On Now We’re just Making Shit Up

Terrorism is a serious threat to the United States and its citizens. In the area of airport security against terrorism though, when is America going to say that enough is enough? Our country has gone from taking necessary precautions, to making airport security check points a circus. The country should start looking at all of the additional costs that we are incurring to have all of this ridiculous security and see if it is really worth the minimal benefits that are derived from this plan. This article also points out that one is more likely to die from crossing the street than from being killed in a terrorist attack. If that is the seriousness of crossing the street, maybe we should start making people take off their shoes before doing that too.


Dr. Tufte said...

There's economics here; perhaps we should ask some economists (rather than bureaucrats) whether TSA makes sense.

There are several problems here.

1) The way to evaluate whether something is worthwhile is to compare marginal benefit to marginal cost. The marginal benefit of airport screening is far closer to zero for most people, so we feel we are getting ripped off.
2) But, marginal benefits are really hard to measure. Attaching probabilities to events helps, but people aren't very rational when there are small probabilities with big outcomes (this is Allais' paradox).
3) A lot of your marginal benefit to security checking derives from everyone else getting checked. The ability of hijackers to board planes is, in part, a free riding problem, brought about because there is a prisoners' dilemma involved in security checking.
4) Bureaucrats are far better at weighing average than marginal values. The average benefit to a passenger of having no attacks on planes over the last 6 years is far higher than the marginal benefit of not having an attack on the particular plane they are on.
5) Terrorism thrives on a little bit of irrationality called availability bias. That is, we focus more on things that are available more clearly in our memory: more people die in auto accidents in a month than in 9/11.
6) Politicians are elected to do something. Their only defense when things don't work out is to point to the things they did do. Thus, we have TSA.

Hayden said...

Airport security against terrorism is annoying at times, however, many people believe that the increase in security makes it safer to fly. It is difficult to compare a person crossing the street to a person who flies.

First of all, it is a lot more difficult to monitor every person that crosses the street. Could you imagine a cop on every single street trying to monitor and reduce the amount of people who are killed crossing the street? That would be too expensive. It is easier to monitor people and take extra safety precautions at an airport.

Also, as long as terrorists threaten to attack our country, or any country, many people will be afraid to fly thereby hurting the airline market and the economy. However, I believe that many people are willing to fly as long as airport security is high even though it may be annoying to go through airport security. I don’t think airport security is as effective as it should be, but it is also possible that many terrorist attacks have been prevented that are unreported or never occur because of the increase in security.

Logan said...

Airport security is a hot-button issue only because when there is an incident it is publicized so much. Can you imagine the scrutiny that taxis, buses, or other public forms of transportation would receive if they were publicized as much?

Frankly, if you want to prevent every terrorist attack from ever happening, then we have a whole lot more freedom to give up than waiting in 1 line at the airport. Terrorism thrives on the fear that you never know where they are going to hit next.

From a security standpoint, we are extremely vulnerable as a nation. A terrorist attack could come in any border or port, be staged in any city or town, and could utilize any more of transportation...or possibly no transportation at all.

If you really complain about airport security, imagine what bus security, mall security, school security, work security, fast-food security, even sidewalk security would be like if we implemented just the airport-style security we have now in all of our public arenas.

That is not the America that I want to live in, and the majority don't. So, we are gambling that the store we go in, the taxi we take, or the bus we ride won't be the next terrorist attack.

Personally, I can wait an extra hour and take off my shoes when I fly. It is better than doing it every time I get in the car or go to work.

Timothy said...

I have to disagree on this one...

I feel that it is a huge marginal benefit to me to be able to board a plane and feel confident that it is not going to arrive early into a concrete building.

I would hope that the TSA is doing all in their power to reduce the costs associated with the security of the airlines as well as reducing the hassle to the public as we arrive at the airport, but I think we would all agree that it would be worth the hassle the first time someone stood up on the plane were flying on and announced that they were going to do something terrible to it.

Dr. Tufte said...

I think Timothy is right.

Just because I said (as # 2) that marginal benefits are hard to measure doesn't mean that some people don't measure them accurately - just not enough people.

Trinity said...

Dr. Tufte's marginal benefits argument makes sense and I think it would be wise to remember the costs of terrorist attacks. Perhaps the hassle is worth $20 to each person who goes through the airport but the costs if the hassle is eliminated could be in the billions if an attack is made possible by the abandoned precautions.

Jacques said...

Dr. Tufte said politicians are hired to do something. This is sadly the cause of so many redundancies in their policies. The issue of terrorism is a fine one to start with.

Dr. Tufte said...

I get to the same endpoint with Jacques, but from a different path.

I think terrorism is a serious problem. But ... I don't think that much of what is visible to us is doing much about terrorism at all.