Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
John W. PayneProtecting Us to Death
Posted at 12:51 am on November 16, 2010, by John W. Payne

Many people are complaining bitterly (and rightly, in my opinion) about the new airport body scanners that show TSA screeners the naked bodies of every passenger that goes through them. If you refuse to go through the scanner, the TSA helpfully provides you the alternative of being felt up by a complete stranger. Some people are even pledging not to fly as long as the scanners are in use. Internet polls are obviously not scientific, but 96% of respondents to this Reuters poll say that they are less likely to fly because of the new, invasive procedures. Of course, it’s a lot easier to say you aren’t going to fly than to actually do it, but I think it’s safe to assume that at the margin, the scanners will push people to drive instead of fly (or simply not travel at all), and this means that the scanners might cause more deaths than they prevent.

It’s debatable whether the scanners will even help prevent terrorism.  Security expert Bruce Schneier points out that terrorists can simply switch targets to public locations that don’t have scanners like malls, stadiums, trains, etc. Furthermore, the scanners don’t always catch dangerous items such as when this physicist showed how to sneak bomb components past the devices. But even if the scanners do save some lives through thwarting would-be terrorists, if more people choose to drive than fly, there will be more traffic deaths as a result of the new policies. In 2003, The American Scientist estimated that driving is 65 times riskier than flying the same distance. By making flying intolerable in the name of safety, the government is not only invading people’s privacy, they are making us less safe.


Filed under: Unintended Consequences
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Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
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