The TSA’s False Tradeoff
By: Robert Murphy
Nov 25, 2010
The national furor over the TSA’s new procedures — culminating in yesterday’s “Opt Out Day” — has elicited the typical response from the bureaucracy and its apologists. Why, these invasive scans and “enhanced pat-downs” are only for your good, in order to ensure safe flying. You don’t want another attack, do you?
This is a false tradeoff. Especially in the long run, there is no tension between freedom and safety. If airport security were truly returned to the private sector, air travelers would achieve a much better balance of privacy and legitimate security measures.
The Calculation Problem
Whenever considering government versus market provision of a good or service, we should recall Ludwig von Mises’s famous critique of socialism. Specifically, Mises argued that even if the central planners were angels, intending only the best for their subjects, and even if these angels were fully informed of the latest technical knowledge, nonetheless they would be groping in the dark when they tried to design a blueprint for the entire economy.
The socialist central planners would suffer from a calculation problem, meaning that they couldn’t evaluate whether a given enterprise — such as a car factory or a farm — was making efficient use of society’s scarce resources. Sure, the car factory might be cranking out vehicles that the comrades enjoyed driving. But that alone is not enough to prove that the car factory is economically efficient. For all the planners know, the resources (steel, rubber, labor hours) going into the production of the cars could be diverted into other lines, increasing the production of items that the comrades enjoy even more than the cars.