"By pursuing his own interest [every individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good." ~ Adam Smith
The Bureaucratization of Airport Security
Column by Alex Schroeder.
Exclusive to STR
A recent flight to a sunny Caribbean island unfortunately required interaction with our friends at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While having my privacy invaded by these inconsiderate bureaucratic underlings, I began to contemplate precisely why airport security is so unpleasant and why it becomes more so subsequent to new security breaches. The irksomeness of the TSA experience may indeed be partially attributable to the respective personalities of its workforce. However, I believe it should primarily be viewed as merely another manifestation of how bureaucracies in general function to the citizenry’s detriment.
Let’s start with a brief thought experiment. What would happen if the security guards at your favorite nightclub, due to recent violent incidents therein, henceforth decided to be more thorough when searching those wishing to be admitted? Most would probably go along with it, assuming the potential customers did not feel their privacy and dignity was being disrespected. But what would happen if the searches became so meticulous that the patrons began to feel they weren’t being treated considerately, as security protocol had warped into a humiliating ordeal? Further, what would we expect to happen if despite these increasingly draconian procedures, violence in the nightclub remained a growing problem?
The answers to these questions are obvious. It would not be long at all before the club’s customer base began migrating away and searching for new, friendlier, and safer establishments to drink, dance, and engage in associated shenanigans. It is even conceivable that if security at the old club was found to be irredeemably insulting, it could go out of business. Widespread discontent with said procedures may even trigger competition on this front among other nightclubs. That is, the market mechanism would function, in the same manner it always does, to satisfy the needs and desires of potential customers. Clubs would have a strong financial incentive to innovate and adopt a security protocol that effectively maximized safety within the business while simultaneously minimizing the vexatiousness of the security screening.
Again, this is probably not a profound revelation to anyone, including those who support the socialization (i.e., bureaucratization) of airport security by the TSA. The benefits of the dynamics of the market are incontestable when articulated effectively. To contrast bureaucratic dynamics with market dynamics, let’s explore what has occurred in recent history with airport security.
I can recall as a youngster the good days when traveling by plane was not such an unpleasant experience. Before September 11th, 2001, friends and family could accompany a traveler to the gate and wait with him or her until it was time to board. Upon arrival, the traveler could expect to see his or her relatives, friends, or significant other waiting by the gate when he or she disembarked. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Just to briefly illustrate, here is a simple timeline that touches on some of the major changes in airport security:
12-2001: Shoes must be removed from randomly selected passengers after attempted bombing by Richard Reid (a.k.a. the shoe bomber); since 8-2006 all travelers must remove their shoes
9-2006: Strict restrictions are implemented regarding how much liquids, creams, and gels can be brought abroad after an attempted terrorist attack involving the use of liquids
12-2009: full-body scanners become commonplace after a Nigerian man attempted to blow up a plane bound for Detroit
10-2010: more invasive “patdown” procedures are adopted by the TSA
These are only a few of the more memorable ways in which our airport security experience has evolved. But I think that a general pattern is apparent to the astute observer. The bureaucratic security apparatus becomes more invasive and draconian with each breach of security. That is, when security fails and acts of violence either occur or are diverted at the last minute, the very entity that did not do its job is given more authority, resources, and power, along with the green light from the ruling class to disregard our privacy and dignity to a blatantly unprecedented extent theretofore.
What is the solution? The solution is the privatization of security so the market mechanism can function to both ensure our safety and respect our rights. I have continually said that allowing each airline the authority to have its own security screening would be a good idea, certainly a monumental improvement over the status quo. Perhaps giving each airport authority over security would also work. I do not know, nor have I ever claimed to know, exactly how the free market would function to simultaneously provide for the security needs and uphold the privacy rights of air travelers. Would it work? Simply ask yourself whether you would fly with an airline (or to/from and airport) whose security protocol failed. Ask yourself whether you would tolerate humiliating and disrespectful screenings when a competitor had a reputation for courtesy, friendliness, and efficiency. The answer is self-evident when framed in those terms, yet we have been indoctrinated with the notion that only unimportant exchanges should be left to the market, whereas matters of life and death are rightly the responsibility of the omnipotent State.
I am by no means naïve enough to suggest that a failure of private security will not be met with a flurry of attacks from the ruling class, the sycophantic media, and the influential intellectuals (read socialists). Such an incident would indubitably be blamed on the profit motive and the supposedly inherent problems of the market. Of course, failures of the current socialized security apparatus are only met with more calls for greater power and money for the very organization that should rightly be put out of business. There is a double standard, and there always will be, so long as our society is inclined towards socialism to the degree ours is.
The prospects for reforming the system in the manner I suggest are without question quite dim, particularly when one considers the fact that so many among the political elite are not subject to the same procedures as those they disdainfully refer to as the “common people.” But we have a weapon they do not: the confidence and certainty of knowing that our position, not theirs, is morally right and consistent with the principles of a free society.