Unfortunately, I Was Right in 2002

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After getting back from a cross-country flight in June 2002, I wrote the following article for the Mises page: “Wait Until the Feds Take Over.” There are times when I like to be correct; this is not one of them. I wrote:

…while the FAA sets the rules for screeners, the screeners are still employees of firms hired by the airlines. Because of this, they do have an incentive for passengers to make their flights on time. (This does not mean that everyone will make it through security on time, but at least the incentive is there for screeners not to overdo their searches.)

Once screeners become full-fledged government employees, however, the incentives structure will change dramatically. The inspectors will be working for the federal government and will have no obligations at all toward passengers, except to treat all of them like criminals.

I further wrote:

In this new atmosphere, one can expect a number of things. First, searches will be slower and more cumbersome, since the fewer people who actually get through, the lower the probability that a plane can be hijacked. Empty seats on flights will not matter to federal employees whose paychecks will come courtesy of the taxpayers.

Second, it is quite likely that screeners and other government security personnel will be more rude toward passengers than they are at present. While some of us have suffered through some brutal searches, I fear the worst is to come. Again, airline employees, while they can be disagreeable, do have at least some incentive to treat their customers with some decency. Federal employees will have none.

When my family and I went through security lines, there was some grumbling, although I could tell that many of the screeners at least were trying to be as fair and helpful as possible, given the difficult situation all of us found ourselves. However, I suspect that when the government takes over all security, anyone who makes even the slightest complaint quickly will be banned from their flight. Look for airport workers to become more surly and less helpful, as their government status will give them power to harass people.

Did I figure out this stuff out of luck? No, I have training in Austrian Economics, and Austrians understand government better than anyone else in economics. It is not surprising at all that Joseph Stiglitz, right after winning the Nobel Prize in economics, stupidly declared that creating the TSA would be a “signal of quality.” Paul Krugman on a number of occasions also has shilled for the TSA, something that should surprise no one.

9:43 pm on November 21, 2010