Springfield Political Economy: Homeland Security and the Bear Patrol


People are up in arms about a recent report that the TSA, the Tennessee Department of Safety, and several other federal and stage agencies “conducted a Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) operation” at several facilities in Tennessee, including Nashville and Knoxville bus stations. As the War on Terror enters its second decade, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the long arm of the Department of Homeland Security continues its overreach.

By virtually any standard, we are spending too much money on Homeland Security. We’re also spending it unwisely and proving the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin by sacrificing liberty for security and ending up with neither.

Homeland Security is incredibly bad stewardship. Every trip through the airport—and now every encounter with a VIPR operation that might be occurring on a highway or at a bus station—is a testimony to the wastefulness and futility of an ongoing overreaction to the threat of terrorism. The threat certainly isn’t zero, but as experts John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart point out in a series of articles they wrote for Slate, it almost certainly isn’t high enough for our current Homeland Security spending to pass a cost/benefit test. They estimate that we would have to stop about 1,667 attacks similar to the failed Times Square bombing in New York in order for current Homeland Security spending to be worthwhile. I’m virtually certain the threat isn’t that high.

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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.