Marginally Revolutionary? TSA Advocacy of Tyler Cowen

Posted on November 22, 2010 by


The solution to terrorist takeover of airplanes has been found. Seal the pilot’s cabin and allow pilots to have guns. What’s with the TSA advocacy of supposedly liberty friendly economists like Dr. Tyler Cowen? The following is my take on his recent blog.

There is nothing inherently liberty oriented about the concept of marginal utility as proven by Tyler Cowen in his recent blog post about the TSA. To be fair, a lot of people who are currently angry at the TSA want to instead have racial profiling as a substitute for security rather than random pat downs, and this is a lot of what Dr. Cowen is arguing against. On the other hand, while I have heard a few comments about how Muslims in burkas walk through security checks while “other” people get patted down, there is not a lot of evidence that this is the big motivator of the anti-TSA movement. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Furthermore, Dr. Cowen is arguing FOR getting over ourselves and fully integrating our lives with the WAR effort. This is absolutely absurd. Don’t believe me? Alright, here is a quote from Dr. Cowen’s blog that shows that he must believe is audience is a bunch of neocons due to is arguments sympathizing with neocons.

The issue reminds me of the taxation and spending debates; many Americans want low taxes and high government spending, forever.  For airline security, at times we want to treat it as a matter of mere law enforcement, to be handled by others, and one which should not inconvenience our daily lives or infringe on our rights.  At the same time, so many Americans view airline security as a vital matter of foreign policy and indeed as part of a war.  We own and promote this view and yet we are outraged when asked to behave as one might be expected to in a theater of war.

Dr. Cowen is part of a larger conversation so he is making his points to America as a whole, as he will likely be quoted in other popular publications, but this neocon rationale and pandering doesn’t work for me. First, a neocon is a big spending republican who often advocates contradictory policies like war and tax cuts. If Dr. Cowen’s rationale was imputed backwards, he would be advocating for higher taxes rather than less war as his current argument is for less risk and more TSA screening.

With the division of academic thought that supposedly works similar to a division of labor, academics like Cowen constrain themselves to single issues without looking at the entire picture. A good case can be made that terrorist attacks are caused by our interventionist foreign policy. Rather than advocating against this foreign policy he advocates FOR state bureaucratic molestation of people and the doing away with of government by consent (throwing away our social contract.. the Constitution.. and doing away with rule of law). For Dr. Cowen, however, it provides much needed convenience as he can now look forward to shorter lines.

Tyler Cowen seems to be a consequentialist who doesn’t look at ALL the consequences. Sure, the root of terrorism lies in our foreign policy (R.I.P. Chalmers Johnson). Sure, more people will die as a result of radiation and driving as a result of this inane policy. But Cowen’s airport experience will be much improved.

According to Professor of National Security Studies John Mueller at Ohio State University says:

your chances of being on a plane with a terrorist on is currently 1 in 20 million.  The question is how much you want to spend to make that number even lower.  And there’s also additional consideration.  This kind of thing could cause people not to fly and to instead to drive, and driving is a lot more dangerous.  There’s already one study out in Cornell economics department suggesting that delays in airports can cause people to avoid short haul plane trips and instead they drive.

Combining the negative side effects of radiation and driving, coupled with the traumatic experience of children being molested then reassured by their parents that this is “normal,” it seems like the TSA acts as a much more effective terrorist organization that Al Qaeda ever could.

If we go further down the road of neocon rationale we mistakenly think that the terrorists hate us for our freedom rather than the interventionist foreign policy that kills their family members. Dr. Cowen has a solution to this problem… NO MORE FREEDOM!! If Cowen wants to evade the real issues about why we have terrorist problems and advocate for liberty reducing policy.. that makes him an odd friend to liberty.

TSA policies put Americans in more danger. Period. If we are not going to strike the root of the problem, our intervention, then comparing our situation to Israel’s is useless… as their problem is caused by a long history of intervention.. a lot of which we took part in.

Another line of reasoning is that if we reduce liberty now, mitigating risk of government takeover, then we increase liberty in the future. Increasing liberty has and will make us safer!! Who would have thought that allowing a pilot to have a gun would have saved us from terrorism? Well, a lot of people actually. This strategy of reducing liberty in order to preserve what little we have left is absurd. Read the blog for yourself and tell me if you agree or disagree with Dr. Cowen. Most of his audience seems to disagree with him.

Posted in: "Security"