Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

February 15, 2005

Airline Security

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:39 pm

In case you haven’t noticed, many of the “security” procedures we see at airports and other facilities are more or less pointless as far as protecting the public, or the facilities, from most kinds of attacks. Bruce Schneier is one of the world’s top security experts. He got his start in cryptography and computer security, but he has become one of the world’s clearest thinkers on security in general. He recently participated in a working group to evaluation “Secure Flight,” the Transportion Security Administration‘s new program to match airline passengers with terrorist watch lists. He says this match system is much better than the current one, but it’s still basically pointless — not only does it have the potential to evolve into some sort of “Big Brother” system that tracks everyone’s movements everywhere (not just on planes)…

[T]he urge to use this system for other things will be irresistible. It’s just too easy to say: “As long as you’ve got this system that watches out for terrorists, how about also looking for this list of drug dealers…and by the way, we’ve got the Super Bowl to worry about too.” Once Secure Flight gets built, all it’ll take is a new law and we’ll have a nationwide security checkpoint system.

… but it’s an extremely inefficient use of security resources.

Imagine for a minute that Secure Flight is perfect. That is, we can ensure that no one can fly under a false identity, that the watch lists have perfect identity information, and that Secure Flight can perfectly determine if a passenger is on the watch list: no false positives and no false negatives. Even if we could do all that, Secure Flight wouldn’t be worth it.

Secure Flight is a passive system. It waits for the bad guys to buy an airplane ticket and try to board. If the bad guys don’t fly, it’s a waste of money. If the bad guys try to blow up shopping malls instead of airplanes, it’s a waste of money.

If I had some millions of dollars to spend on terrorism security, and I had a watch list of potential terrorists, I would spend that money investigating those people. [What a concept! --DR] I would try to determine whether or not they were a terrorism threat before they got to the airport, or even if they had no intention of visiting an airport. I would try to prevent their plot regardless of whether it involved airplanes. I would clear the innocent people, and I would go after the guilty. I wouldn’t build a complex computerized infrastructure and wait until one of them happened to wander into an airport. It just doesn’t make security sense.

As Bruce points out, the economics of the system simply doesn’t make sense:

That’s my usual metric when I think about a terrorism security measure: Would it be more effective than taking that money and funding intelligence, investigation, or emergency response — things that protect us regardless of what the terrorists are planning next. Money spent on security measures that only work against a particular terrorist tactic, forgetting that terrorists are adaptable, is largely wasted.

If the market, rather than government regulators, were providing security, we wouldn’t have this type of waste.

Is Social Security like Slavery?

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:20 pm

La Shawn Barber takes up a question asked by Star Parker:

Whenever citizens are prevented from doing something (like keeping the money they earn), the government is exerting its control. In the case of prohibiting murder or injury to another, it’s a good thing. Removing criminals from society and protecting citizens is how the state’s power is most effectively flexed. This is for the benefit not just of the state but citizens as well.

Where the state’s power is most effective for itself but least effective for us is in exerting control over our ownership rights in the form of excessive regulation (land use, for example), burdensome taxes and gun control.

An argument can be made that the social security system is burdensome and broken and infringes on our freedom and ownership rights. Slavery was burdensome (to the slave) and broken and infringed on people’s freedom and “self-ownership” rights. Just as slavery was abolished, social security should be abolished. Is that line of reasoning a stretch?

This is similar to Alan Keyes’ argument that the income tax is a form of slavery:

We ought to have realized that the income tax is utterly incompatible with liberty. It is actually a form of slavery. A slave is someone the fruit of whose labor is controlled by somebody else. A slave is not somebody with nothing. Rather, he has only what the master lets him have.

Under the income tax, the government takes whatever percentage of the earner’s income it wants. The income tax, therefore, represents our national surrender to the government of control over all the money we earn. There are, in principle, no restrictions to the pre-emptive claim the government has upon our income.

I’m sympathetic to the notion that the income tax is incompatible with liberty — at best, it is a restriction on our liberty, since it means we are not free to do as we choose with 100% of the fruits of our labor.

However, there is one important — I would say, critical — difference between the slave and the taxpayer. The slave is does not simply do whatever he wants, and give 100% of the resulting income to the master — they slave is under the master’s complete control, and must do whatever he is ordered to do whenever he is ordered to do it. The income-taxpayer is free to take whatever job he wants, as long as he pays the percentage ordered to the tax collector. If the income-taxpayer chooses to make less income, he will pay less tax. If he chooses to make no income, he will pay no tax — and the tax collector has no authority to ahve him whipped for refusing to take a job.

In other words, if they declare a 100% income tax, I can — and certainly would — quit my job. The slave does not have that option.

Likewise, the social security tax deprives me of 12.4% of my income, but if I choose not to make some quota of income, they don’t come and whip me. Plus, there is a chance that if I live long enough, I can get (some of) the money back — not as much as if I’d put it in the bank and earned interest (and if I don’t live long enough, my heirs get nothing), but there’s a chance of seeing something in theory.

By the way, people really do earn less income when the income tax gets too high. See this post on the Laffer curve. Also, Dinesh D’Souza, in his book on Ronald Reagan, pointed out that in the 1950s when the top marginal tax rate was over 90%, “Reagan saw in Hollywood, when marginal tax rates of 90 percent discouraged film stars from making more than one or two movies a year.” After the second movie, their income high enough to put them in a tax bracket that made it so they received almost none of the money they earned.

Sleep Patterns

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:24 pm

We all know that some people are “morning people” and some people are “night people.” It turns out this may be genetically determined. It’s a fascinating article.

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