The TSA is bringing down one airliner a month

Here is Timothy Taylor commenting on a study of airport security:

K. Jack Riley considers “Flight of Fancy? Air Passenger Security Since 9/11.” He has been thinking over the time and cost tradeoffs of airline passenger security. “There is very little reason to be concerned about suicide bombers being present on flights originating in the United States. The security improvements noted above””passenger vigilance, cockpit security, and visa screening””go a long way toward preventing radical jihadists from entering the country or, having entered, from being able to commandeer a plane to conduct a spectacular attack. . . . Recognizing the security of flights originating in the United States and thus returning all passengers to the domestic procedures that existed before the recent additions would save, at minimum, about $1.2 billion annually. . . . It would also reduce the deadweight losses that domestic travelers incur from arriving at airports early, waiting in lines, and undergoing intensive scrutiny.” “The current security regime applies the same procedures to all 700 million passengers who board planes each year in the United States. That we have not developed a reasonable way to reduce that inspection workload is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the past decade. A trusted traveler program could be configured in a variety of ways.” “Researchers have estimated that the 9/11 attacks generated nearly 2,200 additional road traffic deaths in the United States through mid-2003 from a relative increase in driving and reduction in flying resulting from fear of additional terrorist attacks and associated reductions in the convenience of flying. If the new security measures are generating similar, or even smaller, substitutions and the driving risk has grown as hypothesized, the new methods could be contributing to more deaths annually on U.S. roads than have been experienced cumulatively since 9/11 from terrorism against air transportation targets around the world.”

There are about 22 months between 9/11 and mid-2003, hence our airport security is killing about 100 people per month—roughly the typical passenger load on a Boeing 737.  Robin Hanson would point out that the government is showing that they care.

Here’s a case where security and freedom are aligned.

BTW, even if the actual number is zero, I don’t think the lives saved are worth the hassle at airport security.



13 Responses to “The TSA is bringing down one airliner a month”

  1. Gravatar of John John
    22. November 2011 at 06:09

    There’s no way to balance safety versus convenience without reference to market outcomes. The same goes for cars and everything else possibly dangerous. It would be able to make flying or driving very safe but it would come at a high cost. The only way to balance safety with affordability is with reference to profit and loss. The government will always bumble that task.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. November 2011 at 07:22

    John, I agree.

  3. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    22. November 2011 at 07:38

    The TSA is not designed to protect individual passengers. It’s designed to prevent the economic consequences of a mass panic/terror event – notably, a 9/11 type event.

    I agree with you it is unnecessary, and the TSA will become even more unnecessary when we complete our installation of cameras on every street corner that identify you by your height/face/gait, and track individual location as well as interactions with other individuals – which we can sync up with our databases of every digital communication each of us has ever made.

    So you see, technology really is improving the quality of life in a meaningful way.

  4. Gravatar of John John
    22. November 2011 at 08:14


    You’re not addressing the issue. Me and Scott are saying that you have to balance the risks of a 9/11 type event against the costs and preventative effectiveness of our current system. I’d argue, and I think Scott would agree, that our current system has a very high cost and does little to protect us. The camera system you’re talking about would also be very expensive and may or may not work very well.

    The security measures, especially the put cameras everywhere idea, is more likely to be used to wage the barbaric war on drugs than prevent terrorists attacks.

    Either way, there is no way to have an efficient system for balancing safety and cost, or even quantifying the data without a profit and loss system.

  5. Gravatar of Mrs. Davis Mrs. Davis
    22. November 2011 at 08:45

    And the risks of a 9/11 type event are very low as the heroic passengers of Flight 93 demonstrated within 2 hours of the first impact on the WTC.

  6. Gravatar of Foster Boondoggle Foster Boondoggle
    22. November 2011 at 08:54

    The problem is that the citizenry, and therefore the political class, is unable to make the correct tradeoff. Our collective decisionmaking is full of instances of excessive efforts resulting in small gains, offset by too-small efforts in areas with relatively easy cheap gains.

    You have only to imagine the political consequences of an act of domestic airline terror for any president whose administration cut back on the TSA. Every congressman and senator would be denouncing the executive’s failure to make a priority of “homeland security”.

    I once arrived in LAX when the entire airport had just been closed to all surface traffic. (This was Sep. 2004.) The backup extended all the way out to the 405, and I – along with 1000’s of others – had to walk in blazing sun about a mile to the car rental area. What caused this? At a security checkpoint, an old flashlight in a Japanese tourist’s luggage had burst from corrosion. Out came the big 3-ring binders on how to handle a “potential threat”, and minutes later there were sharpshooters stationed on every airport rooftop and nothing moving on the roads. But who’s supposed to put a stop to this nonsense? No one will as long as leaders can’t take credit for decreasing the burdens of administrative stupidity, even where the benefit of doing so is hugely outweighed by the risks. There’s no upside for them, only the downside if something bad does happen.

  7. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    22. November 2011 at 09:14


    sorry for not being clear

  8. Gravatar of James Oswald James Oswald
    22. November 2011 at 12:42

    As much as I despise the TSA, time spent waiting in line is not morally equivalent to being dead.

  9. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    22. November 2011 at 12:48


    But as has been demonstrated, people *do* choose to drive instead of fly, because of increasing the time spent waiting in line. Driving is more dangerous than flying. People have died because of the TSA, more than died on 9/11.

    The government itself recognizes this logic, when it decided against making very young children currently allowed to be on laps buy seats. It said that while the children would be less safe in the case of a crash, so many families would switch to driving that the policy change would kill more than it would save.

    Of course, James, you can take the opinion that people that die because they drove instead of waiting in line longer have themselves to blame and chose to die.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. November 2011 at 14:23

    Statsguy, Not sure if you are being sarcastic.

    Mrs, Davis, Yes, we are like the generals fighting the last war.

    Also we think it would be immoral NOT to strip search 85 year old ladies (political correctness) but it’s not immoral to torture. Go figure.

    Foster Boondoggle. Good point.

    Statsguy, I’m relieved to hear it was sarcasm.

    James, Can’t disagree with that, but I’d still like to get rid of the TSA. Note you could have said the same about 45 mph speed limits on the freeways. I’d prefer that to the TSA.

  11. Gravatar of Eric H Eric H
    23. November 2011 at 06:55

    The funny thing about this is that the people who normally rush to defend any and all regulatory measures cannot do so in this case without being put in the position of defending a Bush policy. Of the the two parties, one embraces TSA because of the thousands of additional federal employee union members, and the other won’t attack it because this will enable the defenders to shift from being Pro-Bush to being Anti-Republican / Pro-Public Safety. We therefore have a policy that is universally despised, but neither challenged nor defended in any serious way.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. November 2011 at 06:53

    Eric, Good point.

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    19. May 2012 at 13:58

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