The Faith-Based View of Private Contractors

ED at his other blog:

Yes, we should abolish the TSA and replace it with private airport security companies. These companies should be strictly bound by the rule of law. There should be a transparent and streamlined complaint and abuse process available to airline passengers. Security firms should be kept on their toes. Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.

It’s an article of faith, not reason, that private companies can do better than a government agency, especially an agency like the TSA. Let’s take a look at quality, economy, accountability and “streamlining” or efficency:

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 than the TSA, they’ll probably hire even less-qualified, less educated-employees.

Economy. A key issue 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 body. But, instead of transmitting those rules directly from TSA headquarters to agents in the field, the TSA will have to transmit those rules to to every contractor. Each contractor will need to be educated by the TSA, 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.

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, for example, many 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.

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.






90 replies
  1. 1

    Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.

    FFS, what the fuck is he thinking? “huge gov’t bureacracies” is a damned Limbaugh talking point. Screw that, E.D.

  2. 2
    WarMunchkin says:

    /waves the Blackwater Xe flag

  3. 3
    Donna says:

    Hmmm, where was it that we had problems with private contractors? Wait, wait, it’ll come to me!

  4. 4

    One of the common rightwing themes regarding air security is “why not do it like the Israelis?”

    Are the airport security agents in Israel private contractors, or government employees?

    Are they paid only slightly above minimum wage, or a reasonable salary?

    Of course, the REAL reason to point at Israel is to try and justify profiling.

  5. 5
    Edward, the mad shirt grinder says:

    Following on arguingwithsignposts’ comment: the claim that “Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public” is just magical thinking – at best.

  6. 6
    Jane2 says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: Why yes…look how accountable Blackwater is!

  7. 7
    Ash Can says:

    Thank you for doing such a thorough and accurate job of taking apart the Privatization Is Ideal myth. It always amazes me how otherwise intelligent people can swallow this myth without question, ignoring all the contradicting evidence. It’s like all the other right-wing positions — “If I believe it sincerely, it must be true.”

  8. 8
    daveNYC says:

    So how exactly would they be held accountable? Would the public refuse to shop at the malls that the company’s rent-a-cops supply security for? How about if the company that replaces the TSA only does airport security? What exactly will the public do then? Write nasty letters to the government asking them to do something? That’s no different than the current situation with the TSA.

  9. 9
    Walker says:

    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.

    While I am not saying that ED is using it this way, that is often how right wingers use the term. We give them resources for free and they give us a crap product in return.

  10. 10
    me says:

    Next they’ll want different companies at different lines so the consumer can choose which they want to patronize. The invisible hand will then get to weed out the bad ones while groping the passengers.

  11. 11
    iowa housewife says:

    This kills me. Before 9/11 all screening was private. After 9/11 everyone was screaming “Oh my god, we must pay them more, these are just low wage workers. So let’s have the government take over and pay more for better workers!”
    Shit, it is still the same crappy job. Now, privatizing is the answer? Sheesh!

  12. 12
    Napoleon says:

    There is a reason that people like Robert Gates wants to undo privatization at the Pentagon, it just does not work the way it has been sold, which is the same way E.D. is trying to sell privatization at the TSA. Privatization has been nearly a 100% bust across the board since it began to be implemented during the 80s (at that time the stuff that logically made sense to send to the private sector was already being sent to the private sector, like big construction projects or purchasing computers for government offices, not core function/repetitive type operations that made sense for the government to run itself).

    One needs look no further then the student loan and Medicare advantage fiascos.

  13. 13
    numbskull says:

    I started writing a comment requesting that ED explain how contractors are more accountable to the public than government, but then I thought “You know, this is like shouting at clouds.” Shit, ED doesn’t even respond to comments in his own threads here, why would he read comments that a BJ FPer makes about a post he made on another site.

    That said, I’m glad mistermix posted the observation. It’s something I see all the time with conservative friends and family. In the face of all the data we’ve had forced down our throats for the last 10+ years, it should be abundantly clear that the invisible hand of the market, at best, needs a good crack across the knuckles with a government ruler about once an hour. Yet the conservative stance is STILL that private entities will always out-perform government ones.

    Hell, I can’t even get my cable company to be “accountable”, how the hell am I going to get an airport security contractor, who will be a virtual monopoly, to be responsive?

  14. 14
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    But the invisible hand! The! Invisible! Hand!

  15. 15
    BR says:

    Well said mistermix.

    Also, I think it’s unlikely ED actually thought through what it would mean to privatize the TSA. Like you said, it’s just an article of faith that private solutions are better, and once you wave the magic wand you’re done.

  16. 16
    Bob says:

    LOOG is mostly a Randian echo chamber. Very sad to see E.D. follow the lemmings.

  17. 17
    Xenos says:

    @iowa housewife: Indeed. Logan Airport, where two of the 9/11 planes were hijacked from, had private security from a company that had at least one Israeli on the board of directors. This has been a linchpin for a number of 9/11 truther stories and conspiracies of the antisemitic kind.

    At least if the TSA allows 19 hijackers to get on planes all on the same day, we won’t have anyone but ourselves to blame.

  18. 18
    jfxgillis says:

    m mix:

    I’m pals with Erik, but I must say, one of the critical concepts that conservatives/libertarians just don’t seem to get is that of public goods.

    In fact, the inability to get that is pretty much the defining distinguishing characteristic for conservatives/libertarians.

  19. 19
    schrodinger's cat says:

    On what basis does Kain make the assertion that private contractors would handle airport security better? Wasn’t airport security in private hands not that long ago?

  20. 20
    JAHILL10 says:

    @numbskull: That’s just it. Your cable company is a government enabled monopoly (or near monopoly) too. The ultimate goal of all the government privatization (at least on the corporate side) is to have a guaranteed government contract (monopoly) with guaranteed profits (taxpayers foot the bill). It’s corporate welfare; it’s not the “free market” but that’s what the wingtards call it because it means they can funnel truckloads of money to the companies of campaign contributors.

  21. 21
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    The problem is not who is paying these people, it’s the issue being solved, which is: Determine if someone is going to blow up a plane or hijack it. That is not something you can write a simple set of rules for unless the rules are:

    1. Make passenger take off clothes.
    2. Don gloves.
    3. Search.

    The only way to truly solve this is to screen 2million people, filter those down to the 10 or 20K that can think given a few guidelines, and pay them a large salary to deal with people rather than teaching or practicing medicine or designing the next iPhone. Because as long as you only hire people who can only follow the rules they are given, you will end up with the stuff we see now.

  22. 22
    L says:

    The “privatization = efficiency” dogma in general’s always been a scam.

    I read a commentary on the blog Empire Notes once, about the practice in third world countries (encouraged by the new Reagan/Thatcher consensus) of turning public-run companies over to the private sector in the hopes that they would be streamlined into something more efficient.

    As it turned out, the captains of industry weren’t interested in taking on public-run companies unless 1) it was to break those companies up and sell their components for profit, or 2) the public-run companies were already turning a profit.

  23. 23
    mistermix says:

    @jfxgillis: Charity is also a tough one – most agree that have a duty to help the less fortunate, but libertarians have a tough time not demonizing those who don’t share their luck.

  24. 24
    zmulls says:

    This needs to be a “big theme” for the Democrats going forward, not just an occasional fisking of specific proposals. It is a bedrock belief of the right, parroted by the chatting class on Sunday, that a free market solution is always superior. Democrats need to remind people that this is not always so.

    The free market is a great engine, and harnesses individual greed to create products that are efficient to produce and are sold at the best price (the price people are willing to pay, and still turn a profit for the producer).

    But the free market has no morality or ethics to it. It is amoral. The invisible hand only cares about getting paid and will grind down costs and charge what it can. But we think of ourselves as a moral country, as “good” — our morality is found in what restrictions we place on the market.

    There are some areas where there is no profit motive; or the profit motive is in conflict with what is good for the country. Can someone make a profit working security at airports? Maybe. But they’re in the corporate offices thinking of first, how to make money, and second, how to improve security. If someone’s bonus is dependent on a certain financial target, he might cut a few corners to meet that target. Money first, safety second.

    Health Care is another area where this applies. All that talk of “death panels” — if a corporate manager is worried about meeting his mortgage payment and his rising heating bills, mentally calculating his performance bonus, and your father’s risky procedure is on his desk, his money woes will influence his decision.

    Look no further than the debate over private vs. public garbage collection…..some things are better run by a public/government entity.

    We have to remind people that the “government” is “us” — not “them”

  25. 25
    BB says:

    A thousand times yes.

    While I can understand those who would rather have a private phone industry, for example, because there are more incentives to innovate, there’s no innovation when it comes to security procedures. You just need people to grab the junks like you tell them to. Private companies don’t write the rules, so all they can do is cut costs somewhere else.

    A matter of faith, yes. The church of privatization, selling the gospel of profits and the dogma of the bottom line. It worked out so well with the financial sector, no wonder the missionaries are out in the fields forcefully converting the socialist heathens.

  26. 26

    I think what’s at the root of our problem with the TSA is our general attitude toward law enforcement, and the law enforcement community’s attitude toward their job. I’m going to do some generalizing here, but I think the overall thrust is accurate.

    As a citizen, I want law enforcement officers to be as un-intrusive as possible. I understand that there will be times when they have to invade my privacy, but I want them to be extraordinary and I want the officers to be respectful of my rights while they’re doing it, practically apologetic.

    My acquaintances (mostly from college) who are police, on the other hand have it the other way around. Their attitude is more like “you should be grateful we’re rousting you because otherwise you’d be in danger all the time and fuck you for questioning me.” And I get where that attitude comes from–the stress level for a cop is off the charts, and that attitude works well as a defense mechanism. But it’s inevitably going to lead to a difficult relationship between them and me. It’s the fact that I know they lead dangerous lives that makes me willing to defer (up to a point) to their attitudes.

    TSA employees have the responsibility and stress and almost the power of cops, but get practically none of the deference because they’ve been cast as a bunch of schlubs who are getting above themselves, as petty rulers of their kingdoms of metal detectors and arcane rules. And it’s not helped by the fact that some of them are petty and nonsensical, just like some cops are abusive dicks who pistol whip citizens to get a hard-on. Some of them don’t know the rules they’re supposed to enforce, and they take it out on citizens who are making them look bad by telling them how to do their job.

    I wonder if some of the people who are complaining the loudest about TSA searches would be doing it if TSA employees were dressed as cops and armed like cops, or if they’d take comfort in it? I think undoubtedly some would. They’d even defer when they knew they were right, because they see themselves subject to that authority, and they see themselves that way because they’ve been conditioned to from early on in their lives. The TSA doesn’t have that going for it, and what’s more, it’s had people from the beginning trying to undercut their authority. It’s actually a wonder that they don’t fuck with more people.

  27. 27
    burnspbesq says:

    Mister mix:

    ” In large urban areas, for example, many 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”

    I call. Let’s see some evidence that supports this assertion.

  28. 28
    Xenos says:

    @Napoleon:

    One needs look no further then the student loan and Medicare advantage fiascos.

    Or the Postal Service. It is privatized, but still has rates set by the government, and standards like daily delivery 6 days per week to every single household, set by the government. Alas, their workers must stink because they can’t make money.

  29. 29
    Nylund says:

    Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.

    Oh that is such BS. We all know that the corporate idea of being “accountable to the public” goes something like this:

    Press 1’s and 2’s on a phone for an hour, scream words into a phone that some shitty voice recognition software can’t recognize until you give up and just pound the zero key until you’re finally transferred to a real live person…in India, who then directs you to a website where you fill out some feedback form so that three weeks later you can find an auto-generated “reply” email from some bot named “Kay” who thanks you for your valuable feedback and your loyalty, entirely and completely ignoring the issue that prompted your feedback to begin with.

  30. 30
    blondie says:

    I agree with all the comments above – having covered the government contracting space as a reporter, I have never understood why “the public” believed it would save us money.

    Having said that, there is one unspoken assumption in contracting out airport security: Folks think that if they run into an abusive screener, it’ll be easier to get him fired.

  31. 31
    lacp says:

    I’ve been told that Israeli airport security is provided by private companies, and that their employees are very well paid. Yes, they do profile, but not exactly in the straight-up racist way that our wingnuts would like; for example, they look closely at passports to see where someone’s been recently. If you’ve got stamps from Yemen and Pakistan, it’s pretty much a sure bet that you’re going to be yanked out of line for some further questioning.

  32. 32
    Chris says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford:

    If my recollections are correct, the “invisible hand” meme was used once by Adam Smith, in a context regarding international trade. It wasn’t meant as an all-purpose explanation for all things economic.

    Of course, Adam Smith also supported progressive taxation and government regulation of markets. Not the first nor the last person that conservatives could only idolize because they have no idea what he actually stood for.

  33. 33
    Violet says:

    @daveNYC:

    So how exactly would they be held accountable?

    The Accountability Fairy would wave her magic wand and they’d “be held accountable.” That’s how it always works for private companies. Like with Blackwater, Enron, etc. Accountability so strong you can taste it!

  34. 34
    dmsilev says:

    Because large companies are legendary for their responsiveness to concerns from the general public. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go argue with AT&T about my cell phone bill. I mean, argue with Wells Fargo about that lost mortgage payment. I mean, discuss that denial of coverage decision with my HMO.

    Et cetera.

    dms

  35. 35
    Xenos says:

    @burnspbesq:

    I call. Let’s see some evidence that supports this assertion.

    Exhibit One: The City of Boston. In a recent study the Globe put together the list of the 1,000 most highly paid civil servants in the Commonwealth. Governor Patrick was something like #690. Many city employees are paid more, and many of them have vague jobs in areas like tourism development which involve showing up for an hour each day, reading the paper, and then going out for shopping for the afternoon.

    After 9/11 the chief of security for Logan Airport resigned, as her main prior occupation had been as a flunkie for some pol or another. It sounds like her main job was to supervise the private security firm in charge of security, and her duties involved not much more than showing up for an hour each day, reading the paper, and then going out for shopping for the afternoon.

  36. 36
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Nylund: Don’t huge multinationals have large bureaucracies too? Isn’t that a part of any huge organization?

  37. 37
    mistermix says:

    @burnspbesq: You’ve never lived in Chicago, obviously.

    The Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals have resulted in scores of indictments and convictions. But contract cronyism also has been a steady drumbeat during Daley’s 22-year reign.

    The parade of mayoral pals to ride the contract gravy train has included: Oscar D’Angelo, Jeremiah Joyce, Michael Tadin, Michael Marchese, Patrick Harbour, Victor Reyes, Richard Crandall, and two friends of Maggie Daley whom D’Angelo helped to put in business at O’Hare Airport.

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/c.....01.article

    That’s 10 seconds of using the Google.

  38. 38
    Frankie T. says:

    More Libertarian wankery. Privatizing an absurd security system is not going to make it less absurd.

  39. 39
    Bob says:

    @jfxgillis: I think E.D. gets it. At least that has been my thinking. Being “pals” with him, are you saying he doesn’t?

  40. 40
    Chris says:

    @mistermix:

    I don’t know that most agree, actually. The “respectable” view among conservatives and libertarians is that of course we need to help the poor, it just shouldn’t be the government that does it. (Leaving more of a monopoly for church-based groups that dispense charity and proselytism together).

    The politically incorrect view is Ayn Rand’s, which teaches us that fuck the poor, that’s what – I believe she even goes so far as to say you shouldn’t help anyone unless there’s something in it for you. Which view is held by the most conservatives, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s the second.

  41. 41
    El Cid says:

    How about establishing a program for charter airport security departments with vouchers so that passengers will finally have the right to avoid the failed government bureaucracy and take their travels for innovative programs more willing to fire low performing security agents?

  42. 42
    Svensker says:

    @Brian S (formerly Incertus):

    My acquaintances (mostly from college) who are police, on the other hand have it the other way around. Their attitude is more like “you should be grateful we’re rousting you because otherwise you’d be in danger all the time and fuck you for questioning me.”

    The attitude of the populace/police has shifted. In 1969 a cop walked into my apartment — he was in the building looking for someone and my door was open. I (who was building an illegal cigarette at the time) jumped up and challenged him as to what the hell he was doing walking into people’s apartments without knocking and without a warrant. He apologized profusely and left!

    I can’t imagine asking a cop today “what the hell are you doing” — arrest bait, for sure.

  43. 43
    fourmorewars says:

    “Each contractor will need to be educated by the TSA, 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.”

    Except why would we expect the TSA to buck the trend in this country of fewer and fewer inspectors charged with covering huge private industries?

  44. 44
    Sly says:

    Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.

    The only way private companies huge, bureaucratic, state-connected, privately-owned tyrannies are accountable to its “customers” is through civil suits. Tell me, what is the “small government” conservative’s philosophy with respect to tort law?

  45. 45
    brantl says:

    Man, Kaine doesn’t bring his A-game to his other blog, either, does he?

  46. 46
    Sly says:

    @Chris:
    What I find particularly amusing is that those who most often quote Adam Smith are the same people who would replicate, in the modern era, the same institutions that he sought to destroy: politically-connected monopolies, controlled by private individuals, that have the singular purpose of sucking up a nation’s wealth.

  47. 47
    Redshift says:

    The overall “private sector always does better” meme is serious BS, but the thing that kills me about this particular instance is that we had private airport security contractors. This isn’t something we have to debate in the abstract, many of us have direct experience with it, and it sucked. The work went to the lowest bidder, the workers were obviously low-wage and minimally trained, and you still didn’t demand “accountability” from them if you wanted to make your flight.

    Yeah, that was pre-9/11, but the only thing that was going to change that afterwards was a lot more government regulation.

  48. 48
    Seth says:

    I’ve never understood how people think that the government can’t competently run a program, but it can competently manage multiple private contractors running that same program.

  49. 49
    Ross Hershberger says:

    It’s so full of holes it would look like troll bait coming from anyone else. Unfortunately I’m having a hard time convincing myself he doesn’t sincerely mean it.

  50. 50
    Judas Escargot says:

    Said it before, will say it again: A private company always seeks profits. That’s why the private company exists in the first place.

    A public service, however, can be theoretically provided at cost. A theoretical limit that no private company could ever equal or beat. This isn’t opinion. This is math.

    Is being innumerate a requirement for Libertarianism?

  51. 51
    SatanicPanic says:

    Maybe we can pay facebook and google to do it- they have all our private info anyway

  52. 52
    zmulls says:

    Press 1’s and 2’s on a phone for an hour, scream words into a phone that some shitty voice recognition software can’t recognize until you give up and just pound the zero key until you’re finally transferred to a real live person

    I deliberately slur and speak gibberish until the voice says “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you want, I will direct your call” and I get a real person. It saves me wading through preprogrammed menus that do not actually address my problem.

  53. 53
    liberal says:

    @jfxgillis:

    I’m pals with Erik, but I must say, one of the critical concepts that conservatives/libertarians just don’t seem to get is that of public goods.

    Another one they don’t get is that rent collection is theft.

    In actuality, most so-called libertarians are crypto-feudalists who despise liberty.

  54. 54
    Dork says:

    I just want the Invisible Hand of private companies to touch my privates. So they can locate the package I’m carrying in my pants. Set to go off 60 seconds after stimulation.

    If they want to see what private contractors do, go to a college football game and watch the employed, hung-over (or drunk) security lechers stare at co-eds and pay no attention to security at all.

  55. 55
    Chris says:

    @Sly:

    You mean mercantilism? Yeah, really. That’s a little ironic.

    But if you point out to them that that’s what their policies lead to, they’ll just stubbornly say that “they just didn’t do it right!” and if only we privatized more then you’d have a perfect competitive marketplace.

    Which is totally different from Marxist intellectuals saying that all the communist revolutions got it wrong so give us another chance please, because… because… because… look, Sarah Palin!

  56. 56
    Chris says:

    @zmulls:

    I deliberately slur and speak gibberish until the voice says “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you want, I will direct your call” and I get a real person. It saves me wading through preprogrammed menus that do not actually address my problem.

    Brilliant! I’m going to use that.

  57. 57
    Judas Escargot says:

    @lacp:

    I’ve been told that Israeli airport security is provided by private companies, and that their employees are very well paid.

    My understanding is that the airport security jobs are considered a gateway into the greater Israeli security services. A lot of them are young kids who’ve just finished their mandatory military service who want to use the job as an ‘in’ for their career, so they’re pretty motivated.

  58. 58
    geg6 says:

    All libertarians are wankers who do not live in the real world, only in the fantasy world in their little, tiny brains. Anyone who doesn’t believe that just needs to read this bit of garbage from our very own E.D.

  59. 59
    Morbo says:

    You don’t understand the real thrust of the argument here. You see, we need to privatize the airport security apparatus before the TSA workers unionize.

  60. 60
    Egilsson says:

    Mistermix is of course right. Kain is a smart guy, but I think this religious belief in “privatization” is a form of immaturity (which plenty of old people can share).

    It’s really code for “like the TSA, but no pensions and lousy healthcare and executives earn more!”

    Why is this superior? What is the hostility to ordinary people getting pensions when they retire, and living with some degree of dignity when they are old/disabled?

    Sure, there’s a pension funding issue. If we didn’t have pensions, we’d have more of an “old / disabled people on the streets” issue. I prefer the funding issue, which is solvable.

  61. 61
    Sly says:

    @Chris:
    It really is the Marxism of the right. Except simpler, because you don’t have to know a lot of foreign-sounding words like bourgeoisie.

  62. 62
    liberal says:

    @Sly:
    Heh.

    One Adam Smith quote particularly relevant to our times: All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

  63. 63
    Chris says:

    @Morbo:

    Yeah, you don’t want to have to listen to those inefficient frakkin unions. Where would we be if we’d listened to those lazy selfish bums when they were asking for reinforced and secure cockpit doors before 9/11?

  64. 64
    YellowDog says:

    The largest expenditure by a private security contractor would be salaries. What would be cut to be the lowest bidder? Salaries. The security in my building is provided by a private contractor. The last time the contract was up for renewal, the existing contractor lost the contract to another company that submitted a lower bid. The security guards were offered positions by the new company, at significantly lower salaries. Only a few took the offer. The first week under the new company, security was short-staffed every day because the company could not hire enough qualified people at the salaries they were offering. The contract was canceled at the end of the week and the old company was brought back. As if to emphasize the point, the same thing happened with building services (cleaning, trash removal, etc.) that same week. A new contractor could not hire people at the wages it was offering and the contract was canceled after two days (dirty bathrooms and accumulating trash were more obvious signs of problems than too few security guards). Some functions such as law enforcement should not go to the lowest bidder. Even when functions can be privatized, there are no guarantees that common sense and due diligence will be part of the selection process. Just like you can’t spray Windex on everything to make it better, you can’t just privatize and expect a better result.

  65. 65
    Sputnik_Sweetheart says:

    It doesn’t matter if airports decide to use private companies for screenings because private companies are, from my understanding, still required to follow the TSA’s guidelines. Nothing will change until the TSA’s system itself changes.

  66. 66
    Chris says:

    @Sly:

    True!

    All you need is Real American words like “entrepreneur,” which the French don’t have a word for.

    Aheh heh! Miss me yet?

  67. 67
    lou says:

    What iowa housewife and Redfin said. As someone who travels frequently for work and as someone who started traveling frequently for work 2 years before 9-11, I can’t believe the amnesia from that post.

    I remember standing in line one day maybe only a month or so before the tragedy, watching a sad-eyed Somali immigrant lackadaisically pushing people’s items thru the X-ray machine and thinking, “hope there are no hijackers on board ’cause there’s no way she’s checking the baggage carefully.”

    Whatever else you can say about TSA and the security theater, at least they’re close to professional. We’ll go back to minimum-wage “guards” if TSA is privatized.

  68. 68
    lethargytartare says:

    @mistermix:

    @burnspbesq: You’ve never lived in Chicago, obviously.

    yeah, but that was probably all concessions and stuff – Daley would never hire a security firm based on politics and croneyism.

  69. 69
    liberal says:

    @JAHILL10:

    Your cable company is a government enabled monopoly (or near monopoly) too.

    How is cable near-monopoly government enabled? I would assume cable (meaning, the actual ownership of the lines going to houses) is a natural monopoly, locally, since there’s an obvious lack of efficiency in having multiple lines per house.

  70. 70
    PeakVT says:

    E.D. also misses the main point of the conservative privatization thrust: the executives of those companies are almost certain to recycle some of the profits into Republican campaign coffers. Government employees – not so much (at least outside of the DoD and intelligence services). AFAIK nobody has definitively proved that privatization saves money.

  71. 71
    suzanne says:

    @Chris:

    The “respectable” view among conservatives and libertarians is that of course we need to help the poor, it just shouldn’t be the government that does it.

    If I ever saw a conservative or a libertarian even 1/10 as devoted to social/economic justice efforts as they are to evading their taxes and screwing over liberals, I might just believe that.

    However, since I haven’t, I’m going to have to say that they’re full of shit, and their actual attitudes are far more like your second option.

  72. 72
    liberal says:

    @lou:

    Whatever else you can say about TSA and the security theater, at least they’re close to professional. We’ll go back to minimum-wage “guards” if TSA is privatized.

    Agreed.

  73. 73
    Ross Hershberger says:

    Sometimes outsourcing can work. My employer is a large custodial services firm. All we do is custodial services, on a colossal scale. For hospitals, schools, airports and commercial buildings. We specialize and bring deeper knowledge, experience and resources to the task. Hospitals should be in the business of providing health care, not cleaning bathrooms. Schools should educate, not wax floors. Airports should move passengers, not haul trash.
    This model does not apply in the case of airport security, which is extremely critical to safety and operates under much more stringent rules than, say, mopping a floor.

  74. 74
    Steeplejack says:

    __

    Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.

    I have been agnostic on the love/hate E.D. thing, but this is a monumentally stupid assertion. And the fact that he offers it as an axiom, with no supporting facts or arguments, is monumentally stupider.

  75. 75
    Svensker says:

    @liberal:

    How is cable near-monopoly government enabled? I

    In Northern NJ only one cable company is allowed to function. Of course, they’ve been undercut (thank the lord) by FIOS and satellite TV, neither of which are regulated out because they’re not “cable”.

  76. 76
    Jack says:

    First, there was nothing wrong with the security on 9/11. It did exactly what it was supposed to. The model for security was wrong, defending against the last attack, or in this case, the last kind of hijacker. We’re still defending against the last attack, whether private or public guards are at work.

    Second, the public might put up with less nonsense from security if it weren’t the government.

    Third:

    key issue 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.

    We already don’t have the same security at all airports, and passengers are subject to random searches, so given >1 terrorists, it isn’t hard to imagine one getting through, and 1 is all it takes.

    Really though, all it would take to shut down air travel again is a bomb in an airport, and that is trivially easy to accomplish. The fact that it hasn’t should give us some pause about spending all this money, but it doesn’t.

    Finally, whatever happened to small-government conservatives?

  77. 77
    JGabriel says:

    Eric may be wrong about the TSA, but paragraph by Barrett Brown, from the post directly preceding Eric’s, is spot on:

    I am constantly reminded that there remain a great number of people who still believe that the media in general and The New York Times in particular operate under a conscious and deliberate agenda by which to undermine America and its government. As someone whose entire life revolves around the undermining of America and its government, I would simply note that the NYT has not been particularly helpful.

    .

  78. 78
    Stillwater says:

    EDK is a joke. He would rather babble right-wing talking points to an unreflective crowd of adoring loons (at LOG) than actually try to make a case for conservatism that withstands scrutiny. Many of us liberals actually would love to hear the Case for Conservatism – but this is an argument that conservatives seem incapable of making to anyone outside their talking-point based world.

    So I make this challenge to ED, since he appears to view hisownself as something of an intellectual: make the case for conservatism by presenting evidence and arguments in topic-neutral language supporting the major themes of conservatism as an empirically justified political theory. The challenge is that this cannot be done.

    So, ED, are you intellectually honest enough to try to defend your preferred ideology? Or are you content admitting that conservatism is really just a set of immutable evidence-free myths that just feel right?

  79. 79
    Alwhite says:

    Since the original was posted on EDs other place why don’t you carry out this pissing contest over there & spare us his content free response which you know will be posted here?

    All glory to the free market! This was sooooooooooo much better before the gov got involved!

  80. 80
    RalfW says:

    Conservatives have been trying to undo the TSA since inception out of some weird fear that all TSA employees are government-loving Democrats. They can dress up their paranoia in bogus free market language, but it flows back to their loathing of a workforce that dares to earn public dollars.

    That privatization would lead to fat profitable monopoly contracts seems inevitable. Within 10 years of said privatization, we’d be down to two companies that “bid” for territory. Just look at trash hauling in the US for how privatization leads to a temporary rise in competition, followed by cozy, highly profitable market sharing by a few industrial giants.

  81. 81
    aimai says:

    @Ross Hershberger:

    Well, Sodexo is living proof that this argument is pretty much nonsense. Sure, schools should be in the business of educating and not cooking meals–except when the contracts go to a huge international conglomerate both good food and good jobs for the staff go out the window. The horrendous treatment that Sodexo’s janitorial and other staff receive is, on a personal and political level, just staggeringly awful. Its destructive of the social network and of morale. Smaller, local contractors are inefficient in the grand scheme of things but they also can have some loyalty to their workers and to the larger goals of the hotel/school/ etc…possibly more than to the bottom line for foreign corporate ownership.

    aimai

  82. 82
    numbskull says:

    @Egilsson:

    Kain is a smart guy

    Data that supports this?

  83. 83
    p.a. says:

    after enough successful terrorist attacks (and/or concomitant innocent civilian ‘incidents’ by the various contractors), a large enough data set will exist (assuming public access to the data), for the (surviving) public to make informed decisions about which airports to use, and which to avoid. easy-peasy.

    libertarianism rulz

  84. 84
    lacp says:

    @liberal: That sounds like some sort of Islamomarxist stuff. Or Georgism, one. (I met Dan a couple of times at Georgist events; I don’t know how he was able to keep his sanity trying to pitch LVT to Ayn Randers.)

  85. 85
    JAHILL10 says:

    @liberal: In rural areas that usually is the case, but in several urban areas I have lived, including Memphis and Philly, the local governments put up additional barriers for competing companies to enter the market once they already have a “relationship” with a cable provider. That has only started loosening in recent years with the advent of satellite tv which doesn’t require a city council to approve the use of the light poles for running line. Before that, it was, “Bend over, Mr. Comcast is here!”
    I await the disintegration of cable monopolies via computer downloads with the utmost of glee.

  86. 86
    Chris Grrr says:

    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.

    Well, that’s unless you’re using “an even bigger problem” as a code-word for “the extinction of the human race”.

    The dig I blockquoted is a hard left turn from the analysis that precedes it. And it’s beneath you.
    Dialogue depends on the premise that people are deliberately typing the words they wish to use, and not whatever stupidity we can insinuate they might have been thinking about. Without a prior pattern of ED being an advocate for “lax oversight” there’s no reason to tar what he actually said with whatever provocative, irrelevant shit comes to mind.

  87. 87

    […] With regards to Erik’s points regarding privatization, I must say that I largely agree with mistermix’s response at Balloon Juice.  Erik capably answers a number of those objections in a follow-up post […]

  88. 88
    rikyrah says:

    I believe you are on point. Your main points are:
    1. consistency
    2. this faith that the private sector won’t do anything to squeeze a buck out of the government. the delusion that they would hire more qualified people should be repeated over and over and over again. Please. they’d hire folks right out of homeless shelters and not pay them minimum wage.
    3. an entity answerable to the law.

    count me among the HELL NO turning this over to private industry. fuck that.

  89. 89
    sneezy says:

    “Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.”

    Like a lot of “libertarian” bullshit, this is an essentially religious belief, and is one of the reasons that talking to “libertarians” is so reminiscent of talking to creationists.

  90. 90
    Ruckus says:

    @lou:
    I used to sometimes carry reasonably large sums of cash back from public events because it is impossible to deal with large sums without a local bank account. Once, before TSA, carrying about 35K, flying out of SFO, one of the private security firms inspectors forgot to tell her supervisor that she had seen something suspicious in the x-ray about 15 minutes before I went through. So everyone in the terminal/on board planes had to go back out past security and go back through. Twice and have all carry on opened and inspected. I did all that but when the inspector opened my bag she stated in a very loud voice, ‘This bag is full of money!’. Her supervisor had to come over and tell her to shut up. Twice. Now I had to sit in a terminal and back on the plane with everyone knowing that I was carrying a large sum of cash. What ever else the TSA’s problems are they are much more professional than that experience.

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