Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA will kill three planeloads of Americans in next few years

TSA is killing us. Yes, I recognize that the post-9/11 driving craze was because planes were not safe ENOUGH.

But let me put it this way: Instead of looking for bombs, we should be looking for terrorists.

The underwear bomber had a bomb in his underwear. And we had information, from the guy's own DAD, that the kid was a terrorist.

So our conclusion is that we should do a little profiling, and focus on people who have spent time in Yemen, and who are FAR more likely to be terrorists?

No. Our conclusion is that we will assume, as a matter of policy, that all people are equally likely to be terrorists, and put all our effort into looking for bombs.

At a minimum, it seems to me that you want to equate the marginal safety productivity of the two types of investment. This podcast gives good evidence we are failing the basic "equate at the margin" condition for Pareto optimality.

The point being: I don't object to security at airports. But we are overinvesting in airport security, and underinvesting in intelligence. Ditch the scanners, and spend that $20 billion on intelligence. And, yes, profiling.

The problem is that air safety is a constraint, not the objective function. We want to minimize cost of air travel, and maximize convenience, choice, and comfort, subject to the constraint that there are no bombs or terrorists on board. So we should be arguing about the trade-offs between cost and comfort/convenience. Instead these Niskanen-esque bureau-bozos are frantically trying to MAXIMIZE air safety, so they can increase their budgets. It's public choice 101.

UPDATE: George Will makes the right points.... "What the TSA is doing is mostly security theater, a pageant to reassure passengers that flying is safe. Reassurance is necessary if commerce is going to flourish and if we are going to get to grandma's house on Thursday to give thanks for the Pilgrims and for freedom. If grandma is coming to our house, she may be wanded while barefoot at the airport because democracy - or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; anyway, something - requires the amiable nonsense of pretending that no one has the foggiest idea what an actual potential terrorist might look like...The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points - the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public's current political mood."


Pelsmin said...

Anyone who has manufactured anything, or simply studied Quality Management, knows that the worst approach is to just make stuff and then check everything to see if any of it is bad. That's what the TSA model looks like: let people into the airport and inspect them all.
The best approach is to identify root causes of quality problems and address them specifically. For the TSA that means relying on intel to know who's planning an attack in the first place and putting the resources into finding and stopping them. Our agencies seem to have done a pretty good job of finding who is up to something. It's the actions they take on that information that stink. Not just with the panty bomber; remember that the shoe bomber was flagged, pulled from his flight and put through multiple interrogations before the French (!) put him back on the plane.

Hagatha said...

Of course it also doesn't hurt that the ex-director of Homeland Security is currently a lobbyist for the company that makes the new screeners.