Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reply to Allan Sanford

Yesterday, I posted Allan Sanford's proposal to use nanotech to solve our privacy vs security problem. I don't think that Allan will mind if I say that in private correspondence, he urged me to put forward "positive" solutions to airport security rather than my "negative" solution of just denouncing the TSA. I think Allan's heart is in the right place, but I very much disagree with him here.

The airport security problem is not technological. Technology does allow us to be more productive as a whole, but the problem here is the nature of the beast. That beast is called government. Governments are bureaucratic and they operate through force and coercion. This second point on how they operate is important: it means that they do not buy and sell goods and services on the free, voluntary market. Rather, they force their customers to use and pay for their services. So there is no feedback mechanism by which any government agency can determine whether they are doing a good job. I would argue that most people inherently understand this, and that is why there is always talk about "inefficient government."

But the alternative - "efficient government" - is an oxymoron. There is no measuring stick by which anyone can objectively determine whether the TSA is efficient, because its stockholder (taxpayers), its clients (airports/airlines), and its customers (passengers) are all being coerced into dealing with them. It would undoubtedly be cheaper for the TSA to fire all of its employees: it would have a "profit" of the amount of taxpayer money issued to it by Congress less the cost of paying Pistole and keeping the electricity running in his office. On the other hand, air travel would be safer if all passengers had to fly in their bathing suit without any luggage. It would be safer yet if no one was allowed to fly except Pistole and the President. But you can't objectively apply accounting to any decision the TSA makes, because there are no voluntary transactions here.

It is not about the TSA adopting the right or wrong technology - we have no way of knowing if nanotech sniffers are more efficient than x-ray scanners from our armchair position. Each has costs and benefits, and these can only be measured objectively through voluntary exchange.

We can, however, know that what the TSA is doing is unconstitutional and opposed to human rights. I argue that nanotech sniffers, and even the accepted metal detectors and x-ray carry-on belts, are all unconstitutional and opposed to human rights. There is no warrant. A particular individual is not specifically suspected of a particular crime (the basis for a warrant). And each person's property belongs to that person and can not be forcibly taken or searched if that person has not aggressed against another.

The reason why the TSA can not legitimately do these things (even though it does) is because the TSA is using force to impose all of its policies.

So, what is my "positive" solution? The stakeholders become responsible for protecting their own property and are also responsible for any liability for damage to others' persons or property due to their own actions and negligence. Translation: Airlines should be in charge of security. Could an airline use nanosniffers, metal detectors, and x-ray scanners? Yes, but passengers could also refuse to fly and would be entitled to a refund if these policies were not clearly stated at the time of purchase. Would an airline use nanosniffers, metal detectors, and x-ray scanners? I don't know, but my suspicion is no. Does Disney World have metal detectors at its entrances? Not last time I was there. And, last time I checked, the crime rate at Disney World was very low. Unlike a government bureaucracy, a private entity can weigh the costs and benefits of how it provides security. They don't just do a better job because they are more efficient or use better technology or because their managers are smarter. They do a better job because, if they don't, they go out of business.

I want to put the TSA out of business and let the market decide how to make air travel safe, fun, fast and affordable. (Please note that charter planes operate outside most of the TSA regulations for commercial flights. They have somehow managed to keep hijackers off their flights despite - ahem! because - of this.)