Wandering Aramean passes along an idea that I’ve been suggesting for years, that cumbersome security theatre actually kills — wasting time on security that doesn’t make us more secure makes flying less attractive than driving for short-haul destinations. But flying is safer.

When you have to arrive at the airport earlier due to the vagaries of airport security and uncertainty in how long it will take, you may choose to drive short distances because the cost of an airline ticket is no longer worthwhile for the time saved.

More driving means more traffic fatalities, deaths that would not happened had airport security not been so inefficient.

Those are real costs on the table.

Alex Tabarrok covers this issue as well.

Matthew Yglesias adds that the TSA should have to estimate how many planes it thinks would blow up but-for their security measures, in order to be able to provide a real cost-benefit tradeoff decision.

One way of thinking about it is this. If commercial airplanes were no more secure than your average city bus, planes would be blown up as frequently as city buses—which is to say never. I’ve heard some people postulate that terrorists have a special affection for blowing up planes, but I’m not sure that’s right. In the not-too-distant past, Israel had a substantial terrorists-blowing-up-buses problem and had to take countervailing security measures. But unlike Israel, we’re not doing anything to secure our buses. It’s at least possible that nobody blows up American buses because nobody is trying to blow anything up.

This tradeoff of lives lost by having too much security versus not enough doesn’t even factor the loss of liberties from too much security. But it’s a useful addition to how we think about the problem. (One I’ve been asking for for a long, long time so I’m especially happy to see the additional focus.)

  1. Paul said,

    Flying being safer is a myth… Do some research.

  2. Paul said,

    That said the tsa sucks and should be completely thrown out and we should start over.

  3. Ozaer N. said,

    Thanks Gary—finally got some T’giving dinner conversation other than the “who’s better Romney or Obama” B.S. hehe

  4. Mrredskin said,

    satire, obviously, but this is still ridiculous

  5. Krazny said,

    I would submit (in all seriousness) that there is absolutely no need to take security measures to ensure airliners are not blown up. You want to blow up a flight or two? Fine, go ahead. It would be sad for those few affected, but it wouldn’t threaten national security. It may sound callous but I’m perfectly willing to take my chances.

    The only “security” enhancements needed in the post 9-11 age is the hardening of cockpit doors. That’s it. Nothing more is necessary. Why?

    The significance of the 9-11 attacks was not that 3 jets were crashed and all aboard perished. To be sure, it was an “aviation disaster” but that was not a national security disaster. The significance of what happened that day was that two jets were TAKEN OVER and were then USED AS WEAPONS.

    It’s impossible to keep every jet from being blown up in flight – and in fact, we’ve done little to stop that – plenty of cargo is not inspected.

    But it’s very easy to prevent jets from being taken over and used as weapons. The best way to prevent that is passengers being aware that bad guys should not be allowed to storm the cockpit. That lesson was learned, in fact before the 3rd plane crashed. Message received, threat pretty much removed. Now that passengers know to take action, what happened on 9/11 will never happen again. Hardened cockpit doors help with that, and would give those aboard more time to overpower any bad guys trying to storm the cockpit.

    Sp we’ve actually got everything in place already to prevent another 9/11 attack. We could shut down the TSA right now and there would be exactly zero additional risk. Yes, it’s true that a jet might be blown up once in a while, but that’s true now, and that’s NOT what all the theater is designed to stop.

  6. Scottrick said,

    We need a stone that keeps terrorists away. Terrorists and bears.

  7. Justin Martin said,

    Per Mile driven or flown Driving is actually slightly safer than commercial aviation and significantly safer than general aviation. I like WA’s analysis on many things but he is making assumptions based on the wrong data. Those statistics also don’t take into account time of day deaths which are heavily skewed because of drunk driving deaths. So if you travel at certain times of the day your chances of dying are miniscule at best. If the government wanted to limit deaths just do a better job cracking down on drunk driving.


    As for Krazny you don’t remember the 70′s. Just like bank vaults don’t prevent theft the TSA does not exist to be an absolute safeguard from terrorists from blowing up planes. The TSA is there to make things harder for terrorists and to make them find easier targets. The TSA also is there to calm the public in general. As for just taking chances the number of incidents would quickly escalate and your chances of being involved would dramatically increase. The US relies on commercial aviation and this would cripple the system.

  8. Justin Martin said,

    Additionally, there are no “liberties” impinged by the TSA, but it is inconvenient and annoying.

  9. Boraxo said,

    You left out the very certain fatalities that will result from cancer due to increased radiation from TSA xrays. Even using TSA own bogus low estimates, something like 10 more people per year will die of cancer due to exposure to TSA xrays. Over a dozen years that is perhaps equivalent to the # that would be lost on a single jet crash.

  10. 流花展馆 said,


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