I’m so bored with the TSA

When it comes to things like airport security and border crossings, I have a pretty extreme libertarian attitude in some sense: I tend to think most of it is theater, that a competent, sufficiently determined terrorist could get around whatever we put in place, and that the only reason we aren’t constantly attacked by competent, sufficiently determined terrorists is that terrorism is for losers. It doesn’t pay well, many of the most important missions are suicide missions, and the motivation for all of it is pie-in-the sky stuff that mostly appeals to idiots. I could be wrong but all of this, but I would need to be convinced.

That said, I recognize that there is probably some need for a TSA-type organization, and I would rather it be run by the government. I’d like to ask the libertarians: what, if any, evidence do they have for the idea that private companies would be held accountable more than the government is when it comes to airport security? When I say evidence, I don’t mean “beginning from Hayek’s principles….” or “the private security force on Galt’s Gulch worked great”, I mean something that happened and was documented here, on planet earth, with actual human beings (I’m not trying to be a wise ass here, just trying to be clear about the ground rules).

The best analogies for a privatized TSA I can think of would be Blackwater (I don’t claim this is a perfect analogy). Would a libertarian argue that Blackwater was held more accountable than regular soldiers in Iraq? if you can think of a better analogy, great, I’d like to hear it.

Also too: should police forces be privatized? Would that make them more accountable?

I’m failing to see the mechanism by which a private security company would be held accountable and I can think of no examples (again, I mean here on planet earth, among actual human beings) that would be make think it would be held more accountable than a government-run TSA.






46 replies
  1. 1
    TR says:

    Also too: should police forces be privatized? Would that make them more accountable?

    No. But it would finally give us the Robocops we so clearly need.

  2. 2
    the fake fake al says:

    …but what can I do?

  3. 3
    Corner Stone says:

    Well, a little piece of news that will certainly make the wingers happy and pacify the Republicans. At least we won’t be paying the TSA workers any more than we are now!

    President Obama plans to announce a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers later Monday morning, according to an administration official, the latest White House move intended to demonstrate concern over sky-high deficit spending.

    Obama to Freeze Pay for Most Federal Workers

  4. 4
    el_gallo says:

    Here’s my unwarranted inflammatory false equivalence of the day: libertarianism is also pie-in-the sky stuff that mostly appeals to idiots.

  5. 5
    dmsilev says:

    Well, obviously the invisible hand of the free market would take are of that, as informed consumers would examine their choices and would choose to patronize the specific local airport whose security was reasonable. Market forces would ensure that all of the multitudinous other airports serving that particular city would either improve their security experience or go out of business.

    Oh wait, you said “in the real world”. Never mind.

    dms

  6. 6
    Bob L says:

    How about the real data that airport security was done by private companies before and it was a total farce?

  7. 7
    TomG says:

    Blackwater – and “privatized” prisons – are completely NOT what libertarians have in mind when they are talking about privatizing defense and security. Blackwater is still hired by and (supposedly) overseen by branches of the government, correct ? That is not what we envision at all.

  8. 8
    Michael G says:

    I don’t know much about them than they’re always the union-breaking bad guys in movies, but it seems like the Pinkertons were the first guys in the market.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P.....ive_Agency

  9. 9

    I don’t see how you stop privatization of airport security from becoming anything other than a cartel… which strikes me as 1000x worse than a government controlled agency. The problem of cartel creation seems to be something libertarians seldom really deal with when they scream “privatize!”

  10. 10
    tommybones says:

    Police Dispatcher: 911, what’s your emergency?
    You (whispering into the phone): There’s an intruder in my house.
    Police Dispatcher: Do you have an account with us?
    You: What? No.
    Police Dispatcher: You need to open an account in order for us to send someone.
    You: What? Okay, can we do this fast?
    Police Dispatcher: We have several plans to offer you. The Gold Shield Plan gives you full protection 24/7 365 days a year and it costs $4,999.00 per year. The Silver Shield Plan covers…
    You: Wait, just… listen, can you just send someone fast? Now?
    Police Dispatcher: The “emergency” plan is a one time payment which covers a single occurrence.
    You: Great, I’ll take that.
    Police Dispatcher: Is the intruder armed?
    You: I have no idea.
    Police Dispatcher: Well, we need to know if he’s armed, as it costs more. The basic charge, for an unarmed intruder, is $199.00, but if that intruder is armed, the price is higher, depending on what type and calibre of weapon. The charges range from $250.00 for an intruder with a knife or blunt object, to $999.00 for an intruder with a semi-automatic weapon. Now, an unknown chemical or biological substance would be a special circumst…
    You: Can’t we figure this out after you… afterwards??? He’s coming closer to my room!
    Police Dispatcher: Sure, we need your credit card information.
    You: What? Okay, one second…. do you take Discover?
    Police Dispatcher: No.

  11. 11
    John W. says:

    What a lot of libertarians don’t focus on is that the ability to fire someone also must correspond with the ability to hire someone, and with that power, there is inevitably increased corruption. Or if it stays on the legal side, just more paid lobbying. But generally, corruption. One party has their favorite company, the other company has theirs. Or it turns into a monopoly and we get the worst of all worlds: can’t fire them with massive price increases!

    That corruption (or to be very, very generous, lobbying) in practice increases the cost of the service.

    That’s why Blackwater is so goddamn expensive. That’s why the Army is cheap. I’d be the first to admit there are actual benefits to Blackwater vis-a-vis the Army from a policymaker’s position, but do any of those benefits outweigh the structural problems inherent? Nope.

    Basically, ED has a point, but he’s not acknowledging that the current political framework involves political parties and a shitload of money.

    The Constitution was written in a world without political parties, and in that world I’d contemplate seriously hiring companies at airports to screen.

    Not in this world.

    Also, if you want a better example, go back to local trash companies. Seriously!

  12. 12
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @TomG: Libertarians should move to Somalia or Waziristan. Weak government and lots of local control.

  13. 13
    Ross Hershberger says:

    Free market allocation of capital through consumer choice is a slow evolutionary process at best. It works fine for sorting out the laundries that lose shirts, cell phone providers with lousy coverage and ice cream shops with poor selection.
    Life and death issues like sanitation in hospitals, hazardous materials handling and vehicle repair can’t be left to the survival of the fittest. That’s why there are standards and regulation.
    The basic mechanism of open competition in rewarding the best providers fails when one slip up means death. If the worst case scenario is not acceptable then competition alone is not the answer.

  14. 14
    Brachiator says:

    I’d like to ask the libertarians: what, if any, evidence do they have for the idea that private companies would be held accountable more than the government is when it comes to airport security?

    I don’t think evidence of competence is the issue. What I gather from the conservative goofball sphere is that gummint TSA is part of Muslim Obama’s war on Real Amurikins(tm). So the privately run TSA is a defense of liberties. Really.

    Then, the idea is that the privately run TSA would profile the hell out of, uh, I mean, intelligently focus on Muslims, people who look like Muslims, and random designated non-white scapegoats, leaving lily white people, uh, I mean Real Amurikins(tm) free to travel uninterrupted.

    And until a white person or GOP certified person of color is elected president, the US government must presumed to be the greatest danger to pre-Galt citizens.

    and that the only reason we aren’t constantly attacked by competent, sufficiently determined terrorists is that terrorism is for losers.

    This doesn’t make a lick of sense, but is not really germane to the TSA issue. Being a “loser” is not the same thing as being incompetent at killing. I suppose that IRA and Tamil terrorists were also losers, but that did not prevent them from doing significant damage. The 2008 Mumbai attacks resulted in 175 dead, and 300 injured. Again, these people may have been losers, but this is cold comfort to their victims.

  15. 15
    numbskull says:

    @TomG:

    That is not what we envision at all.

    I am THRILLED to be the one to ask:

    OK, what DO you envision?

  16. 16
    MattF says:

    …and if your private security forces start doing illegal stuff, you then bring in a competing private security force that promises to stay legal. For a higher price.

  17. 17
    Citizen Alan says:

    @TomG:

    Blackwater – and “privatized” prisons – are completely NOT what libertarians have in mind when they are talking about privatizing defense and security. Blackwater is still hired by and (supposedly) overseen by branches of the government, correct ? That is not what we envision at all.

    What the fuck does this drivel even mean?!? These examples of libertarian privatization policies in action, which provide demonstrable proof that your privatizations schemes fail miserably in real life, are not really what you “had had in mind.” Well what the hell did you “have in mind” for privatizing defense and security, other than some magical approach for doing so that wouldn’t fail miserably just like privatization opponents said they would.

    At this point, I consider Libertarianism to be a form of mental retardation.

  18. 18
    Corner Stone says:

    @John W.:

    I’d be the first to admit there are actual benefits to Blackwater vis-a-vis the Army from a policymaker’s position

    Sure. The policymaker gets a cut from the contracted company in the form of campaign donations.
    And maybe gets put on the Board of Dir somewhere when they leave public service.

  19. 19
    JMC in the ATL says:

    God forgive me for using a right-wing trope, but 9/11 happened under private contractors. Since the TSA took over, the number if successful plane based attacks in the US has been zero.

    If we must go through security theatre I’d greatly prefer the ones paid a living wage with decent benefits and actual oversight.

  20. 20
    JenJen says:

    Oh, DougJ, your post title had me laughing out loud! Awesome! I’m going to have Clash songs running through my head all day today now, and for that I would like to thank you.

    :-)

  21. 21
    robert green says:

    this post is in fact a comment. dougj, john, all of you, you are letting e.d. ruin your blog with his horseshit. when you notice the smell, please, no need to post your own sane response. go into the comments, point out like the rest of us that e.d. is not a very clever person, then move on.

    please.

    also, too, let’s not forget the second part of that stanza:

    BUT WHAT CAN I DO?

  22. 22
    El Tiburon says:

    Also too: should police forces be privatized?

    Yes, privatize all of it. Every goddamn last bit of it. Turn it over to Blackwater, Halliburton, Enron and the rest. Let a few older white men make billions off of our backs.

    Corporations are GODS. They can cure VD with a smile.

    I am so sick and fucking tired of people like E.D. Seriously, ED (and I use you just because you post here, but you are but one in a million, so don’t take it personally) but your entire ideology and belief system is a tub of shit. You. Are. Wrong. On. Just. About. Everything.

    You start your entire premise that the government is useless. Well, yes, it is useless, when dipsticks like Republicans make it useless.

    A vial of penicillin is useless if John Boehner only wants to use it to clean his golf balls.

    NO, Government is not the SOLUTION to everything. Nobody ever claims that it is. But for picking up trash and possible airport security and paying my doctor bills can all be done without a massive profit motive.

    FUCK!

  23. 23
    cleek says:

    the airline industry is so regulated the free market doesn’t really have a change to operate.

    take the libertarian notion to its full extent: abolish the TSA, and remove all regulations from airlines. each airline would provide its own security, and an airline with a poor security record (aka, has produced dead people at a rate exceeding the industry average), would be driven out of business by consumers.

    alternately, let each airport do its own security. then, airports with poor security records would be driven out of business because other airports would refuse their planes, and consumers would choose to use other airports (where possible).

    voila!

    /devil’s attorney

  24. 24
    Svensker says:

    @TomG:

    Blackwater is still hired by and (supposedly) overseen by branches of the government, correct ? That is not what we envision at all.

    Yes, but you envision a world that does not exist.

  25. 25
    suzanne says:

    @El Tiburon:

    NO, Government is not the SOLUTION to everything. Nobody ever claims that it is. But for picking up trash and possible airport security and paying my doctor bills can all be done without a massive profit motive.

    WORD.

    Not to mention, I’m sick of the libertarian histrionic bullshit that asserts that if I think a specific societal role is best filled by government (at any level), I obviously Hate Freedom and long for a police state.

  26. 26
    Roger Moore says:

    @JenJen:
    Oh, yes. Clash title FTW.

  27. 27
    ChrisNYC says:

    I’m sure someone else has said this but I can’t handle reading comments on TSA.

    The whole privatization thing is a total red herring. It wouldn’t be privatization at all because it can’t work without loads of government guarantees — the contractors would never get insurance without that. That’s part of the reason we bailed out airlines in 2001 and set up the partly-publicly funded 9/11 comp fund. We’d basically have to agree to give the contractors a bailout in the event they screwed up. Awesome incentive — if there are no slip ups you get all this nice govt money, if there are slip ups you get all this nice govt money. It’s a much worse set up than before 9/11 since then the airlines at least paid the security bill on the front end. Aren’t libertarians supposed to understand incentives, perverse and otherwise?

  28. 28
    PurpleGirl says:

    Don’t know if this applies to anything but, IIRC, in August 2001 the White House had received a memo saying that a certain group was determined to strike in the US. The Bush administration decided not to do anything about the memo and its content and in due time we were attacked. We were attacked by people who had been in the country setting up for the attack for some time, in fact. These guys would not have caught by TSA screening, period.

    What made us vulnerable was a lack of imagination on the part of those in a position to do something about that memo and its content. Condi Rice said that “no one would have thought” about using a plane as a bomb itself. A lack of imagination. Stupidity in action. And that will catch us again at some point.

    And outside of getting disentangled from war in the Middle East and finding ways to provide for energy needs so we don’t need the Middle East, I don’t know that the answer is to how do we protect ourselves.

  29. 29
    JBerardi says:

    I’m failing to see the mechanism by which a private security company would be held accountable

    C’mon. The free market will work perfectly here:

    1. Airlines hire various privet security companies
    2. Some of these security companies will be penny-pinching, incompetent assholes, cutting all costs to the bone in order to increase profits.
    3. Said incompetent asshole companies will allow many horrific acts of terror, killing hundreds if not thousands of innocent human beings.
    4. Based on their track record of causing many, many people to die, airlines will probably decide to go with a more competent private security provider.
    5. The cheap, shitty security companies will go out of business, leaving us with highly effective and efficient security. Win!

    Are we really going to deny the glory of a truly free market system, just because the proper functioning of that system requires the deaths of many, many innocents?

    (Oh yeah, and all of this is before you consider the inevitability that one of these shitty, cut-rate security providers doesn’t just change their name to Xe and launch a Facebook page to talk about how they’re working so hard to clean up the gulf and whatnot… because obviously no one would be fooled by cheap chicanery like that.)

  30. 30
    Ross Hershberger says:

    @cleek:

    Thank you for editing that. So you’re not actually in a padded room somewhere with WiFi, right?

  31. 31
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    I’m failing to see the mechanism by which a private security company would be held accountable…

    The reason why you’re unable to see the mechanism is because it, and the hand that operates it, are invisible.

  32. 32
    Ol'Froth says:

    While private security companies were at the airports when 9/11 happened, 9/11 wasn’t their fault. The weapons the 9/11 terrorists used were legal to take on board aircraft at that time. What those companies did, and did very well, was keep firearms off aircraft, as that was what they were focused on. Few at the time envisioned terrorists using small knives to take control of aircraft, and then using those aircraft as weapons of mass destruction. The 9/11 plot succeeded because the terrorist exploited a mindset, that hijackings were made to secure a political goal, like the realease of prisoners, and passengers and crews were conditioned to cooperate with their abductors in order to minimize deaths. That mindset changed as 9/11 was happening, as we saw with the reaction of passengers and crew on flight 93. The problem was largely solved by reinforcing and locking the cockpit doors.

    Following 9/11, and prior to the creation of TSA, the private security firms were directed to stop all cutting instruments from passing through the checkpoint, and they did so.

  33. 33
    Paris says:

    I mean here on planet earth, among actual human beings

    Those are unfair rules for a libertarian.

  34. 34
    Corner Stone says:

    @PurpleGirl:

    Condi Rice said that “no one would have thought” about using a plane as a bomb itself. A lack of imagination. Stupidity in action. And that will catch us again at some point.

    Yeah, except for Tom Clancy in 1994 in Debt of Honor.
    Only sold about a beejillion copies.

  35. 35
    Martin says:

    Well, a better analogy might be private utilities. Blackwater is quite an outlier in many respects.

    But private utilities fall under severe regulatory scrutiny, routinely are relied upon to provide life-and-death services, and I can’t think of a single instance where you could ‘shut one off’ without rather dire consequences. If the state did need to intervene, they’d capture the enterprise and run it under state stewardship, not unlike what we did with GM.

    Further, I’d say private utilities face the same failure/consequence risk as security screeners. The number of legitimate security threats to airliners is really fucking small. 99.999% of what they do is purely redundant. Screening someone with no intention of doing harm is, in hindsight, pointless – but you don’t know that at the time. Private utilities are pretty similar – they run without incident for exceedingly long stretches, until an earthquake or ice storm or hurricane comes along and fucks the pony, and then they kick in and people actually pay attention to them.

    The regulatory structure for private utilities varies considerably by state. Some states are so hands-off that they look like 3rd world countries, others like CA have put their hooks so deeply into the industry that private power companies here are more profitable if they sell less power.

    There’s no reason why privatized security can’t be just as good as TSA – provided that the regulators have sufficient political cover to do their jobs. That’s arguable, IMO. But if that could be assured, I’d then argue that airport security should be broken down as follows:

    1) Outsource screening to private contractors. With proper regulatory oversight, they’re unlikely to do any worse than TSA, particularly when so much of what they do is bullshit now.
    2) Replace TSA with standing FBI agents at each airport. There should always be at least 2 on duty (more for large airports) and they would serve as on-the-ground checks for the screeners and do the actual security work. They would be responsible for checking all screeners and for screening pilots and flight attendants and at least periodic if not daily screening of airport staff. If someone on a watch list shows up, or if the screeners run into a problem, the FBI is there to handle those people personally.

    I’m having trouble with people making the argument that the screening is security theater, but that only the government can conduct that theater. So, instead, shift it to the private sector, put the government resources into intelligence work, and see if the combined cost of the government not having a vested interest in peeking in every bag along with passing those fees onto the airlines themselves doesn’t help to dismantle some of the stupid shit. In its place we get the FBI, who is actually in the business of profiling and background checks doing the real intelligence work.

  36. 36
    Mike E says:

    @el_gallo: This.
    And the Williams sisters who never vote ’cause of their religion are somehow the best libertarians, you know, too. Also!
    Moar Lazlo Toth stuff, plz!

  37. 37
    John W. says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I don’t think it’s intellectually honest to say that there are no benefits from ever privatizing anything. But those benefits are so goddamn minuscule that they’re swamped by the corruption that follows.

    There is inevitably something that Blackwater – and I despise them to be clear – does better than the Army. But is it worth paying the cost from what has become of it? Definitely not.

    Isn’t the whole point of being a libertarian that you do cost benefit analysis? What’s the point of ignoring all the costs?

  38. 38
    Martin says:

    @Corner Stone: Yeah, if you logically combine that book with the next one, which is all middle-east driven, he wasn’t wildly off the mark there. He could easily have put the biological weapon in the hands of the Japanese (which would seem more familiar to readers) and the suicide plane into Congress in the hands of the radical Muslim (which in 1994 still would seem more familiar to readers) and still wound up in the same place.

    Clancy is my guilty pleasure.

  39. 39
    Martin says:

    @cleek: The airline industry isn’t that regulated, actually – at least not in ways that lead to what we see in the market. The reason it works the way it does is that airports are huge, expensive, and require massive up-front capital to build, expand, or retrofit. Aircraft makers are constrained by these same issues and have to forego much more efficient designs to accommodate economic realities. Routes are constrained by available aircraft designs and airport congestion and gate availability, and on down the line.

    Our airline industry is what results from a failure to invest in infrastructure, much more than from any regulatory issue.

  40. 40
    ricky says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Obama to Freeze Pay for Most Federal Workers

    Give em an inch and they’ll take impeachment.

  41. 41
    Keith G says:

    Jebus on a jet way!!

    A thread opens on topic X. I read the thread, refresh a few times, post a comment. I then see a related thread has opened up and has 50 comments, so I read the new thread, refresh a few times, post a comment.

    What to my wondering eyes do appear, but a third related thread with 30 comments. So I read the latest thread, refresh a few times, think about posting a comment but then don’t when I realize that there is no way I could add anything that hasn’t been typed a dozen times before.

    Or is there? Nah. Cornerstone has already brought this up – more or less.

  42. 42
    Keith G says:

    @Keith G: It I could edit (fywp ) I would note that 3 more related posts have gone up.

  43. 43

    @tommybones: Jennifer Government did that one. (Italics, because the theme here breaks blockquotes.)

    “Nine-eleven Emergency, how can I help you?”

    “I need an ambulance. Quickly, a girl has been shot at the Chadstone Wal-Mart mall.”

    “Certainly, sir. Can you tell me the girl’s name?”

    “Hayley. Hayley something. Please, come straight away.”

    “Sir, I need to know if the victim is part of our register,” the operator said. “If she’s one of our clients, we’ll be there within a few minutes. Otherwise I’m happy to recommend–”

    “I need an ambulance!” he shouted, and it was only when water splashed on his hand that he realized he had started to cry. “I’ll pay for it, I don’t care, just come!”

    “Do you have a credit card, sir?”

    “Yes! Send someone now!”

    “As soon as I confirm your ability to pay, sir. This will only take a few seconds.”

  44. 44
    Phred says:

    @grendelkhan, tommybones:

    That’s so funny, I just finished re-reading Jennifer Government. There’s also an audiobook version of it. You really do wonder if that’s our future.

    As a point of reference, the girl bled out…

  45. 45

    @Phred: But don’t you see? She would have died even if the ambulance had been dispatched in time, so in this case, the Invisible Hand did its Invisible Duty in carrying her off to Free Market Heaven!

  46. 46
    LosGatosCA says:

    Actually, America has had tremendous experience with privatized security and privatized police forces.

    Where business owners and rich individuals pay for ‘protection’ and the right to run their legitimate and illegitimate businesses with very little interference and almost no regulation.

    And the negotiations were much simply and more easily understood than the tax code: “Nice business you got here. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it. Big windows, it’d be a shame if someone was to break them.”

    And then a straight forward transaction followed where the business owner knew the costs exactly and the consequences were clear.

    And everyone providing the ‘protection’ was part of ‘the family’ that didn’t pay no stinking payroll or income taxes. Yes, much better than tax stealing public policing.

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