Mises Wire

Customer Service, Government Style: Huge Wait Times for TSA “Security”

Whenever it comes to funding the government’s own perks and amenities, no expense is to be spared. Both civilian and military government employees are paid more than their private-sector counterparts with equal levels of job skills and education. High ranking government officials travel in luxury and receive generous pensions. Government employees are rarely laid off or fired. 

Government agencies claim this is all part of their efforts to attract the finest people and provide the best “customer service” to the general public. 

But we all know how that really works out. When you have a government-imposed monopoly, there’s no need to provide decent service at all. After all, people have no other options. So why bother? Without any competition — and a legal ban on any entry of new firms that might offer competition — the imperative to offer quality service ceases to exist. 

The latest example of how this works can be found in the ever-lengthening wait times to get through TSA security lines at the airport. In the latest story from CBS, we’re told that wait times increased by 82 percent at JFK airport from March to April. It’s now generally accepted that you must arrive at least two hours ahead of time if you want any hope at all of getting through security and making your flight. 

Naturally, the TSA blames it on budget cuts. And that may very well be true, especially since the TSA mandates are set by Congress, and Congress apparently is fine with simultaneously mandating TSA-style security without funding TSA-style security. 

Of course it costs members of Congress nothing at all, politically speaking, to cut the budget. Congress will get your money whether or not they do anything with it that makes your life more convenient. The members themselves get to bypass security, so it’s only the ordinary taxpayers who have to sit in the long lines. Moreover, if the choice comes down to cutting the TSA budget or cutting pork for powerful special interests, it’s an easy choice for Congress. 

We’ve already seen how the government’s monopoly on airport security means it has no market incentive to change. There is also no political incentive. Sure, a few constituents will complain about the long wait lines, but they’ll soon forget about it and the voters will dutifully fall in line and re-elect most of Congress, which enjoys an incumbent re-election rate of over 90 percent. Airport passengers are politically unorganized and offer no competition to powerful interests like AARP or the Pentagon. Go ahead and call your Congressman. Don’t hold your breath on airport security, though. 

In spite of it all, the record tax dollars will continue to roll into Washington, DC, and the voters will dutifully keep re-electing the people who made the status quo what it is today. The huge airport lines make for great visuals on the evening news, but all the supposed rage felt by travelers this summer will mostly amount to nothing. The dominant ideology held by most Americans tells them that they need the TSA to “keep them safe,” in spite of the fact that the TSA has never, ever demonstrated any ability to actually prevent airline terrorism. Given their monopoly power, the burden of proof is certainly on them. 

The taxpayers and airline travelers will complain a little, but many will react with horror to the idea that the US government should not have a monopoly on airport security. Without a change in this ideology, don’t expect anything else to change. 

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