The new Republican House of Representatives took office amidst much fanfare about the US Constitution and respecting Constitutional limits on government. I have suggested that if they are really serious about it, they will start by abolishing the Transportation Security Administration. Not much has changed in the last few weeks. Indeed, we can do without the whole Homeland Security charade.
Defenders of the Department of Homeland Security and TSA ask whether we are willing to sacrifice safety and security to avoid being inconvenienced. There is no evidence that this works. I have said it before and I will say it again: the data suggest that if anything, the TSA actually costs lives.
No doubt, there are plenty of people who heartily endorse increasingly-invasive measures employed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration because it makes them feel safe. That feeling of safety is an illusion. As Bruce Schneier and others have pointed out, the entire operation is security theater that costs us time and money while leaving us no safer. As Wikileaks is showing us, an opaque government saying just trust us is not to be trusted.
In spite of the evidence, the national security state gets larger and more invasive. In a truly creepy turn of events, the DHS is trying to deputize all of us into a nationwide spy network and enlisting the power of Walmart to do it. As someone whose research interests include the effects of Walmart and the political economy of institutions, I cant help but wonder which combination of carrots and sticks motivated such patriotism.
Future generations will look back on the early twenty-first century security state as an interesting exercise in the triumph of politics over everything, including peace, prosperity, and safety. In a recent Foreign Policy essay, Anne Applebaum adds to the cloud of witnesses testifying that Homeland Security is an expensive sham. Most specifically, she points out how homeland security spending is a gigantic pork barrel with political considerations exercising undue influence over how the money is spent.
Applebaum offers as one example the million dollars of Homeland Security money that funded an emergency operations center in tiny Poynette, Wisconsin. I have nothing against the people of Poynette, but it is almost certainly a less inviting target than a major metropolitan area like New York or Boston. Applebaum points outcorrectlythat a dollar spent on a Poynette emergency operations center probably delivers a lot less Homeland Security than a dollar spent in New York or Boston. The million dollars spent in Poynette is a million dollars that cant be spent elsewhere. All else equal, we should spend our homeland security dollars addressing the greatest risks.
Critics of President Obamas health care proposal have questioned it on Constitutional grounds. Others have decried the practice of voting on legislation before it is read. Commentators on the right made sport of Democrats claim that legislation had to be passed so that we can find out what is in it, and yet if there is an example of pass it to find out what is in it legislation, it is the PATRIOT Act, which was passed by near-unanimous votes in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Senate in which the Democrats only held a one-seat majority. It was signed by a Republican President.
The Department of Homeland Security and the TSA are clear examples of trading something to getnot nothing, but actually less than nothing because they actual imperil our safety. If we are serious about the Constitution and serious about security, we will get rid of them.
Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and an Associate Professor of Economics at Samford Universitys Brock School of Business.