordinate hundreds of private contractors, the TSA will still have to exist as a rule-making and coordinating body. But, instead of transmitting those rules directly from TSA headquarters to agents in the field, the TSA will have to promulgate rules which will be transmitted to every contractor. Each contractor will need to be educated by theTSA, and inspected by the TSA. So we’ll have a large TSA bureaucracy checking up on the private contractors at each airport. I don’t see how this will be much cheaper than the system we have.

Efficency. It’s not only more expensive to transmit rules and procedures from a central bureaucracy to hundreds of independent contractors, it’s also less efficient. As it stands now, the TSA has a hell of a time educating its large, low-paid workforce to apply its baroque rules uniformly. Imagine the patchwork hodgepodge that will result when the TSA tries to get a hundred different organizations to apply its ever-changing standards with some modicum of consistency.

These are wound pretty closely together so I’ll address them both at once.

We have uniform rules and procedures in all sorts of industries that are not federal bureaucracies. Whenever the federal government comes up with new regulations governing this or that private (or state, or local government) institution, these institutions adapt. One huge advantage of having security standards that are met through bottom-up methods rather than implemented top-down is that you get some degree of experimentation, innovation, and diversity. This is not only good for efficiency as best-practices are developed from the ground up and adopted and adapted throughout the system, it also works to undermine terrorists who, in a top-down system, can exploit the entire system by exposing one flaw.

In a bottom-up system there may not be quite as much uniformity, but that lack of uniformity can actually serve as a security benefit creating uncertainty and a shifting security landscape. Similarly, the weak link effect is no more true of a bottom-up system than a top-down system. Just because there is a central authority governing how security ought to be handled does not ensure that the security in each airport is handled the same even by the same agency. And a weak link in a top-down system is much more likely to create systemic failure rather than isolated failure.

Accountability. Local contractors will be accountable to the entity that hires them, and these entities may well be less accountable than Homeland Security. In large urban areas, airports are under control of the patronage machines of city government. It’s likely that contracts will be sweetheart deals used to reward friends of the machine, which is a road to less accountability, not more, since there’s almost no chance that the machine favorite will lose the contract over anything but a regime change.

This is a good point. I’m honestly not sure how the breakdown of power between airlines and airports works, but I would think the airport would hire its own security firm and the airlines would then hire security on top of that for individual gates. It could be that one firm was hired by the airport to manage each airline as well. Certainly sweetheart deals are a possibility when it comes to government contracting (think trash collection, for instance). Now, whether this makes private firms less accountable than the TSA is another question entirely, and I’m not sure anyone is looking at any relevant data on the matter to do any more than speculate at this point. However, I imagine transparency regulations could be implemented on a federal level making this sort of practice much harder.

Privatizing is no silver bullet to the real problems at the TSA. The stupidity of the rules and mission of the TSA will still be around no matter if we use government employees or private employees to implement them, and it’s likely that we’d pay more to get less under a privatization scheme. That’s unless ED is using “private contractor” as a code-word for “lax oversight”. If so, we’d have an even bigger problem on our hands if we followed his prescription.

No – privatization is not a silver bullet. When it comes to many government functions I think we should avoid privatization at all costs. I have come out strongly against privatized prisons and the use of mercenaries in war, for instance. But the inconvenient fact of the matter is that private firms are traditionally in charge of airport security – when we talk about this subject calling it a ‘privatization scheme’ is simply misleading. I don’t want the government to contract out with private firms – I want airlines to contract out with private firms. The TSA is the scheme here. Private security firms generally handle private-sector security and there’s no reason airports should be any different.

We should abolish the TSA entirely. After that, we should abolish the Department of Homeland Security also, and repeal the Patriot Act, and bring home all the troops we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ban all combat-related private military contractors, and quit getting into stupid wars which only make us less secure in the long run by provoking new generations of terrorists to attack us down the road. In the end, the TSA is just a symptom of a cultural shift toward a more militaristic, paranoid society. If only we could repeal that mentality itself.






126 replies
  1. 1
    Downpuppy says:

    Dang it, E.D., where’d that Simple Song of Freedom ending come from?

    Wow.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvY99BJzN-M

  2. 2
    celticdragonchick says:

    Great post, E.D. Thanks.

  3. 3
    Egilsson says:

    We should abolish the TSA entirely. After that, we should abolish the Department of Homeland Security also, and repeal the Patriot Act, and bring home all the troops we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ban all combat-related private military contractors, and quit getting into stupid wars which only make us less secure in the long run by provoking new generations of terrorists to attack us down the road. In the end, the TSA is just a symptom of a cultural shift toward a more militaristic, paranoid society. If only we could repeal that mentality itself.

    I don’t buy the analysis before this part, but this part is definitely correct and well put.

  4. 4
    dmsilev says:

    Nor is there any magic by which a public bureaucracy will do any better than that private company or that private firms will pay lower salaries. This is just speculation. The TSA is a huge, burgeoning bureaucracy and a lot of the costs associated with it are not wages. Expensive equipment, lots of red tape, administrative costs, etc. A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.

    Or we could look at the actual record of private airport security, since we had that for years and years and years prior to 9/11. And the actual record is that the firms paid absolute bottom dollar, attracted the sort of people that you’d expect for such low wages, and generally did a pretty wretched job of enforcing even the less-stringent standards of the previous decade.

    dms

  5. 5
    cleek says:

    first of all, Israel also has two international airports and fewer than a dozen domestic airports. their biggest international airport has roughly the same traffic as the Ft Lauderdale airport. the other international airport has roughly the same volume as the airport in Kodiak Alaska. Israel faces a completely different situation than we do.

    also, Israel does body searches, sequestered interviews, and x-rays. they screen of cars that enter the airport before passengers can get out. people are screened before they get to the ticket desk. screenings are done by armed guards, which include police and military both uniformed and plainclothed. it’s just as invasive as our system.

    finally, there is nothing private about Israel’s system (don’t tell me you want private contractors with Uzi’s standing in our airports).

    this “make it like Israel” thing is utter bullshit.

  6. 6
    Punchy says:

    Anyone been through a body x-ray scanning machine? Do they still require shoes to be removed? If so, why?

    How can a woman with breast milk but without child be telling the truth? Did you notice she has brown hair? clearly a terroristista.

  7. 7
    ricky says:

    How is the public versus private debate, or the use of Israeli techniques going to change the fact that THEY hate US for our FREEDOM? Huh?

    When you figure it out fellas, send me the answer in a secure cable.

  8. 8
    Kevin says:

    No – privatization is not a silver bullet. When it comes to many government functions I think we should avoid privatization at all costs. I have come out strongly against privatized prisons and the use of mercenaries in war, for instance. But the inconvenient fact of the matter is that private firms are traditionally in charge of airport security – when we talk about this subject calling it a ‘privatization scheme’ is simply misleading. I don’t want the government to contract out with private firms – I want airlines to contract out with private firms. The TSA is the scheme here. Private security firms generally handle private-sector security and there’s no reason airports should be any different.”

    This is incoherent. You don’t want to privatize essential government features, but since airport security had been traditionally privatized, then it’s okay to go back to being privatized? The real question is whether or not transport security should be a function of the government. I find it hard to argue otherwise, in the same way that I find it hard to argue that neighborhood security should not be a government function. But just because it was done in the past doesn’t mean that it should be done in the future.

    As for this:

    “Two problems with this: First, the TSA has not measured up to any conceivable standard of quality. No, there is no magic by which a private company will perform any better except that a private company can be replaced. That’s important. Nor is there any magic by which a public bureaucracy will do any better than that private company or that private firms will pay lower salaries. This is just speculation. The TSA is a huge, burgeoning bureaucracy and a lot of the costs associated with it are not wages. Expensive equipment, lots of red tape, administrative costs, etc. A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.”

    That is because the TSA is part of the security apparatus, the one area that politicians are currently afraid to hold accountable because other politicians will blame them for holding the security apparatus accountable if/when a terrorist attack happens. Your plan is to add a layer of people whose profits depend upon that lack of accountability and who can create even greater profits through inefficiencies (since no one is going to hold them accountable, remember? Want proof: look at how hard it is to get the standard military procurement process under control) and add their lobbying weight to the already mentioned political difficulties. That’s like saying my couch will get easier to lift if my neighbors sit on it.

    This:

    ” After that, we should abolish the Department of Homeland Security also, and repeal the Patriot Act, and bring home all the troops we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ban all combat-related private military contractors, and quit getting into stupid wars which only make us less secure in the long run by provoking new generations of terrorists to attack us down the road. In the end, the TSA is just a symptom of a cultural shift toward a more militaristic, paranoid society. If only we could repeal that mentality itself.”

    however, is dead on.

  9. 9

    I’ve been wondering when the TSA would replace the post office as the goto libertarian “this is an example of government sucking” analogy… I guess we’re there. However, I just can’t see anybody other than reps in extraordinarily safe seats ever embracing this position.

    Any change that can’t be seen as MORE will never happen. Politicians just won’t put themselves in a position to be scapegoated.

    This is not even dealing with whether or not privatization is a good idea… it’s fantasy land regardless.

  10. 10
    SteveinSC says:

    As an ex-Civil Servant of 40+ years I can tell you that if you think hiring private contractors to replace government employees will improve things vis-a-vis the TSA, you are naive indeed. I have had plenty of experience with these “efficient”, “locally accountable” ersatz civil servants and I can assure you, they are no improvement. Change contractors for non-performance? Give me a break. That never happens. The new company hires the old company’s employees, at lower pay, less leave time and worse working conditions to maximize profit. The real problem is there is no such thing as airtight airport secuity and “privatizing” will not change that reality, nor will it be somehow better for the traveling public if you are groped by some hireling instead of a Civil Servant.

  11. 11
    Zifnab says:

    @Egilsson: And if wishes were fishes…

    The problem with the TSA, and any TSA-privatized replacement, is that you’re still going to have the taxpayers shelling out somewhere in the area of $8.1 billion for a non-functional service.

    That’s political money. It goes to a company and that company donates heavily to candidates that support it. You’re never going to get rid of these expensive failures until you get rid of the link between the individuals that profit (see: Chertoff, Michael) and the Congressmen that vote for it.

    That’s the fundamental problem with every big government bureaucracy. Someone is getting a financial cut. It’s the same reason we’re spending $10 billion / month on Halliburton feed troops in Iraq. It’s the same reason we’re dropping billions on private security contractors for the State Department.

    You’re never going to cut these programs so long as the financial and political health of the Representatives and the businessmen are so tightly bound.

    TSA is never going away if folks can continue to turn huge profits on its existence.

  12. 12
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    I don’t buy at all that the private sector can do a better job as the government in this case. The only reason I would claim that the government could do better is their ability to disseminate information to the entire group quicker than a bunch of smaller companies.

    You know what this sounds like: Sanitation. The government should contract out to one or more private companies for short periods of time.

  13. 13
    mistermix says:

    I guess what I don’t understand is why you even threw out that privatization line if your real goal is to get rid of the TSA (which is a goal I could support, probably, if it were structured correctly).

    What I argued was, all other things being equal, privatization will not solve the problem.

    What you’re saying in this post is, all other things not being equal, there are scenarios in which privatization could make sense.

    Example:

    A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.

    Well, right now, the TSA dictates that scanners will be used by private security firms as well as the TSA, so this kind of innovation will be verboten. If we want to move the goalposts and get rid of those scanners, then, yes, obviously, the private firm is cheaper if the TSA for some reason clings to scanners while the private firms get rid of them.

    In general, I’m more than a bit leery of a small security firm “innovating” because “innovation” in government contracting, in practice, is almost always “cutting corners to save money”.

    If you want to have a discussion about what we should be doing to check passengers, let’s have it, but just throwing out privatization as a possible solution absent that discussion doesn’t advance the conversation.

    That said, it’s still hard to see what’s up for debate and what isn’t in your current argument. Example:

    I don’t want the government to contract out with private firms – I want airlines to contract out with private firms.

    Airports do the contracting, because they rent space to airlines and handle the security, which is a shared function (and a shared efficiency). I don’t know if this was a mis-statement or some form of “let the airlines compete” free market argument. If it’s the former, fine. But if it’s the latter, it’s unrealistic. That’s just not how airports are structured today, and it would be an enormous project to change them.

    So are we talking about the real world or some world where we make up all the constraints? Because in the real world, privatizing the TSA will do little or nothing to cure what ails the TSA, unless we change the TSA entirely.

  14. 14
    amk says:

    You should have stopped with the headline. That was enough.

  15. 15
    monkeyboy says:

    A lot of Israeli-style El Al security just involves keeping anybody they are slightly suspicious of off of their planes.

    60% of El Al passengers are Israeli and I guess a good portion of the remainder are non-Israeli Jews. Most Muslims wouldn’t fly El Al unless it was the only option because there are plenty of other airlines. I’ve read some stories of Palestinian business men from Israel who flew with a bunch of Israelis to the US for some conference – the Palestinians wound up with personal minders from EL who kept them in constant visual surveillance, even in the men’s room at the terminal.

    The US cannot have a national policy of harassing whoever they like to keep them from flying on airlines in the US.

  16. 16
    jimBOB says:

    I think the accountability with the Israeli system comes not from whether or not it’s a private system, but instead from the fact that there are real terrorists there trying to get through. If we had real suicide bombers coming to U.S. airports on a regular basis, then pointless theatrical security procedures would fall away and we’d have to go with something that actually worked.

    TSA can always claim that whatever it’s doing is justified since we don’t see terrorist attacks very often, even if the real reason we don’t is that there aren’t many terrorists in the U.S. And this would continue to be the case even if the system were privatized.

  17. 17
    Ed Marshall says:

    No one who has ever flown to Israel would think that Americans would put up with “Israeli style security” for five minutes.

    The questions aren’t just “who packed your luggage”, and if you break the weird eye contact they hold on you, or screw up their interrogation in some way it turns into “you are lying, what are you trying to hide?”

  18. 18
    cleek says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    You know what this sounds like: Sanitation

    uh oh.

    are we going to hear libertarians screaming that they should be allowed to choose their own airport screening companies, instead of letting the government allow a de-facto monopoly by tyrannically choosing the security company that everyone has to use ?

  19. 19
    JasonF says:

    E.D. —

    You don’t do a very good job of showing your work. For example, you say:

    No, there is no magic by which a private company will perform any better except that a private company can be replaced. That’s important. Nor is there any magic by which a public bureaucracy will do any better than that private company or that private firms will pay lower salaries. This is just speculation.

    But then go on to say:

    The TSA is a huge, burgeoning bureaucracy and a lot of the costs associated with it are not wages. Expensive equipment, lots of red tape, administrative costs, etc. A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.

    How is it anything other than speculation to say that a private security company would have a leaner, better paid staff with fewer equipment and less inefficiency? It may or may not be true, but you’ve presented no evidence to support it. Indeed, the only evidence we have — and it’s highly distinguishable, I will grant — is the inefficiency and poor wages of pre-September-11 private security funds.

    I also find it curious that you support eliminating private military contractors. Don’t many of the arguments you raise in favor of replacing the TSA with a private company also apply to replacing the army with Blackwater? Why do you favor one but oppose the other?

  20. 20
    srv says:

    As always with Israeli-method fanboys, it’s always funny to see a “libertarian” who believes only certain folks need to give up their civil-liberties.

  21. 21
    Three-nineteen says:

    The private security firms you envision will be started by ex-TSA. Or, the private firms will hire “consultants” who will be ex-TSA. It’ll be a huge selling point – “We know the regs, and we can help you be compliant as cheaply as possible”. I’m not sure why you think these private firms will be doing anything innovative. It’ll be a lot cheaper, at least in the short run, to do exactly what’s being done now.

    What are the rules now for layovers? Do you have to go through security again at the layover airport? That would be fun if every airport had different security rules.

  22. 22
    Shalimar says:

    than the TSA which, so far as I can tell, is accountable to nobody

    You mean Darrell Issa isn’t going to be holding anyone accountable during his hundreds of hours of hearings investigating the TSA? I am shocked that such a thing could happen on his scrupulous watch.

  23. 23
    rageahol says:

    AUTHOR BYLINES IN POST TITLES OR AS FIRST LINE OF POST BODY.

    This post is, as so often the case (batting a thousand!) reasonoid horseshit.

    E.D. KAIN IS THE MEGAN McARDLE OF BALLOON JUICE

  24. 24
    jonas says:

    Let’s be fair here: The TSA isn’t worried about a 9/11-style hijacking anymore. E.D. is correct: passengers would not remain passive and there’s really no way for an individual, or even a determined group of individuals, to commandeer a modern aircraft any longer. They’re worried about people secreting high explosives somewhere on their body and detonating them midair — like the shoe and underwear bombers tried to do. This isn’t about TSA professionalism, or lack thereof, or whether we should privatise the operation, etc. — but whether scanning and groping is really an effective deterrent. There’s simply to end to this because as long as there are planes in the air, some terrorist, somewhere, will try to figure out a way to blow one up. We reinforced cockpit doors and put air marshals on the flights. So the terrorists smuggled bombs in their underwear. We scan underwear now, so the next step is C-4 in a buttplug or tampon. Next we’ll implement mandatory cavity probing and the terrorists will move on to putting explosives in what appears to be a surgical hip replacement. TSA will then have surgeons with scalpels at the ready for that. This has no end except the eventual grounding of all civil aviation.

  25. 25
    sturunner says:

    If it were about security, the focus would be on real threats like air freight, chemical plants, and almost deliberately vulnerable infrastructure like the elevated Metro line thru Tyson’s Corner, VA on the under-construction Silver Line to Dulles Airport. Oh, wait, that would require risk-assessment incorporating statistical significance of the threats. And it would focus attention on just how unsafe some plants are even absent a deliberate threat. Corporatus Americus would never tolerate that, because it might really scare folks that live near those plants & require them to spend what is otherwise profits to deal with the determined vulnerabilities.

  26. 26
    soonergrunt says:

    I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job

    You’ve obviously never done anything at all with government service contracting.
    I’ve been an IT contractor for several years. Different companies every time one of the wins the contract, and what happens is that the contracts are written in such a way that about the only thing that causes early termination or non-renewal would be if the CEO of the contracting company came on base and murdered the Commanding General with a pitchfork in the Exchange Food Court, and then only after the contractor had exhausted all of their appeals.
    The government pays well north of $100K/year to my company for my position, and I see less than half of that. A GS-11 makes more money than I do and costs the government less. I can’t wait till we get rid of all the service contracting.

  27. 27
    Jewish Steel says:

    “The next hijackers will need to get past a much fiercer group of passengers before they make it to a locked cabin…”

    Whoa! Is that what you mean by privatization? I’ll just do it myself Big Society style?

  28. 28
    suzanne says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    You know what this sounds like: Sanitation. The government should contract out to one or more private companies for short periods of time.

    MONOPOLIST!

    I am still finding E.D’s argument completely ridiculous. The defining characteristic of the private sector, the need to profit, is, in this example and others, completely antithetical to the goal. How the hell would one go about holding an private security organization “accountable”? Not fly at all? Refuse to go through certain airports? Come the fuck on. There aren’t enough choices in the market for consumers to have any real power. Which leaves us with the insurmountable problem that, in order to turn a profit, the security company, BY DESIGN, has to provide an ever-shittier product. Pardon me for wanting to eliminate any reason to financially profit from my demise.

  29. 29
    cleek says:

    The next hijackers will need to get past a much fiercer group of passengers before they make it to a locked cabin where an armed pilot will be waiting for them.

    you’re still trying to prevent 9/11. the latest attempts at attacking us have been via bombs in the cargo bay, which none of this stuff will fix. and if we ever solve that problem, they’ll find something else.

  30. 30
    marcopolo says:

    @cleek: This. Every time someone throws out the “let’s do it like the Israeli’s line” (including me a few times before I did the research) I wonder how well they actually understand how that system works and the tiny (compared to the US) number of airports and flights that they deal with.
    That being said, I would love to see us adopt “the Israeli” way of doing airport security but it would likely be quite a bit more expensive than what we are using right now. It would certainly not require fewer security personnel and much more likely would require more. And the kind of behavioral analysis of passengers that Israel requires its security folks to engage in would require a better educated and trained (and more expensive) workforce than we have right now. Watching people to discern questionable behavior is a bit more involved than watching a screen or patting folks down.
    @dmsilev: Also this. Not sure where ED got the idea that airport security, as provided by private companies prior to 9/11, was particularly adept but it wasn’t. That is one of the reasons that the TSA was created. Another was to provide a consistent standard of security across all airports in the U.S. If we are gonna have one operation doing all the security at our airports I would rather it be a branch of the government than some huge contractor like Halliburton or Xe (formerly known as Blackwater).

  31. 31
    El Tiburon says:

    I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job handle security than the TSA which, so far as I can tell, is accountable to nobody.

    Yes, because this is how it always works. For example, remember all of those private contracting firms who ripped us off for BILLIONS in Iraq? Yeah, they all got fired.

    Wait, what’s that? None of them got fired and in fact they continue to get billions in government contracts? Oh, well fuck that then.

    E.D., this notion that privatizing airport security will be some kind of panacea is pure gibberish. It matters not if they are govt. or private workers. It is the SYSTEM that needs to be altered.

  32. 32
    lou says:

    As I said in mistermix’s post, I remember the pathetic security “guards” who watched our airports before 9-11 since I have to travel so much for work. I doubt that private companies can do a very good job. We’ll be back to minimum wage types real quick.

    And it always slays me when people talk ominously about gov’t bureaucracies. Having worked for a large corporation for 10 years, lemme tell you, their bureaucracies are a hell of a lot worse. At least you can appeal to your elected officials with a government one.

    The problem is having to screen as many people as TSA must *in one place.*

    I would suggest that refurbishing our airports so they operate like Singapore or Amsterdam would be a better option than modeling ourselves after Israel.

    In those airports, the security officials screen luggage at the gate. The gate is closed off. So security is screening a smaller group of people (the people servicing and boarding the plane) and can pay more close attention.

    It’s probably more expensive than our current setup, but wouldn’t be nearly as costly as Israel’s.

  33. 33
    me says:

    Airport security used to be handled by private firms. There is nothing inherently wrong with having private security manage airports. It’s been done, and it’s worked. Security is never going to be 100%, so there’s no way we can say that it was our lack of a naked-scanning, genital-groping TSA that made us so vulnerable on 9/11.

    This is a rather different argument then just privatization and one I could get behind if there was any prospect of it happening.

    @lou: I’m not sure I believe that the current screening system is really more effective then the one from before 2001.

  34. 34
    ricky says:

    @soonergrunt:

    So it was the General in the Exchange Food Court with the Pitchfork by the CEO. I would have guessed it was the
    Enlisted Men in the Deployment Centre withg automatic weapons by the Crazy Psychiatrist. With so many ordered not to tell, few of us ask and we are all left Clueless.

  35. 35
    Svensker says:

    @marcopolo:

    That being said, I would love to see us adopt “the Israeli” way of doing airport security but it would likely be quite a bit more expensive than what we are using right now. It would certainly not require fewer security personnel and much more likely would require more. And the kind of behavioral analysis of passengers that Israel requires its security folks to engage in would require a better educated and trained (and more expensive) workforce than we have right now. Watching people to discern questionable behavior is a bit more involved than watching a screen or patting folks down.

    Since we’ve been subsidizing Israeli security for years, perhaps they can finance their own now and we can spend our own money on our OWN security. But that would be objectively pro-terrorist, I’m guessing.

  36. 36
    Starfish says:

    I watched that video while breastfeeding, and it made me sad.

    How did she manage to get the TSA to send her video? I thought they were fairly unresponsive to questions such as “why did you break or steal things in my luggage.” If her boy was hungry, wasn’t missing the flight worse than dumping the milk? Surely, the milk in her breasts would have replenished itself in the hours involved unless she is part of some terrorist milk smuggling ring, and the milk came from someone else.

  37. 37
    Martin says:

    So, what’s the problem? Airports have been able to kick TSA out since 2003, provided they meet the published security standards and hold up to to random security checks.

    The free market has been in full control of this situation for 7 years and aside from selling us ever more lucrative contracts for doo-dads, they haven’t stepped up to provide a better screening service. Why? Because nobody wants to pay for it. The first airport that went private would have to put those costs on the airlines that fly in, and the airlines would need to put that into ticket prices – either distributed across all of their tickets or as a fee for flying into that airport (more likely). In the race-to-the-bottom airline industry, that won’t work. And the reason it won’t work is that very few Americans have no sense of value for money. The whole concept of Black Friday is proof of that – that people will suffer through the most unpleasant crowds and lines to save $15. And you think they’re willing to pay $15 extra to be manhandled by a private contractor rather than a TSA employee?

  38. 38
    YellowDog says:

    A nice academic analysis that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the real world. Holding private companies accountable is a nice concept, but it doesn’t always work. If you “fire” the security company, guess who the new company hires because they are experienced and qualified? And when civil liberties are at stake, do you really want bottom-up experimentation and innovation by a host of private firms? I am not sure that would even work because innovations that were not successful could be cause for “firing” a company, creating a disincentive to stray too far from the tried and true. This is not an entrepreneurial endeavor with large payoffs for successful innovation. The reward is keeping your job, which you could presumably do without experimentation.

  39. 39
    Three-nineteen says:

    @soonergrunt: @El Tiburon: I don’t think ED is proposing that the government gives out the contracts. He wants the different airports to hire their own security.

    Atlanta airport hires Airline Security for Less! When an airplane blows up after leaving Atlanta, they drop Airline Security for Less! because obviously their methods suck. Atlanta then hires Joe’s Airport Security, who has protected O’Hare for over six months without killing anyone.

  40. 40
    sturunner says:

    WTF?

    On my comment 25, XHTML tags were misread, & when I tried to edit, it briefly flashed, but nothing happened. The “Click to EditRequest Deletion” line is still up after 15 minutes.

    Could it be because I’m using Opera (10.60) as my browser? Inquiring minds want to know. . . .

  41. 41
    mss says:

    You have to give props to a privatization proposal that doesn’t even pretend to offer a market mechanism. I’m sure once ED bothers to check who used to hire the private airport screeners, he’ll explain how innovative passengers will discover an effective means of voting with their feet—perhaps by choosing one of the countless other airports in the local airport marketplace, after a careful analysis of the rates at which their flights are destroyed by terrorists?

    If I wanted hilariously poorly reasoned libertarian bullshit, and a general ignorance of the nature of economic analysis, I’d head over to Reason magazine.

  42. 42
    Starfish says:

    @Three-nineteen: And this argument makes no sense because terrorism doesn’t happen often enough or consistently enough for us to realize that Airline Security for Less is bad or that Joe’s Airport Security is good. It could just be that no terrorists have attempted to make attacks on O’Hare. It’s like the argument that Bush was doing a good job fighting terrorism because there had been no terrorist attacks since 9/11.

  43. 43
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @dmsilev:

    Or we could look at the actual record of private airport security, since we had that for years and years and years prior to 9/11. And the actual record is that the firms paid absolute bottom dollar, attracted the sort of people that you’d expect for such low wages, and generally did a pretty wretched job of enforcing even the less-stringent standards of the previous decade.

    This.

    Let’s face it, airport security should be a government service since in 2010, it involves a significant element of national security. And even the most assbound libertards always talk about how good ole gubmint is justified for things like national defense/security.

    Remember, the outsourcing of governmental services is the road to tyranny. There’s a good reason why the Bushies tried to privatize all the gubmint.

    @YellowDog:

    A nice academic analysis that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the real world.

    That sums up pretty much any libertarian argument about anything.

  44. 44
    liberal says:

    @jonas:

    This has no end except the eventual grounding of all civil aviation.

    Actually, there’s a very simple end to most of it: adopt a much less interventionist foreign policy. Then there will be no one ideologically motivated to blow up airliners. (There might be isolated nutjobs, but they have even less wherewithal to pull this stuff off, and they’re fewer in number.)

  45. 45
    Martin says:

    @suzanne: Yeah, this is fundamentally the problem with free-market discussions right now – the people advocating for them don’t seem to know what a free market looks like.

    How is the consumer (us) supposed to be able to choose among competing security firms? Will there be 10 security lines at the front of the airport which we can choose from? The discount one for $5 where Bubba asks you to strip down and the premium one for $50 where the former Victoria Secret model will pat you down and give you a happy ending?

    I don’t see it. I don’t see where I as a consumer will ever get a choice here. There’s insufficient competition in airports to choose from, even in major markets like NYC, insufficient competition in airlines except for the most heavily travelled routes like LA-NYC, NYC-London, etc. and certainly insufficient competition in the services offered at each place, because it’s by necessity a captive market, and in a captive market further choice only seeks to reduce the size of the customer base. Nobody is going to go to the airport to experience the security line, so there’s nothing to gain by dividing the captive market of airline fliers among a range of security firms.

  46. 46
    scarshapedstar says:

    Nobody is ever going to hijack an airplane again. It’s just not fucking possible.

    But that was easy to fix.

  47. 47
    YellowDog says:

    @Three-nineteen:

    And Joe’s Airport Security hires everyone at Airline Security because Joe doesn’t have a base of operation in Atlanta. The end result is that you have the same people doing the same jobs. Does anyone here understand how government contractors work? Companies are created on the fly to submit bids and, if successful, they hire the people they replaced.

  48. 48
    liberal says:

    @mss:

    If I wanted hilariously poorly reasoned libertarian bullshit, and a general ignorance of the nature of economic analysis, I’d head over to Reason magazine.

    Well, while I’d agree that it’s not at all impossible for a true “positive” science of economics to exist, in all fairness to libertarians, it’s not clear that economics in general avoids an ignorance of the nature of economic analysis, given that economists as a class failed to anticipate and warn about a multi-trillion dollar housing bubble.

  49. 49
    robert green says:

    i don’t know why anyone bothers with E.D.

    he thinks that government-hired contractors are easy to replace if they fuck up. here in the real world XE (nee Blackwater) just got another monster contract overseas. this is a point that is refuted by using the magic of google. and by having a brain that resides here on planet real.

    he thinks that our current body of politicians will pass his privatization laws in such a way that we will be protected from pernicious monopolistic practices, or from opacity. this is just…well, it beggars description.

    at the end of every conversation with or blog post from a libertarian, i find myself asking the same question: stupid or high?

    i don’t smell any pot around here.

    to (mis)quote the estimable mr. vanian:

    i think religionlibertarianism doesn’t mean a thing, it’s just another way to be right wing.

  50. 50
    mark says:

    My dad flew from athens to israel on el al. He got pulled out of line and taken alone on a bus to board the plane. Security guards sat on either side of him. One of them showed him his gun. He said “don’t fuck with me.”

    You want high school dropout rent a cops running a similar system in the us?

  51. 51
  52. 52
    Martin says:

    @Three-nineteen:

    I don’t think ED is proposing that the government gives out the contracts. He wants the different airports to hire their own security.

    THEY CAN DO THAT NOW! They’ve been able to do that since 2003! The invisible hand of the market has been welcome for 7 years now – they aren’t interested because there’s no market strategy here. There’s no viable way for them to get paid and to increase revenue. Doing a better job won’t get them more money because they’re captive to the whims of the airport management and the airlines. If the airlines won’t pay, then they’re shut down. DHS regulation is the least of their worries here.

  53. 53
    Sly says:

    I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job handle security than the TSA which, so far as I can tell, is accountable to nobody.

    It is accountable to the political system. You’re simply believing that its not because the vast majority of passengers go through TSA screenings with minimal incidents. Count the number of people who passed through the above video, for instance. You want a barometer of efficiency? That looks pretty efficient to me.

    When one woman was forced to drink her own breast milk, a sufficient level of outrage was generated as to force a rule change. But whether operated by the government or operated by a private contractor, if a significant number of people find the operations to be sufficiently tolerable then accountability is irrelevant.

    Two problems with this: First, the TSA has not measured up to any conceivable standard of quality. No, there is no magic by which a private company will perform any better except that a private company can be replaced. That’s important. Nor is there any magic by which a public bureaucracy will do any better than that private company or that private firms will pay lower salaries. This is just speculation.The TSA is a huge, burgeoning bureaucracy and a lot of the costs associated with it are not wages. Expensive equipment, lots of red tape, administrative costs, etc. A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.

    Everything in that paragraph is speculation. In fact, you’re entire thesis is purely speculative. Mistermix comes up with practical objections, and your best argument is to say something along the lines of, “well.. if you just turn your head and squint your eyes, that can actually be a benefit!” Thought games aren’t going to get that woman through the screening process any faster.

    Here’s my suggestion: Her not fretting over small doses of radiation, which have no effect on the nutritional value of breast milk, will get her through faster. Medical diagnostic equipment pumps out more radiation than an airport scanner, and lactating mothers can still receive medical x-rays without any danger (unless they’re injected with a contrasting agent for an MRI, which is a different topic entirely).

  54. 54
    Corner Stone says:

    @El Tiburon:

    Wait, what’s that? None of them got fired and in fact they continue to get billions in government contracts? Oh, well fuck that then.

    Not only do they continue to get our billions, but when Afghanistan threatened to kick them out of country the US protected their presence.
    Basically strong armed the Afghan govt into keeping them there.

  55. 55
    Catsy says:

    @soonergrunt:

    I’ve been an IT contractor for several years. Different companies every time one of the wins the contract, and what happens is that the contracts are written in such a way that about the only thing that causes early termination or non-renewal would be if the CEO of the contracting company came on base and murdered the Commanding General with a pitchfork in the Exchange Food Court, and then only after the contractor had exhausted all of their appeals.

    This is pretty much par for the course in IT in the private sector as well. We have a huge suite of so-called “enterprise quality” tools made by a very well-known provider of such things, and they are the absolute worst kind of bloated, buggy garbage imaginable. But because they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and come with a million-dollar support contract, nobody is listening to the people who actually have to use this crap and their feedback about how awful it is. Instead, because we’ve sunk so much money into them and they look good on paper, we are in the process of moving more and more of our workflow into these garbage applications, largely in order to justify the fact that we spent money on them and have a multi-year support contract.

    @lou:

    And it always slays me when people talk ominously about gov’t bureaucracies. Having worked for a large corporation for 10 years, lemme tell you, their bureaucracies are a hell of a lot worse. At least you can appeal to your elected officials with a government one.

    This. See above.

    The conservative-libertarian fetish for privatization and beliefs about the inherent inefficiency of government are truly delusional. The problem isn’t that government is slow and inefficient. The problem is that large organizations are slow and inefficient. There are exceptions, yes–but they are just that, exceptions. And the efficiencies that make them exceptions generally don’t translate directly to other companies or markets in the same way.

  56. 56
    Silver says:

    You know, it’s funny that when the calls for profiling come out, no one ever mentions that we need to be taking a really close look at angry white ex-military.

    Is that because McVeigh wasn’t really a terrorist (just a misguided patriot!) or because “profiling” is another term for “fucking with brown people”?

  57. 57
    Carnacki says:

    @mistermix: Why are you posting this as a comment? Our ombudsman doesn’t do comments.

  58. 58
    Corner Stone says:

    So now we have The Atlantic circle jerk going full strength?
    Mistermix posts something at BJ, then EDK posts something somewhere else related to what mistermix posted at BJ, then mistermix posts at BJ about what EDK posted somewhere else, and now EDK posts at BJ about what mistermix posted at BJ about what EDK posted somewhere else that was related to what mistermix posted at BJ.

  59. 59
    cleek says:

    @robert green:
    mr. vanian ?

    not mr daniel, quoting mr fisk ?

  60. 60
    geg6 says:

    @mss:

    Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    libertarians = communists

    There is no difference in their complete lack of understanding of reality and human nature.

  61. 61
    ricky says:

    So now we have The Atlantic circle jerk going full strength?

    If they had tried a direct post the intellectual jissom would have had to be X-rayed by blogospheric security.

  62. 62
    Martin says:

    @Sly:

    Here’s my suggestion: Her not fretting over small doses of radiation, which have no effect on the nutritional value of breast milk, will get her through faster. Medical diagnostic equipment pumps out more radiation than an airport scanner, and lactating mothers can still receive medical x-rays without any danger (unless they’re injected with a contrasting agent for an MRI, which is a different topic entirely).

    The problem, however, is that we generally have more control over these other scenarios than we do over airline travel. If she knew she needed to go in for an x-ray, she could freeze her breast milk and rely on that until she felt the effects of the x-ray wore off (yeah, I have a degree in physics, I know that makes no sense). She has a choice to do a harmless, irrational thing – and we all do harmless irrational things every day. Probably every hour. She has control when she goes to the doctor. But she didn’t have those options when flying other than to not fly. She has no control there. And security doesn’t require giving up control, except as its been implemented in the US.

    In that particular instance, the woman thought she had some control. To her complete credit, she got the TSA policies and followed them and whether bypassing the xray was rational or not, she at least identified where she did and did not have control, and the TSA wrongly violated that. And that, really, is the main complaint here. People need to know (and be able to rely on) what they have control over.

  63. 63
    brantl says:

    Kaine brings the “D” game again.

    This reminds me of the guy talking about he has a thousand ideas a minute, and his smart-ass sidekick drawls, “Yeah, but they’re all shitty………”

    Kaine, once you’ve been buried, quit trying to shift the goalposts and STOP DIGGING.

  64. 64
    jman says:

    You are a little late to the party. It is not uncommon for airports to contract security and not use TSA. I would think you would research those airports, there are more than a dozen, to buttress your argument.

    Why do you want to dictate to the airports what they must do for security? Since it is already within their perogative to use TSA or not, why not allow the owners decide what is best for business?

  65. 65
    robert green says:

    @cleek: the original line that mr. daniel used in jonathan fisk is from one of the great punk songs ever written: Anti-Pope by The Damned.

    I’m going back to church tonight
    Take me back when I was eight
    But I don’t mean to pray
    I’m gonna nick the collection plate
    I’ve got nothing against church
    Or the people who go there and show there
    Plain ignorant they don’t understand
    At congregation at weekends will change their behaviour
    So many people are weak enough
    To have to seek answers from pedlars of hope
    I should know I used to go there myself
    That’s the day I became antipope
    Theres gonna be some fun tonight
    Spending it around the town
    The vicars are transvestites
    With a fetish for robes and gowns
    I’ve got nothing against church
    Or the people who go there and show there
    Plain ignorant they don’t understand
    At congregation at weekends will change their behaviour
    So many people are weak enough
    To have to seek answers from pedlars of hope
    I should know I used to go there myself
    That’s the day I became antipope
    Religion doesn’t mean a thing
    Its just another way of being right wing
    I think sex films are okay
    I don’t dig that poko way
    I’ve got nothing against church
    Or the people who go there and show there
    Plain ignorant they don’t understand
    At congregation at weekends will change their behaviour
    So many people are weak enough
    To have to seek answers from pedlars of hope
    I should know I used to go there myself
    That’s the day I became antipope

  66. 66
    Pangloss says:

    Whatever happened to Union Carbide? Maybe a nimble, efficient, customer-focused corporation like that can get into the security game, which has been so obviously bungled by Big Gubmint.

  67. 67
    soonergrunt says:

    @ricky: groan/grin.

  68. 68
    Martin says:

    @Catsy: Agreed. The number of corporations that I think are truly well-run I could count on one hand. There’s absolutely nothing stopping any of them from being a model corporation, yet virtually none of them are. But inefficiencies and flat-out stupidity in the private sector get waved away by free-marketeers all the time.

  69. 69
    elm says:

    Speculation and theory-in-the-abstract used to support privatization from E.D. Kain? Say it ain’t so.

    The problem with his LOOG post is the same as his garbage collection post. He does nothing to engage with the specific features of the subject that make it amenable (or not) to privatization.

    The arguments are generic pap about freedom, choice, transparency, streamlining, accountability, experimentation, innovation, and diversity, and efficiency. That only works so long as your audience isn’t familiar with actual for-profit companies; e.g. children and Libertarians.

  70. 70
    Alwhite says:

    I have a very good friend who is (well perhaps ‘was’ as he is growing up recently) a Rand-level libertarian. These discussions under ED are identical to the ones I had with this friend. He would make some spectacularly silly statement based on his religious beliefs in the Testament of Ayn and I would patiently offer real world examples of how they were incorrect and how they had been demonstrated incorrect repeatedly. He would concede the point but end with bullshit along the line of “well, maybe you are right but private is always better than public”. After a while it just became easier to ignore his silly statements as I was not going to change his mind with facts or history. Since ED seems to not be learning from these exchanges and everyone else pretty much understands that why are we having this discussion?

  71. 71
  72. 72
    Winston Smith says:

    Airport security used to be handled by private firms. … It’s been done, and it’s worked.

    We don’t really know how well it worked. We do, unfortunately, know how badly it failed.

    I don’t know how private companies are “answerable to the people.” The people going through security are paying the agents indirectly — either through taxes or through fees of some sort.

    With the TSA, they are ideally able to exert some control through representative democracy. With a private contractor, the only force they have is to stop supporting the system by not flying. Obviously, if not flying was a viable option airports would be ghost towns right about now.

  73. 73
    cmorenc says:

    While we’re at it, let’s subcontract airport flight traffic control to private contractors. Because by the same reasoning, private contractors have more incentive to run an efficient operation than a government bureaucracy.

    NOT.

    I’m not interested whatsoever in having corporate bean-counters try to pare air traffic control down to cost-efficient minimalism, because of accountability to shareholders executive officers’ bonuses.

  74. 74
    elm says:

    @Alwhite:

    Since ED seems to not be learning from these exchanges and everyone else pretty much understands that why are we having this discussion?

    I don’t know about you, but if I wasn’t having this discussion, I’d be doing productive work for my streamlined, efficient, accountable, and transparent private-sector employer.

  75. 75
    chopper says:

    @Martin:

    LOL, this completely destroys E.D.’s entire argument in one paragraph. good show.

  76. 76
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job handle security than the TSA which, so far as I can tell, is accountable to nobody.

    I don’t understand this sentiment, and I especially don’t understand it in the context of airline travel. How are we going to fire an airline security company? Are we going to shut down air travel for a few days while companies swap out? And who is going to decide that it is not doing its job properly? Isn’t that going to require government oversight?

    The TSA is accountable to elected officials who are accountable to us. Now, if some people are going to decide that electing someone who is anti-abortion is more important than keeping the TSA accountable, then eventually they are going to have to learn to live with their choices (I know, they won’t anyway). But that really is no different than these same elected officials not keeping the private companies accountable.

    Now, if all things are otherwise equal, should it be done by companies or by the government? Great question. But I’m not seeing how an individual company can do it better in this case. What kind of innovation could there be? Wouldn’t the economics of scale apply better here?

    As a liberal, I don’t accept the argument that the market will solve everything better than the government, and in some cases it can be worse.

  77. 77
    Ross Hershberger says:

    OT on Government. The mail just came. There was a check in the mail from the Federal Trade Commission. They were reimbursing customers who used a shitty privacy protection company called Lifelock. I had no idea this was going on, but they paid us anyway.
    I can’t see private enterprise doing that on it’s own. Thank you, USPS. Thank you, FTC.

  78. 78
    Sly says:

    @Martin:

    The problem, however, is that we generally have more control over these other scenarios than we do over airline travel. If she knew she needed to go in for an x-ray, she could freeze her breast milk and rely on that until she felt the effects of the x-ray wore off (yeah, I have a degree in physics, I know that makes no sense). She has a choice to do a harmless, irrational thing – and we all do harmless irrational things every day. Probably every hour. She has control when she goes to the doctor. But she didn’t have those options when flying other than to not fly. She has no control there. And security doesn’t require giving up control, except as its been implemented in the US.

    Control is based on information and options are based on reality.

    She took the time to gather the necessary information that she believed would justify an alternate form of inspection. I say “she believed,” because it is important to note that the TSA guidelines don’t actually use the word “alternate” when it comes to breast milk inspection… it uses “additional,” as in it will be inspected in addition to a conventional x-ray. So I do not find that she correctly identified where she had control in that situation.

  79. 79
    schrodinger's cat says:

    EDK@top

    A smaller, more professional organization could probably hire fewer people, pay them more, and do away with a lot of the capital expenses (such as naked scanners) all while increasing efficiency.

    Smaller is not always better, have you heard of economies of size and scope? What exactly do you mean by capital expenses?

  80. 80
    Vince CA says:

    two things: 1) Israel’s airline security is limited to one international airport. Can anyone say the number we have in the United States of the top of their head? Does anyone believe that a security agent trained in say Atlanta GA is going to profile the same way as someone trained in San Francisco? 2) Privatization was disastrous at San José Airport before 9/11. I don’t see how low to no-bid private contracts are going to make it better. Other than that, I agree that the Patriot Act should be repealed and the TSA should be disbanded. I feel less safe now, even compared to when I saw the xray tech snoring on the job at SJC back in the 90s.

  81. 81
    GregB says:

    No, we can only profile the N’s and the Muslims. Anything that targets whites or Christians un-Amurkin.

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that Randian economics are about as grounded in reality as Magic the Gathering.

  82. 82
    Corner Stone says:

    Open Thread?

  83. 83
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Oops I meant scale and scope.

  84. 84
    JGabriel says:

    E.D. Kain:

    Airport security used to be handled by private firms. There is nothing inherently wrong with having private security manage airports. It’s been done, and it’s worked.

    Not really. There were plenty of hijackings prior to 9/11, and, offhand, I can’t think of any that were prevented by airport security. It’s just that the occasional hijacking of a plane was marginally more acceptable when the thinking and experience was that the hijackers had no interest in dying themselves, and the losses were largely restricted to time and money, rather than lives.

    9/11 changed the calculus of that risk.

    Airport screening is much more of a policing action now, and like policing, it should probably be a function of the government.

    Security is not enhanced by privatizing this function, because most people are not terrorists. Combine low risk with a motive to cut costs and corners, and it’s easy to see how privatization will inevitably lead to lackadaisical and ineffective screening, and a tragic outcome.

    I’m not a fan of the TSA’s increasingly intrusive screening procedures, but I can’t imagine a scenario where privatizing the function leads to better outcomes. I can, however, imagine the government responding to voter complaints and eventually looking for less intrusive ways to ensure safety.

    .

  85. 85
    Martin says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    I don’t understand this sentiment, and I especially don’t understand it in the context of airline travel. How are we going to fire an airline security company? Are we going to shut down air travel for a few days while companies swap out? And who is going to decide that it is not doing its job properly? Isn’t that going to require government oversight?

    Well, I don’t see any reason why a private contractor can’t do a better job as TSA. I don’t see any reason why they won’t do a worse job as well.

    I have no problem shutting down airline travel to a given airport if security doesn’t hold up. In fact, that very threat is probably what would cause this to work at least acceptably well. The security firm is paid by the airport management and the airport management is paid by the airlines, and if flights aren’t going in and out, then they’re fucked. Shutting down travel is WAY more costly than providing proper security.

    But the airport would never get shut down. We all know that. We all know that there’s 2 senators and at least one congressmen that would blow a fucking fuse if DHS ever did that. Politics would inevitably intervene and trump security, just as it has all along.

    My skepticism to turning over security to private contractors is that it won’t achieve any of the things the people arguing for it claim it will achieve. Yes, it’ll be out of TSAs hands, but after that, I don’t see any measurable benefits of a private contractor over TSA. The only benefit I do see is that rather than shut down the airport, DHS will just fine the everloving shit out of the contractor, the costs of which will be passed down the line eventually to the consumer. Personally, I’m a big proponent of massive fining by regulators. Call it the free-market tax. Do it enough and we might get the budget deficit erased.

  86. 86
    Chessy says:

    B) implement Israeli-style profiling if we are going to focus so much on our security.

    I thought E.D. was supposed to be a libertarian?

    I’m on board with the much less intrusive, though far more ‘prejudiced’ profiling used by Israeli airport security.

    Much less intrusive… are you serious? Civil liberties for me but not for thee?

  87. 87
    JGabriel says:

    GregB:

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that Randian economics are about as grounded in reality as Magic the Gathering.

    Less. At least Magic the Gathering has a consistent rule set. Randians change the rules to fit their worldview whenever something contradicts it.

    .

  88. 88
    catpal says:

    “TSA has not measured up to any conceivable standard of quality”
    — measured by what standards? If we had private airport security prior to 2001 – did that measure up?

    “I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job”
    — yeah cause it has been So Easy to Fire private firms with Govt contracts – like Halliburton, KBR, Boeing (failed border fence), – and the many more Corps making Govt $$$ – because they bribe/own various politicians.

    That was more naive than I thought I would read on this topic.

  89. 89
    mss says:

    @liberal:

    Sadly, I’d agree a lot of economists are also fairly ignorant of the fundamentals of economic analysis—too many substitute quasi-religious beliefs in the market for rigorous theorization and data analysis, and a fair fraction seem to ignore every public good, market failure, and information asymmetry that might trouble their beautiful minds’ contemplation of a glorious perfectly competitive future.

    I didn’t mean to imply it was just ED, or that ED’s failure to get over the training wheels version of economic theory was somehow worse than, say, the intellectual limitations of most neoclassical economists. Arguably, ED has done much less damage than most. I just think it’s a puzzling blight on an otherwise pretty good blog.

  90. 90
    mss says:

    @liberal:

    Sadly, I’d agree a lot of economists are also fairly ignorant of the fundamentals of economic analysis—too many substitute quasi-religious beliefs in the market for rigorous theorization and data analysis, and a fair fraction seem to ignore every public good, market failure, and information asymmetry that might trouble their beautiful minds’ contemplation of a glorious perfectly competitive future.

    I didn’t mean to imply it was just ED, or that ED’s failure to get over the training wheels version of economic theory was somehow worse than, say, the intellectual limitations of most neoclassical economists. Arguably, ED has done much less damage than most. I just think it’s a puzzling blight on an otherwise pretty good blog.

  91. 91
    Corner Stone says:

    @Alwhite:

    I have a very good friend who is (well perhaps ‘was’ as he is growing up recently) a Rand-level libertarian. These discussions under ED are identical to the ones I had with this friend. He would make some spectacularly silly statement based on his religious beliefs in the Testament of Ayn and I would patiently offer real world examples of how they were incorrect and how they had been demonstrated incorrect repeatedly.

    I had a similar situation except my friend started from the apolitical viewpoint. Complete apathy about how politics worked.
    And he made a lot of the same nonsensical arguments EDK makes, with a lot of uninformed talking point style beliefs he had just swallowed because he heard them repeated so many times.
    The good news is over about a two year period he actually educated himself enough to refute the talking points our mutual winger friends tell him.
    I like to take credit for it but he actually had an open mind to begin with, unlike glibertarians/wingers.

  92. 92
    Dennis SGMM says:

    Why would anyone want to create a brand new lobby after SCOTUS decided that companies could spend unlimited amounts on politics?

  93. 93
    Svensker says:

    @liberal:

    Actually, there’s a very simple end to most of it: adopt a much less interventionist foreign policy. Then there will be no one ideologically motivated to blow up airliners. (There might be isolated nutjobs, but they have even less wherewithal to pull this stuff off, and they’re fewer in number.)

    That would be hard! And save a lot of taxpayer money! It’s much easier to send our kids to fight and die in foreign lands, bomb wedding parties, blow up other peoples’ kids, and have lots of sexy cool uniforms and weapons and shit, all of which costs thousands of billions of dollars. And then we get to deal with the blowback which costs even more billions of dollars — yay us!

  94. 94
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: His argument here seems to be that the government has no incentive to shrink. The problem with his argument is that he is imagining competition where none exists. You would have to set up a system where there were two lines, and each line fed to its own airplane. Then people could choose the line that they would feel more comfortable going through. You could not merge the passengers back together, because then there is no incentive to choose the better service.

  95. 95
    Svensker says:

    @mark:

    But that’s freedom! Do you have a problem with freedom?

  96. 96
    Martin says:

    @catpal: Well, I would argue that TSA has measured up to the only standard of quality they’ve been asked to meet – they *have* stopped significantly more potential weapons than security efforts before them. Even if you rule out the stupid shit like nail clippers and contact lens liquids, I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that TSA isn’t catching more legitimate items than previous screeners.

    But that’s not the argument being made by the public. They aren’t arguing that TSA is ineffective. They’re arguing that there should be new standards of quality applied – how they treat individuals. And that’s a perfectly appropriate thing to add, but I don’t see why TSA should be penalized for not having done it all along, and I don’t see many examples from the low-cost private sector where service isn’t just as bad.

    The sense I’m getting here is that ED is troubled that there are premium and discount airline packages, but one-size-fits-all security. That there’s no way for the first class passenger to drop an extra $50 (or have it as part of the ticket) to get a premium security experience – shorter lines, more personal privacy, etc. That’s the only way that his argument would make any sense at all. And granted, that’s not the kind of thing the TSA would pursue, but a private contractor would. There are some people willing to pay for service. Not many, but there is a market there.

  97. 97
    Downpuppy says:

    Because it’s EDs, a lot of people missed what is really a fairly subtle scheme.

    1) His goal isn’t privatization, it’s chilling the fuck out of the GWOT.

    2) The Bedwetter & Profiteer caucus makes #1 unthinkable

    3) The B & P caucus are purported free marketeers

    4) Maybe they can be defanged/misdirected if chilling the fuck out is done under cover of privatization

    I don’t give it much of a chance – we’re way too deep into a place where the most moronic failed plot is always a reason for further panic – but at least E.D. is thinking.

  98. 98
    DougJ says:

    @Corner Stone:

    A commenter emailed me complaining about this the other day. I’m still kind of reeling, because he had a good point.

  99. 99
    Keith G says:

    @cleek:

    you’re still trying to prevent 9/11. the latest attempts at attacking us have been via bombs in the cargo bay, which none of this stuff will fix. and if we ever solve that problem, they’ll find something else.

    I know that airlines have an alluring cache as a target, but if a budding terrorist cell wanted, in 2010 to deal a devastating gut punch to our crawling economic recovery, just shoot up one of the signature galleria style shopping palaces (starting with the kids lining up for Saint Nick).

    We have done a fairly good job of making it difficult for a passenger-based airline attack. I do not see how privatization would make things better in any important way. As others have pointed out, there is a lot to be said against letting corporations have even a bigger slice of the public safety pie.

  100. 100
    Corner Stone says:

    @Svensker:

    It’s much easier to send our kids to fight and die in foreign lands, bomb wedding parties, blow up other peoples’ kids, and have lots of sexy cool uniforms and weapons and shit, all of which costs thousands of billions of dollars. And then we get to deal with the blowback which costs even more billions of dollars—yay us!

    It’s called “full employment”. For a certain, very small, subset of the population.

  101. 101
    jayackroyd says:

    @Vince CA:

    There is no way that any security measure is going to be put in place in every airport in the country. There are too many airports. There are even too many airports that serve commercial flights. Anybody who wants to circumvent the passenger screening system will always be able to use an airport where passenger screening is lax, or non existent.

    Talking about Israel is ridiculous. The US cannot possibly deploy trained security personnel at that level to every airport in the country. Nor would it make any sense. Nor, IMO, does it make any sense for Israel either. It’s security theater there as well,designed to keep the populace fearful and compliant. But you CAN make an argument for one airport, in one small country, with limited traffic. Maybe it’s a waste, but it’s not a huge waste, and SEE HOW WELL IT WORKS! (Just as well as the US for the last nine years, without pornoscanners–no successful attacks.)

    There IS a simple solution, if people were serious about the 100% passenger screening system that gate grope implies, and that defenders talk about. Everybody, everywhere, at every airport, is required to strip, check everything they’re wearing or carrying into an airline issued bag, and board in airline issued robes and slippers. No phones, no computers, nothing.

  102. 102
    Suffern Ace says:

    This public vs. private debate really takes the issue of security in airports cheaper. I agree with private. If there is a profit that can be made, private firms should be allowed to do it on the taxpayer’s dime. That is the American Way.

    Public and Private companies will hire the same people as those are the people who are available to work. If we had a shortage of low skilled workers, we might come up with different plans. Fortunately, we have a system in the U.S. that produces low skilled laborers by the bushel, and design systems that utilize them accordingly.

    We are not going to develop a satisfactory system until we stop having so many humans to protect in airports whether it is public or private, high skilled or low skilled. If we could only eliminate the desire to travel, we would solve this security problem rather quickly. Eliminate human beings altogether from both the security apparatus and from travel since they are the ones who are causing pretty much every problem related to the terrorism and the security state. Replacing security personnel with bears or lions should do the trick. No passengers = no terrorist passengers. Problem solved.

  103. 103
    sven says:

    I oppose privatizing airport security because the incentives are all wrong. Many people seem to assume that the security ‘industry’ will increase their profits only my improving efficiency. If we look at the example of private prisons we find that these gains are limited and firms quickly seek other ways to pad their bottom line.

    In many states the private prison industry has become very active in public policy debates and always in defense of larger prison populations. This industry played a major role in writing Arizona SB1070 which would house detained aliens (wait for it) private prisons. Private prisons were also a major opponent of Prop. 19 in California which would have decriminalized marijuana use. These firms have every incentive to argue for more prisoners and no reason to argue for nuanced public policy.

    Privatizing airport security presents a similar set of incentives. These firms would have every incentive to expand the ‘services’ they provide and very little reason to reform their practices. It is already difficult to advocate for rational security policy; adding the profit motive only makes the situation much worse.

  104. 104
    Citizen Alan says:

    I’d rather have a firm that can be fired if they overstep or do a lousy job handle security than the TSA which, so far as I can tell, is accountable to nobody.

    I never want to see a single god-damned post here complaining about something McMegan said. Not one. Because it’s hypocritical to continually rag on her (no matter how stupid she is) when she’s never said anything as stupid as this entire post.

    Kain, I defy you to name a single private contractor that has been terminated from a government contract for incompetence or even downright malfeasance within the last 20 years. As other posters have noted, Blackwater/Xe are still the go-to guys for security work despite their many documented war crimes, while Haliburton still gets billions in no-bid contracts despite the negligent homicide of dozens of American soldiers as a result of criminally shoddy workmanship.

  105. 105
    Svensker says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    The problem with his argument is that he is imagining competition where none exists. You would have to set up a system where there were two lines, and each line fed to its own airplane. Then people could choose the line that they would feel more comfortable going through.

    Everyone seems to be assuming that the airline passenger is the customer of airline security, when it is actually the airlines and the airport that are the customers.

    Not that it ultimately makes a difference in refuting E.D.’s argument.

  106. 106
    catpal says:

    @El Tiburon:

    It matters not if they are govt. or private workers. It is the SYSTEM that needs to be altered.

    thank you.

  107. 107
    Fuck! A Duck says:

    ED Kain: Proving himself a dilettante academic since . . .

    Say, when did you learn to verbalize, Erik?

  108. 108
    RSA says:

    How much does liability insurance cost a private company handling airport security? If that function were entirely privatized, it’s hard for me to see how any company could survive. But maybe I’m missing something.

  109. 109

    The lady with the breast milk was not following TSA guidelines. She was traveling home with 12 ounces of breast milk. The guidelines say you can carry a reasonable amount for your complete itinerary, and you are encouraged to bring only enough for your travel needs.

  110. 110
    Paris says:

    I greatly prefer the warm, soft hands of a private security guard massaging my testicles instead of the cold, calloused hands of a government stooge.

  111. 111
    Winston Smith says:

    @Downpuppy:

    Because it’s EDs, a lot of people missed what is really a fairly subtle scheme.

    I think ED is literate enough to have made that point clear if it was the core of his post.

    It’s too bad if some people’s ED-centric comments serve to turn this into an anti-cult of personality, but really, this post stands on its own, regardless of the author, as a very poor bit of reasoning.

  112. 112
    Brachiator says:

    Security is never going to be 100%.

    So, what percentage is acceptable to you? Does it even make sense to try to turn it into a pseudo-quantifiable number (aka a McCardle number)?

  113. 113
    Paris says:

    @Citizen Alan: Check the yellow pages under ‘Contactors, Private’. I’m sure there must be tens of them just waiting to staff the airports. /sarcasm

  114. 114
    iLarynx says:

    It was private companies that failed on 9/11. First, the airlines themselves failed in that after being warned of possible hijackings, they did virtually nothing to prevent the hijackings that morning. They made the logical calculation that it would be in their financial interest to do as little as possible to disrupt the flow of paying passengers that day. This is what private companies do because their prime objective is to maximize profits, not protect public safety. Maximizing profits is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t compromise public safety. Obviously, in this case, it did compromise safety.

    Secondly, private “security” firms failed at screening for these folks boarding the planes.

    A few weeks after 9/11, I was passing through the West Palm airport and was told that my nail clippers were verboten because they had a file on it. The file was maybe 3/4 of an inch, so they said I could keep the clippers if I broke off the file, which I did. As I was boarding, I discovered a second identical clipper w/file in my other pocket. The private rent-a-mall-cop just missed it.

    On an occasion prior to 9/11, I was going to pick up my wife and daughter at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport and instead of putting my keys in the bowl to go through the scanner, I just put them on my Palm Pilot. Unfortunately, they fell off and got wedged in the rollers just before exiting the scanner box. I voiced an apology to the security person as I reached way into the box to retrieve my keys, only to discover that he wasn’t paying any attention to me, or the scanner. It was a slow period with no one else in line and he was facing opposite of me, opposite of the scanner and display, and was sitting with his feet propped up on another chair. I thought “that’s pretty lax security” but didn’t think anything of it since it was September 10th, 2001.

    Again, the guy was paid by a private firm whose top priority was to maximize profits, not to protect public safety. Obviously, in this case, it did compromise safety.

    Obviously, in any case where a for-profit company is involved with “security,” security will take a back seat to profits. Every. Single. Time.

  115. 115
    Corner Stone says:

    @Winston Smith:

    It’s too bad if some people’s ED-centric comments serve to turn this into an anti-cult of personality, but really, this post stands on its own, regardless of the author, as a very poor bit of reasoning.

    And as I have said from the beginning of EDK’s interminable tenure at BJ, if he put the exact same posts up and put Tim F. as the byline then commenters here would still tear them apart.
    And not just because they suck, which they do, but also because there seems to be zero display of what we call “learning”.

  116. 116
    catpal says:

    @sven:

    “I oppose privatizing airport security because the incentives are all wrong”

    Yep. the incentive to show that they are doing a “good job” could be false accusations, planting items to be found, personalizing abuse of security practices, etc.

    It was bad enough that a TSA employee tried to plant drugs on a passenger – at least he was fired.

    Would there be incentives for Bonuses – seems like Wall Street gets even more corrupt with that incentive.

  117. 117
    Lolis says:

    I still don’t know why we can’t swap ED for Ezra Klein. Ezra Klein actually does research and presents facts.

  118. 118
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @Downpuppy:

    Because it’s EDs, a lot of people missed what is really a fairly subtle scheme.

    No, they didn’t.

    1) His goal isn’t privatization, it’s chilling the fuck out of the GWOT.

    Really? Is that why the phrase Global War On Terror (or any acronym thereof or variation) appears nowhere in this thread except for your post and this one quoting you? Is that why he discusses the (admittedly specious) benefits and advantages of privatization throughout the entire post, often writing sentences like this–Now on to the concept of privatization–to signify the singular focus of his post?

    2) The Bedwetter & Profiteer caucus makes #1 unthinkable

    Funny, this sentiment also doesn’t explicitly appear anywhere in E.D.’s post. Sentences like this one, however, are all over the place: Just because there is a central authority governing how security ought to be handled does not ensure that the security in each airport is handled the same even by the same agency. And a weak link in a top-down system is much more likely to create systemic failure rather than isolated failure.

    3) The B & P caucus are purported free marketeers

    Looks like you are still just making things up. On to the next one, I suppose.

    4) Maybe they can be defanged/misdirected if chilling the fuck out is done under cover of privatization

    So defanging a “caucus” who is not even mentioned or discussed in any substantial or noticeable fashion is somehow the crux of E.D.’s post, and yet, he did not even discuss these issues a single fucking time? Truly, you are seeing the world like Neo after he was unplugged from The Matrix.

    I don’t give it much of a chance – we’re way too deep into a place where the most moronic failed plot is always a reason for further panic – but at least E.D. is thinking.

    I would propose that E.D.’s “thinking” is very much akin to your “reading.”

  119. 119
    trollhattan says:

    Evidently this Kain fellow relishes these occasional ritual beatings. I think Tunch is orchestrating them for his amusement.

    Also, too, who doesn’t recall the joke that was airport security pre 9/11? Everywhere I traveled it was handled by private firms who clearly paid wages approximating minimum, and certainly got their money’s worth. As did we all.

    Those were Magical times.

  120. 120
    Keith G says:

    @Brachiator:

    So, what percentage is acceptable to you?

    That is the nut of this whole debate/fiasco. Just as in the still unfinished HCR discussions, we need to decide what rate of mortality is worth what price.

    It is a necessary conversation to have if we want to design a rational and effective system. It also takes a bit of maturity, long-term thinking and political risk, which means we will never get to it here in the world’s greatest democracy.

  121. 121
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    Blackwater worked so well for the US.

  122. 122
    Downpuppy says:

    @Midnight Marauder:
    I took his first & last paragraphs & strung together a narrative to explain the middle.

    Then he posted another & oh well, you’re right, it’s as bad as it looks.

  123. 123
    JoeG says:

    “I would like to just go back to all the old rules, whether that the guys in the uniforms are working for the TSA or private firms.”

    so would about 3000 dead folk…

  124. 124
    liz says:

    Wow, a great post and some fantastic comments. I’m still thinking through it all, especially after some traveling experiences I had over Thanksgiving, but thanks for the food for thought!

  125. 125
    Mark says:

    Boycott Flying COMPLETELY, until sanity returns! Please join us: http://www.facebook.com/pages/.....1010710392

  126. 126
    sneezy says:

    @Catsy:

    “The conservative-libertarian fetish for privatization and beliefs about the inherent inefficiency of government are truly delusional.”

    I would draw this distinction: the standard conservative fetish for privatization is not delusional. The fact that privatization often does not lower costs and allows private companies to extract rents in markets that range from not very competitive to almost completely rigged is the entire point.

    The stuff they spout about lower costs, higher productivity, etc. is just bullshit: they don’t believe it for a minute.

    The standard “libertarian” fetish for privatization, on the other hand, is truly delusional.

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