Sentences to ponder

by on November 19, 2010 at 3:46 am in Law, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

Well, “Mom”, if flying is a “privilege, not a right,” it’s because over the last century we have gradually accepted the proposition that anything the government tells us it can regulate, it can regulate.

Here is much more, courtesy of The Browser.  And this:

Throughout my career – both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney – I’ve observed a consistent inverse relationship: the more petty a government officer’s authority, the more that officer will feel a need to swagger and demand that you RESPECT HIS AUTHORITAH. Your average FBI agent might search your house based on a crappy perjured warrant, invade your attorney-client emails, and flush your life down the toilet by lying on the stand at your mail fraud trial. But he doesn’t feel a need to vogue and posture to prove anything in the process. He’s the FBI. But God above help you when you run into the guy with a badge from some obscure and puny government agency with a narrow fiefdom. He and his Napoleon syndrome have got something to prove. And he’s terrified that you’ll not take him very, very seriously. When I call FBI agents on behalf of my clients, they’re cool but professional and nonchalant. When I call a small agency – say, state Fish & Game, or one of the minor agency Inspector Generals – they’re hostile, belligerent, and so comically suspicious that you’d think I was asking for their permission to let my client smuggle heroin into the country in the anuses of handicapped Christian missionary orphans. They are infuriated, OUTRAGED, when a client asserts rights, when a client fails to genuflect and display unquestioning obedience. They are, in short, the TSA.

Megan says she is (partially) boycotting flying, but I am surprised by this decision.  In relative terms it is the driving experience which has deteriorated, largely because of traffic congestion.  Imagine what flying would be like if they were not allowed to charge you a proper price for the experience.

When it comes to airports, some high MU of money users will be better off as a result of TSA abuse; it will lower the price of flights.  Personally, I'm happy to put up with the practices if it means less congestion in the airport security line.

Someone from the oth November 19, 2010 at 12:35 am

It rather increases congestion by using up time in security.

In fairness, while I find the whole security theatre highly annoying (it's ineffective and time consuming when you add it up), in my recent trips to the US, I have not actually found the TSA to be any worse than your garden variety European security staff, either.

It seems that most people that complain are exactly the ones that annoy me every time by not following basic requirements that are clearly set out when you enter the lines.

Disclaimer: I have flown in excess of 50 segments this year

Andrew November 19, 2010 at 1:09 am

Well, maybe the government should make people swallow a teaspoon of Tyler spit for the priviledge. That might clear out the lines a little more for you.

I used to draw the line at about a 5 hour flight because flying was SLOWER. Now I'm sure it's even slower, but I don't need to calculate it because the decision not to fly at all has been so easy. Enjoy your grope (you don't think you'll always be able to opt for the scanner do you?) and the coming rectal exams!

dearieme November 19, 2010 at 1:48 am

"in my recent trips to the US, I have not actually found the TSA to be any worse than your garden variety European security staff": things must have changed. A few years ago I experienced in quick succession: French – helpful; British – cheerful; Kiwi – unobtrusively competent; Portugese – nonchalant; US – blustering buffoons.

Thomas November 19, 2010 at 2:03 am

If there wasn't any pointless security regulation there wouldn't be a security line to get congested in the first place. Nobody wants to have a peek at my privates when I take the train…

Slocum November 19, 2010 at 2:28 am

In relative terms it is the driving experience which has deteriorated, largely because of traffic congestion.

That has not been my experience. When comparing flying to driving, we're talking about inter-city trips (meaning mostly rural interstates), not rush-hour commutes. Maybe Tyler's is an eastern seaboard perception–I guess there really isn't much non-urban space in between DC and NYC.

Rich November 19, 2010 at 3:33 am

@Slocum: No, there isn't. Going north from the DC-Baltimore metro area, you immediately hit the Philadelphia metro area. You get a brief respite in north eastern PA and/or central NJ, but then find yourself neck deep in the NYC metro area… and it continues north as you go on to Boston, too.

On the topic of the TSA, from experience, I've seen the best and worst out of their employees. I have seen security at the airport function smoothly and efficiently; I've also been at the mercy of a petty tyrant.

I don't think there's much that can be done with an agency that was set up "over night" and hired any and all applicants with little regard to qualification. They have been "cleaning house" recently, but they still have a lot of sub-par performers who are (now) protected through union representation.

Neal November 19, 2010 at 4:01 am

That first sentence is a non-sequitur. Flying is a right? An activity upon which the government, by its lawful, citizen-given authority cannot infringe? Even if the rest of the article is true, that one line ought to start people's bullshit detectors pinging.

Also, this struck me:
The odds of being a victim of terrorism on a flight are approximately 1 in 10,408,947—rather less than the 1 in 500,000 odds of getting killed by lightning.
But terrorism is a lot scarier than lightning.

Robert November 19, 2010 at 4:42 am

"I'm willing to put up with the abuses…[if it hurts others more, thereby helping me]."

I've never respected you less. Classy.

dearieme November 19, 2010 at 5:11 am

"I can't say I have ever found anyone helpful": so the French chap finds I still have my hotel room key and when I whisper "merde" he tells me not to worry; he will be driving home past the hotel and will return it.

Logbook loans November 19, 2010 at 5:17 am

They wanted to know how many airlines will pay for groping. And if you knew the cost, and if you prefer this way, which would put a maximum on the price they are willing to so blindly.

Andrew November 19, 2010 at 5:21 am

To whit, there are real reasons the government can legitimately regulate some things. However, you can't say "the government has a right to regulate this or that, therefore they can do whatever they damn well please." You have to satisfy the legitimate regulation rationale for the end regulation to be legitimate.

Jens Fiederer November 19, 2010 at 5:42 am

Don't you feel just a little bit guilty that the fact that more people would pay for a naked scan of Megan than one of you gives you an unfair travel advantage over her?

No, I don't either. The "naked picture" thing annoys me far less than all the fumbling with the laptops and having even tiny pocket knives confiscated.

Natasha November 19, 2010 at 5:56 am

I don't understand any of the outcry against safety procedures. I don't care at all if some airport security employee sees me naked as long as my chance of making my final destination in one piece and not blown up increases. It really bothers me that people are speaking against this thus putting in jeopardy the safety of others.

What is it about your body not being touched/seen by a stranger that you think warrants the increased chance of dying?

Bob November 19, 2010 at 6:03 am

Also:

"According to the Cornell study, roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year."

Glad it conveniences you.

Ken Rhodes November 19, 2010 at 6:10 am

If God had meant for man to fly, He would not have invented the TSA.

Andrew November 19, 2010 at 6:22 am

Natasha,

Kidding, right?

John Thacker November 19, 2010 at 6:56 am

When it comes to airports, some high MU of money users will be better off as a result of TSA abuse; it will lower the price of flights. Personally, I'm happy to put up with the practices if it means less congestion in the airport security line.

This statement is ridiculous. If there are fewer passengers, then either there will be:

1) Fewer passengers per flight, which over the long run increases the price of flights because fewer people are sharing fixed costs, and/or

2) Fewer flights, because the airlines will cancel and consolidate to make up for the lost passengers.

Having a third party impose an extra cost does not decrease the price over the long run.

I could see you saying that air traffic congestion might be better, fewer delays and so on, if you're confident that all the places you travel to are popular enough that they wouldn't be seriously affected by this.

Yancey Ward November 19, 2010 at 7:15 am

They are infuriated, OUTRAGED, when a client asserts rights, when a client fails to genuflect and display unquestioning obedience. They are, in short, the TSA.

This well describes every state trooper I have ever dealt with, too, including every government official I am compelled to deal with.

mulp November 19, 2010 at 7:50 am

In relative terms it is the driving experience which has deteriorated, largely because of traffic congestion.

Obviously, shifting transportation policy more into the hands of the private sector has not been to your liking.

Why not innovate on better private sector solutions to transportation?

Why not reverse the decline of bus lines by restoring the higher frequency and much larger number of bus routes. When I hope on the bus, I'm not particularly bothered by the traffic congestion.

Why not reverse the decline in rail transport for both people and cargo and remove a lot of the traffic from the roads, and thus reduce the burden on tax payers to pay for the cost of today's public transit system, or at least lease the roads to private firms who charge tolls so roads are no longer public transit systems.

And the private air transit system got a huge bailout in 2001 – it should have faced strct liability for allowing itself to be used as cruise missiles and should have been forced to pay all the costs that resulted, or at least some large share of the $100B a year cost of the private sector failure.

I do find it odd that while conservatives are critical of the government takeover of GM with the intent of privatizing it, they were very strong on the government takeover of air travel security, while resisting the government takeover of ground transit security. Is this the conservatives picking the winner, or conservatives promoting ground transit over air transit?

Dan Weber November 19, 2010 at 7:53 am

You can have an airplane for people willing to accept the infinitesimal risk associated with avoiding fully body cavity inspections.

Yes. Or each airline could have its own security line, within the airport.

Since cockpit doors are now locked as a rule, the vast majority of the risk of an insecure airplane is borne by the airline and its direct passengers.

Ken Rhodes November 19, 2010 at 8:11 am

"This well describes every state trooper I have ever dealt with, too, including every government official I am compelled to deal with."

This is the exact opposite of my experience, Yancey. I have found the state troopers in my state(s), Maryland and then Virginia, to be pleasant, thorough, careful, and to have a commanding presence without having to lord it over anybody. They are well trained and totally confident in their authority, unlike the local police, who are generally a pain in the butt.

Ken November 19, 2010 at 8:39 am

Thanks for the shoutout.

I'm increasingly liking the "OMG you're a crazy glibertarian" approach of leaving it to the airlines. Now that cockpit doors are hardened (a reasonable security measure supported by logic and science), reducing the plane-as-missile danger, let some customers choose Anxious Aunt Edna's Anal Probe Airlines, Now With No Brown People. I'll buy my ticket on Still Three Orders of Magnitude More Safe Than Driving Airlines.

Doc Merlin November 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

This is inevitably what happens when you allow the government to regulate commerce.

Period.

Ryan Vann November 19, 2010 at 9:42 am

"Thanks for the shoutout.

I'm increasingly liking the "OMG you're a crazy glibertarian" approach of leaving it to the airlines. Now that cockpit doors are hardened (a reasonable security measure supported by logic and science), reducing the plane-as-missile danger, let some customers choose Anxious Aunt Edna's Anal Probe Airlines, Now With No Brown People. I'll buy my ticket on Still Three Orders of Magnitude More Safe Than Driving Airlines."

But, negative externalities. That hijacked plane could potential kill non-fliers, so obviously the anal probe is necessary. If you don't get the probe… for the sake of Patriot Jesus, the alien borg has won.

DH November 19, 2010 at 9:57 am

"When it comes to airports, some high MU of money users will be better off as a result of TSA abuse…. Personally, I'm happy to put up with the practices if it means less congestion in the airport security line."

I see that you have failed to internalize the main point of Interfluidity's post about economics and morality, which you praised so highly.

These kinds of hollow marginal utility calculations do little to endear people to the economics profession.

KM November 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm

"Personally, I'm happy to put up with the practices if it means less congestion in the airport security line."

Really? Is your dignity worth so little? Your rights?

Steve Johnson November 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Tyler:

"Personally, I'm happy to put up with the practices if it means less congestion in the airport security line."

KM:

"Really? Is your dignity worth so little? Your rights?"

The problem here is that Tyler is less than a man. A man has concern to preserve his dignity and honor and to protect his loved ones. Tyler is economic man: everything has a price.

Want to see him naked and grope his wife? Pay him in slightly lower air fares and an infinitesimally shorter line.

Want to spit in his face? Just a few dollars more.

Rape his wife?

At some point you've got to recognize that economics makes a distinction between a tort and a crime. Not every act can be balanced out by a payment. Some things are so repugnant and hostile that you have to be willing to pay a cost to stop them.

drawntoanalogy November 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Actually, Natasha, no, I don't see things differently when "price = life." I have traded (and will continue to trade) away a risk-free life for rights and values that are more important to me, such as not being subject to intrusive searches that do offer little in terms of risk mitigation. Case-in-point: the TSA officer who flipped through my wallet yesterday. Moreover, I'm willing to accept some marginal risk on airplanes instead of the greater risk that incremental, unquestioned measures like this will (and they will) lead to government abuse.

Andrew November 20, 2010 at 1:40 am

Natasha,

A good enough point is that this nonsense does not increase safety. In fact, it decreases it. That Should be good enough. Tyler even accepts and espouses this point when he assumes more people will drive. But it's more than that even. It is going to negate short flights. This is going to pack more people into bigger planes. Bigger planes are bigger targets for terrorists. But it gets even better. You don't need to "foil" the intrepid TSA agents to take down a plane. In fact, they've never actually stopped a terrorist attempt. They are taking resources and attention away form things that actually could work. But it's worse than that. 100% of the effort is wasted. All the terrorists know what their methods are BECAUSE the efforts are wasted on harassing every citizen. The terrorists will just avoid them, leaving the next terrorist strategy completely open. I predicted the parcel approach and I could name some really easy ones but I think the terrorists and the TSA are both so stupid that it would give the first ideas and the second would think I'm a terrorist.

Secondly, there is more to life than airplane safety and nothing is worth sacrificing everything else for that last incremental bit. Your point about dignity being internal is kind of silly taken to an extreme, and the TSA is darn close to an extreme. Protecting my wife means having some basic understanding of what the threats actually are.

Andrew November 20, 2010 at 1:52 am

Natasha,

I'm not picking on you, but here is another point that needs to be said explicitly. You have no right to frisk me (even if it would make your line shorter). You have no right to frisk me to assuage your irrational fear of bogeymen. You simply don't have that right.

The government may have a right to ensure that airplanes are not hijacked because they can be used to fly into buildings. However, this is dubious. The passengers on flight 93 already ensured this. That tactic was over on large passenger planes within the same day of when it started. That is even before hardening the doors, arming the pilots, and before the people on flight 93 even knew for fact that the terrorists were suiciding rather than hijacking.

However, what people are worried about now is bombs on planes. We've never worried about people on the ground before. Planes crash without the help of terrorists. So, you can ride the frighened skys if you want, but you have no right to have me frisked if I'm willing to be on a non-TSA flight.

gwern November 20, 2010 at 7:56 am

If flying is a right, who is it a right *of*? Obviously it's a right of whomever owns the land you're flying over.

Have fun paying for the airlines to negotiate passage fees with every land owner from NYC to SF.
https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Ai

Mike November 20, 2010 at 11:00 am

So, I actually fly, and I'm kinda with the author on the whole not caring as much about the groping, but the last point is just bad microeconomics.

The only way congestion is going to get better with fewer travelers is if the capital stock is fixed. It isn't. As someone who goes to relatively small airports often, the last few years have made it glaringly obvious that the extra seat next to me I enjoyed for a little while was a temporary advantage that came at the cost of having dramatically fewer options once the capital stock was adjusted.

That's economics, right?

J Thomas November 22, 2010 at 4:07 am

"My wife is no longer inerested in having sex. Grope away, TSA!!"

Are you making the invitation for yourself or for your wife?

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