Mises Wire

How the TSA Kills Hundreds of People Every Year

TSA Inspected Tape

Experts increasingly agree that the TSA is inept and has not actually prevented any terrorist attacks on airplanes. Recently, Homeland Security sent a team to attempt to smuggle guns and bombs onto planes. The so-called “red team” succeeded on 67 out of 70 tries, or more than 95 percent of the time! Bruce Schneier, a security expert, reportedly found basically zero evidence the agency has prevented any attacks.” Even in the widely publicized (by the TSA) case of Kevin Brown, the TSA didn’t prevent an airplane from being blown up, because Brown was caught trying to check luggage containing materials for making a pipe bomb. But the TSA has never touted a case in which they caught someone actually trying to bring down a plane. (They claim that this is for national security reasons, which oddly did not apply to the Brown case.)

Not only is there an absence of evidence that the TSA saves lives, there is evidence that it may actually cause a significant number of deaths. In one paper, economists Garrick Blalock, Vrinda Kadiyali, and Daniel Simon estimated that, all other factors held constant, baggage screening procedures implemented after 9/11 reduced passenger volume by 6 percent overall and by 9 percent on planes departing from the nation’s 50 busiest airports. Interestingly, the study also found that the introduction of federalized passenger screening did not significantly reduce passenger volume. The authors integrated these results with those of an earlier paper they had written on the direct effect of 9/11 on reducing airline travel and increasing driving and, therefore, deaths in auto accidents. The authors concluded that, over a three-month period,  

approximately 129 individuals died in automobile accidents which resulted from travelers substituting driving for flying in response to inconvenience associated with baggage screening.

As one commentator starkly noted, this figure when annualized is “the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.” While one may quibble with the precise figures, a number of studies in the wake of 9/11 has confirmed the link between a reduction in airline passenger volume and an increase in driving and, inevitably, the number of fatalities from auto accidents.  

In sum, the benefits of the TSA are negligible and the costs include—in addition to an annual  budget of $7 billion—possibly hundreds of deaths per year. In light of these facts, considerations of economic efficiency and of basic human decency demand that the TSA be abolished and that the important task of providing security for airline passengers be handed over to the competing airlines and airports, who are eager to find efficient, effective, and passenger-friendly market solutions to guarding their property, reputation, and the lives of their customers.  

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