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The Reid Effect


Every time I take off my shoes in the security screening process at the airport, I find it consoling to remind myself that at least Richard Reid wasn't wearing an underwear bomb.

We take off our shoes because Reid, a delusional British malcontent, was caught trying to light an explosive device in his shoes on a Paris-to-Miami flight a few days before Christmas 2001. The federal government decided that anyone wearing shoes was then a potential terrorist threat and began requiring shoes to be scanned, thus introducing a bare- and sock-footed portion to the flying experience.

I shudder to think what the procedure would be today if Reid was caught lighting, not his shoe laces, but a string attached to his boxer shorts.

Now comes the (curiously timed?) news of a plot foiled in London. Twenty-four people were arrested yesterday in a conspiracy to detonate liquid explosives on transcontinental flights from Europe to the U.S., and the federal government responds by...banning all liquids in carry-on luggage, including toothpaste, shampoo, perfumes and bottled water purchased anywhere besides airport concourses. So much for the convenience of flying without checking your bags.

The absurdity of the situation is twofold. First, this response assumes that airlines have zero incentive to protect their own property and their customers who fly on it. Not only is this clearly not true, it ignores that had individual airlines been allowed to protect their property as they saw fit, as opposed to being forced to comply with a one-size-fits-all security system designed by the feds, 9/11 probably never would have been coordinated. And second, this response assumes that terrorism just happens, like the common cold, and all we can do is respond in ways that minimize its effects. But what about policies that foment such acts?

Governments simply can't invade countries, kill tens of thousands of innocents, and fund other governments that do the same, without vastly increasing the likelihood of terrorist acts, recruiting new terrorists, and generally making life less safe, secure, and free for everyone.

One way we are made less free is when the State assumes control over private resources in an effort to minimize adverse effects of previously-imposed policies. I call it the "Reid Effect" when applied to airline security, but it is a version of Mises' theory of government interventionism, in which one government intervention leads to problems that lead to future interventions. Thank goodness Reid was only a wannabe shoe-bomber and not an underwear bomber instead.

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