Time to Close the Security Theatre


You’ve probably heard about what columnist Gene Healy calls “the TSA’s latest ritual humiliation of an innocent traveler.” Just for the record, I don’t rest any easier knowing that the TSA is keeping me safe from wheelchair-bound 95-year old leukemia patients who might be hiding bombs in their adult diapers. Naturally, people are calling for reform. Keith Olbermann, for example, called for TSA administrator John Pistole to be fired.

Some of the fury over this continues to miss the point, though. The problem isn’t that the TSA is harassing the wrong people. The problem is that the TSA is harassing anyone. The TSA is encroaching on fundamental liberties and providing no discernable benefit. I’ve written before that the TSA should be abolished. The latest outrage is just more evidence in the case against a government administration we would be better off without.

The Transportation Security Administration does not provide transportation security. It provides what security expert Bruce Schneier calls “security theater.” The effect of the all the trimmings and trappings at airport security is to give travelers the impression that the government is going about Very Serious Business. The net effect, though, is perhaps a trivial increase in safety achieved at massive costs in terms of time, treasure, and lives: it is well known that driving is more dangerous than flying. By making flying less convenient, we encourage people to drive more. Substitution away from flying and toward driving costs lives, on net.

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Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.