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"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”    – Benjamin Franklin, 1775


The holiday season is upon us. Over the next month, millions will be traveling to share this special time of year with friends and relatives. Many of us will elect to make the journey via airplane. For those who are accustomed to traveling, we have come to expect the various inconveniences of the airport – waiting in slow-moving security lines, removing shoes, packing liquids and gels in a quart-size bag, etc.

But recently, a host of new “inconveniences” introduced by TSA have been causing quite a stir in the news. Some travelers have become upset with being forced to give up your 4th Amendment rights, being subjected to controversial naked body scanners, and being groped by (always professional) TSA agents.

A retired special education teacher was left humiliated, crying, and covered with his own urine after a TSA officer carelessly (after being warned of the gentleman’s medical condition) broke the seal of his urostomy bag during an enhanced pat-down.

Another man was thrown out of San Diego International Airport and threatened with a lawsuit and a $10,000 fine after he told a TSA agent, "You touch my junk and I'm going to have you arrested."

Once passengers have been selected for the enhanced searches, they cannot opt out of both the scan and the pat-down. Even if someone in a security line becomes frustrated and decides not to fly, if they then try to evade the measures, they could face an $11,000 fine.

The enhanced TSA screening procedures carry with them health concerns and privacy concerns, but defenders of the government policy insist these measures are necessary for our own safety.

“Nobody likes having their Fourth Amendment [rights] violated going through a security line, but the truth of the matter is we are going to have to do it.” - Mo Mcgowan – Former Director of TSA Security Operations

The government’s only legitimate purpose is to protect our rights. How these bureaucrats justify efforts to protect our rights by violating our rights is beyond me.

But do more invasive TSA security measures even translate to more actual security?

I concede that TSA is really good at matching your boarding pass (you print at home and can easily alter) to your ID (you can easily obtain a realistic looking fake). And TSA is pretty good at monitoring that your liquids fit in a quart-size bag (until I go through security every time with a 1 fl oz bottle of eye drops in my pocket just to test them – they fail every time).

But the success record of TSA really breaks down when it comes to identifying and stopping real threats. A recent TSA report shows screeners at Los Angeles International Airport missed about 75% of simulated explosives and bomb parts that TSA testers hid under their clothes or in carry-on bags.

In my personal experience, TSA has let me through with a butter knife I had left in my computer bag for my morning bagel. A friend made it through TSA security and onto the plane with a full can of pepper spray he had accidently left in his baby stroller. Bag screeners routinely fail to detect guns, knives, and other weapons. It is safe to say that TSA is not doing its job to make us safe at all.

In its nine years of existence, TSA has not once caught a terrorist during a preflight screening.

But surely the new TSA’s enhanced screening procedures make us safer?

Well, maybe not. In addition to the health concerns and privacy concerns, there is significant evidence to suggest the new machines don’t even work all that well.

The traditional magnetometers used today can detect high-density objects such as guns and knives, but according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the naked body scanners fared poorly against “…low-density materials such as thin plastics, gels and liquids. Care to guess what Abdulmutallab's bomb was made of?”

Additionally, as Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned security technologist noted during a test, "The scanner caught a subject's cell phone and Swiss Army knife -- and the microphone he was wearing -- but missed all the components to make a bomb that he hid on his body... Full-body scanners: they're not just a dumb idea, they don't actually work."

But if there are health concerns, privacy concerns, and the new scanning technology doesn’t even work…Why did we spend $300 million of stimulus money to buy the naked body scanners? And why are we spending $340 million each year, including hiring an additional 5,000 TSA employees to operate the new machines?

One possible explanation could be that the executives of the companies that produce the naked body scanners are mostly former Homeland Security officials. Michael Chertoff, former head of the TSA, is now selling the scanning equipment to the TSA.

Another related explanation is that the enhanced screening procedures (and the TSA itself) are a classic example of Security Theater intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve it. Security Theater usual involves a very visible pretense of security and control. It can be something negligible (such as forbidding the passage of a 6 oz bottle of water though security but allowing a box of frozen vegetables). Or, Security Theater can involve a much greater suggested or actual threat to personal liberty (such as guards with machine guns or TSA agents with rubber gloves and pictures of you in your birthday suit).

Security Theater also needs new gimmicks and updated procedures so the public believes the authorities actually have the situation under control. I am confident the new naked body scanners will be a failure just like the recently scrapped multimillion dollar “air puff” bomb detection system the TSA implemented in U.S. airports. The “air puff” bomb detectors turned out to be both inaccurate and unreliable.

All in all the TSA is a costly failure. With TSA we have increasing invasiveness, decreasing airline customer satisfaction, increasing costs, and decreasing actual security. These are all simply the manifested symptoms of a more fundamental problem. It is that problem I would now like to address.

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The Root of the TSA Problem

Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress urged the creation of a new government agency which they claimed to be absolutely essential to maintaining national security, as well as, ensuring the safety of airplane passengers. The Senate voted 100 – 0 to form the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to “…protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

Apparently the government’s previous attempts at providing security were insufficient. In addition to the FBI, CIA, NSA, Customs, Air Marshals, and Police….Congress decided we needed to create a new protection agency that costs billions of dollars and employs over 50,000 new government bureaucrats. The political mentality regarding airport security might have been summarized best by Senator Tom Daschle when he infamously said, “You can’t professionalize if you don’t federalize!”

Senator Daschle, aware or not, cut right to the core of the issue. I am probably correct to assume the Senator, like most all politicians, truly believes that a society cannot exist “professionally” without a centralized authority directing our every step in all areas of life. However, I’ll limit the scope of the current analysis to the TSA and its protection function. 

Implicit in Senator Daschle’s statement is the assumption that central control by the federal government is required to efficiently and effectively provide the service of “protection” to the people. It is all too readily assumed (by most people) that the free market, though great for satisfying the wants and needs of consumers in other areas, is somehow inept when it comes to providing solutions in the realm of safety and defense. This is a grave misconception. For the same reasons that socialism fails to effectively solve any economic problem, socialized airport security also fails to deliver effective security.

Government Security vs. Free Market Security


It grows tiresome having to defend the merits of the free market, especially to those who claim it is “utopian”. It is far more utopian to take the position that government can efficiently and effectively satisfy the needs and wants of consumers better than the market in any area – including safety, protection, and defense. It is utter nonsense. However, the TSA debacle is another perfect example of government failure, so I will use this opportunity to explain the nature of the problem with which we are dealing.

Achieving a 100% safe environment is not possible. Whether or not we are talking about government security or privatized security, we have to balance a desired level of security with satisfying other wants and needs – such as being allowed to leave the house. Luckily, the question is not an all or nothing: “Do we want 100% security or do we want no security at all?” Rather, the real question is: “How do we maximize the benefits of providing desired airport security at an acceptable level of incurred cost.” In other words, what tradeoffs are we willing to accept?

This is where it starts to get interesting. If the fundamental question is “what tradeoffs are we willing to accept”, the next logical question is “who decides what tradeoffs are acceptable?”

Some people may prefer to pay less money or wait in shorter lines in exchange for increased risk. Other people may prefer to undergo a full body cavity search if it means an increased level of safety or pay more money if it means reduced risk. People balance cost, risk, and safety everyday with decisions they make regarding everything from what kind of car they drive to what kind of food they eat. People have different preferences. But is it the government's role to decide what our preferences should be? Besides, can the government better satisfy consumer preferences than the market?  

An article in the Freeman suggests we, “Free the airlines from the federal government’s stranglehold on security. Let each company determine what works best for its routes, customers, and specific risks. Does anyone seriously believe that politicians and bureaucrats know more about securing planes than pilots and executives who’ve spent their lives in the industry?”

Life is about solving problems and the free market has demonstrated time and time again that it is the best known system for creating solutions to the problems that confront human beings. It does not claim to generate perfect results, but it is the only political and economic system that allows for continual progress and promotes incremental increases in the degree of human flourishing. One of the wonderful conditions of human life is the freedom to choose how we live. Individually, we get to experience the rewards and responsibilities that come along with our choices.

Many people are conditioned to believe that government can provide what is best for the people, but it never does. It never has. Not only is this truly utopian fantasy of social engineering in direct conflict with sound economics, it is in direct conflict with the empirical evidence of all human history. I challenge you to think of a single instance where government encroachment into the marketplace has satisfied the wants and needs of the people more than the individual people would produce if left unhampered to engage in voluntary exchange. The situation becomes especially utopian when the socialist proponents think that central planners, armed with good intentions, know best what the wants and needs of the people should be.

In a free market, customers and airlines vote with their money to determine what kind of security procedures work best to meet their needs. This tends to produce results that satisfy the needs of the people. In a government run system, the customer has no vote. This tends to produce results that satisfy the needs of the government.

Proponents of government intervention want to remove the locus of decision making from the individual and place it in the hands of the all-knowing bureaucrat. They want to force a one- size-fits-all system on a population that has very different preferences. If a bureaucrat can tell you how much security you must accept and pay for, there is no reason they should also not be allowed to dictate what kind of food you eat, what kind of books you read, or what type of religious service you attend. Are adults capable of making their own decisions or do we need a nanny-state holding our hand and looking over our shoulder?

At this point, I’m sure some people are thinking that issues of safety and protection are fundamentally different than food and books. Perhaps in many regards they are, but not when it comes to the fundamental economic laws of human action. In August, AmericanlyYours published a great article on market solutions for the provision of police and fire services. I urge you to read it. The articles addresses the standard arguments used to justify government provision of protection services and outlines how these services might be better provided in the free market. Similar principles apply to the provision of airport security.

When government fails in its duties, it expands its reach. Our government didn’t prevent 9/11, yet they want to expand their oversight powers and expect us to follow them blindly. The security failure that resulted in the 9/11 attacks was a result of ineffective federal regulations. Security screeners (though private contractors) were operating in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) guidance which permitted box cutters aboard planes. These small knives were not in violation of government rules and neither were unlocked cockpit doors.  According to Becky Akers, “Had each airline set its own policies, had it relied on serious security rather than the charade that satisfies political pretenses, 3,000 people might be alive today."

TSA is the perfect example of government program that doesn’t have to answer to customers. If the naked body scanners and full-body groping really were good ideas, we would probably see these practices implemented at schools, shopping malls, and sporting events. (Don’t get any ideas government. I’m not saying it is a good idea.)

The government has control over the present good of force and doesn’t have any long term incentive to satisfy consumer preference. What we get is another government agency that costs the nation billions of dollars in real expense (plus the expense of unforeseen solutions that might have evolved in the unhampered market).

The TSA is no different than any other government program. What we are told is that the government is graciously stepping in to save us from another failure of the free market. In reality, some other government regulation caused the problem in the first place, and what we get as a fix is another unaccountable government agency mired in bureaucracy, inefficiency, and waste. The TSA undermines the protection of the nation's transportation systems while it encroaches on people’s basic freedoms. It should be abolished and the airport security should be 100% privatized for the moral and economic reasons stated above.

But then again, would it be possible to feel safe without Security Theater? The show must go on! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be advised - You may experience significant delays at the airport if you are traveling on Wednesday, 11/24/2010. It is “National Opt-Out” Day. People are trying to organize a massive protest of the new TSA procedures by electing to “opt-out” of the scanner and submit to the full-body pat down in hopes of crippling TSA resources on one of the busiest travel days of the year.


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The material luxuries and basic civil liberties we enjoy as Americans did not always exist in abundance (and still do not exist for most people in the world today). The freedoms we take for granted and the copious wealth to which many of us now feel a strong sense of entitlement are the direct results of a society that held great respect for property rights and the rule of law. The basic concept is the idea that men and women do not exist for the purpose of serving as tools for other people to use as they see fit. This seems to be a very simple concept, but I will repeat it again for emphasis. Men and women do not exist to serve as tools for other people.

Let's think about it another way. Is the purpose of any one man's existence - his reason for having life on earth - is it to be a servant for another man? Does he live only by the permission of other men. I like to think most Americans would say, NO! 

Sometimes it is a useful exercise to step outside of yourself and imagine life in another country...or even a past century. Imagine how people in North Korea might answer. Imagine how someone living 250 years ago (anywhere in the world) might have answered that question. In those societies it was and is accepted as inevitable that the purpose of certain human life is to serve the will of the ruling class. Many of these people may not even be able to imagine what it is like to be free.

Today we all agree that slavery is evil. The thought of forcing someone to work under threat of physical harm is outrageous, but the concept of individual human rights is actually a very recent development in the span of human history. It is so new that it is still not widely understood.

What can we learn about the abolition of slavery? We learn that it didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen until the ideological foundation was sufficient to support such a drastic societal change. For thousands of years, slavery was an accepted institution in most all cultures. It was only with the discovery of the concept of human rights that the ideological shift began to allow for the permanent abolishing of this gruesome practice from civil society.

In thinking about slavery, and why it is bad, people also start thinking about liberty, and why it is good. By working to end slavery, the classical liberal thinkers began to make the positive case for liberty.

Below is an excerpt from a recent article by Edward Stringham and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel titled First, Ideological Change; Second, Social Change

"Perhaps one of the most stunning historical changes to result from an underlying ideological change in people's preferences was the abolition of chattel slavery. Slavery had been a source of forced labor since the dawn of civilization. People had owned slaves on every continent and for every conceivable task. Slavery, along with such other forms of unfree or quasifree labor as serfdom, debt bondage, involuntary apprenticeship, and indentured servitude, was the unenviable status of most humans prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Although no one liked being a slave, the institution was universally accepted as inevitable if not desirable until the first stirrings of antislavery fervor emerged in the late 18th century. Today, in contrast, we live in a world where the freedom to quit a job at will has become the accepted standard. Slavery may still persist clandestinely, but no ruler, no matter how vile or ruthless, would dare get up and publicly endorse owning another human being.

The abolitionist movement, despite beginning as a minuscule minority in most countries, eliminated in a little over a century a labor system that had been ubiquitous for millennia....The abolition of chattel slavery thus stands as the most impressive and enduring of all of classical liberalism's triumphs."

Read more of from this article, First, Ideological Change; Second, Social Change at Mises.org

For centuries, chattel slavery was popularly accepted in most all societies as inevitable. Similarly, in our society today, we accept the violations of a coercive central government as inevitable. We accept income tax as inevitable. We accept a despotic Federal government that passes new legislation that diminishes individual liberty and encroaches on individual human rights on a daily basis as inevitable.

Rule by a coercive, despotic central government is not inevitable. For the same reason slavery is wrong, our current system of government is wrong. People do not live by permission of government or society. It is immoral to use the force of a central agency to make people work for the benefit of another group. Yet, this is the system most people in the US accept and promote today. We don't like to think of it that way, but that is exactly what it is.

All too often we repeat the slogans and catchphrases of the past without a second thought. It is sometimes helpful to step back and break the bonds of limited thinking. It is then that the real issues and the real solutions become much clearer. Just look at any of the legislation that has come out of Washington in the past 80 years. Most all of it is a strict violation of the principle of human rights. Identify things as they are.

In short, every man and woman has a right to live their life. When this concept is fully understood we can begin to restore America. And it is then, when the ideological shift occurs, the necessary societal changes will become as obvious to future generations as the rejection of slavery is to us today.

I am optimistic liberty will prevail because liberty is right. It is moral. It is good.


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The information contained in this article was adapted from a lecture I attended this summer by historian Steve Davies. I wish I could find a transcript or video of this lecture because it is excellent. For now, my interpretation will have to suffice. This article is supported by detailed lecture notes but any inaccuracies are my own.

State education is not a failure, but rather, a great success. I must start by making sure we are clear on terms. By “State education” I am talking about compulsory education mandated and administered by the government (e.g. the public school system in the US).  By “success”, I refer to the success that State education has achieved in relation to the purpose and function of the system itself – which ironically is not education.

State education is relatively new to human history. The Prussians were the original advocates of State education, and the founders were very clear on what they thought the purpose of State education should be. After their embarrassing defeat to Napoleon in 1806, the Prussian elite decided to setup a “model national education system”. They wanted a system that produced “loyal, public spirited citizens” and groomed “obedient, disciplined soldiers”.

With these objectives in mind, the Prussian elite develop the first State education system (similar to the model of our public school system today) with the thought that the system should be compulsory, uniform, organized by age groups, and defined by structured time periods, structured desks, set text books and an authorized curriculum. The founders of the modern system of education were very explicit in their stated intentions. They wanted to teach students to follow the rules of institutions and comply with structure. This all sounds an awful lot like what we are used to today, but these were very new ideas at the time and vastly different from how education was previously provided.

The ruling Prussian elites wanted to groom obedient soldiers. This was not a secret. It was the openly communicated goal of the educational reform they were implementing. No longer was education used as a means for drawing out the knowledge and potential of individual students. Instead, children were formally manipulated; they were schooled collectively. The structured environment helped achieve this objective. Students were taught to submit, obey, not question authority, and take orders. This was the first time children started wearing uniforms to school. This was the first time students started reciting a national pledge of allegiance in school. This was the first time students were required to attend a school organized by age – so that they would be in the class room with their future brothers in combat.

It should also be noted that the elites thought of this system as a way to shape and mold society. The Prussian elites didn’t actually send their own children to the mass education system. They wanted to indoctrinate certain “habits of mind” in the general population. Curriculum and text books were standardized so the masses would be receiving the same “authorized” message. The elites wanted to use a national education system as a way to maintain orderliness, manipulate the labor market, shape career choices of citizens, and keep kids off of the streets.

The implementation of State education in Prussia was quite successful in achieving its stated aims. Soon other nation-states began implementing a similar model. To a large extent, this is the education model we are following today. Yet, it is never questioned how this model came to be. It is never questioned what goals this model is designed to achieve. It is never questioned. Could it be because this is the system in which we are all schooled? We are spoon fed a statist narrative of history, economics, and literature. Essential thinking skills, like those that would be taught in a logic course, have long since been removed from the curriculum. 

This analysis leads to a very radical conclusion: As a society, our whole idea of education is radically impoverished.

The conventional historiography of public education is wrong in so many ways. I will leave you with one example, but plenty more can be readily identified with a little research.

The traditional narrative we get in school is some version of the following: Everyone in the past was ignorant and most people couldn’t read. People sunk into hedonism or expropriation. Luckily, the state stepped in and provided compulsory educational with the goal being “educational enlightenment”. There is no way the population would learn anything if we didn’t have State education. State education holds society together.

As it turns out, in Britain during the first half of 19th century and prior, there were a whole host of varied educational institutions. The system was not uniformed in the sense of a modern State education system. For example, it was common to see educational outlets like "Dame Schools" where woman in the neighborhood taught elementary education to children. In 1860, a study on education in Britain showed that 90% of children were enrolled in school of some kind and that 80% had a 14+ year old reading level. England passed their first compulsory education act in 1870. Today, after 140 year of State education, the average reading level in Britain is 10 years old.

I doubt anyone could seriously argue against the fact that the modern school system is an incredibly inefficient way to learn anything important (if that is the goal). Once we understand that the goal of the system is not education, but standardization and indoctrination, it is easy to see how State education has been such a success for the growth of government.  

The aim of the State education is to take intelligent, independent, inquisitive children and turn them into conforming dullards. In the past it was designed to make for an acquiescent populace and an obedient military. Today it is designed to make for an acquiescent populace and a society of obedient corporate drones.  In that respect, State education is a success. It’s no coincidence that the rise of compulsory State education corresponds nicely with the rise in power of modern nation-state.

Command, Control, Indoctrinate!

Please see the A-equals-A.com [Mis]Education of America page for more information regarding the damage government schools continue to do to our society.

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I apologize for the long time away. I spent a month studying for the GRE and researching grad school, then I was in the process of changing jobs, then I was playing catch up....no excuses.

One other activity has taken a great deal of my time lately. I am now co-hosting a radio show here in Atlanta:

Butler on Business

Sundays 11am – 1pm

You can tune into WGKA 920 AM on your radio in Atlanta or you can listen live online by going to the Talk920 website.

Each week we take a free market look at the news affecting businesses, as well as devote entire segments to talking about topics such as the impact of taxation and ways to downsize the federal government so that more resources can be dedicated to the productive private sector. We hammer home the message of sound economics and promote universal respect for individual rights.

This week we have an interview with Sheriff Paul Babeu - the sheriff who is on the front lines fighting the drug cartels in Arizona. Next week we will be interviewing Senators Johnny Isakson and Jim DeMint. Should be interesting.

I should have more time in the near future to devote to the site. I have a lot of half written articles I want to get out there.

Thanks for staying with me. Look for new A-equals-A.com articles soon!

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