Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Evidence That Direct Democracy is Bad

Slate asked its readers about ideas for improving airline security.  Some responses:

The ideas our panel looked over ranged from the invasive (make everyone put on government-issued pajamas and take a tranquillizer) to the uncomfortable (passengers must fly commando). A surprising number of people suggested strapping passengers down and stuffing them sardine-style into the plane, which makes us wonder whether they ever plan to fly themselves. One reader advocated crowdsourcing the problem: getting bored passengers to watch security footage and flag anyone who looks suspicious.
Um, double yuck.  I wonder how many of these suggestions come from people who fly more than once a decade?  The last one might be ok, except I doubt that people will use their best judgment about what counts as suspicious.

The top four entries:
"Joyce Hackett of New York believes that America's airports should take their cues from Berlin. "Tegel Airport is built like a big ring—planes on the outside, drivers and parking in the middle," she writes. "Its individually secured gates make it both the most efficient and the most security-effective airport I've experienced." The judges liked Hackett's proposal to build a separate security area for each gate and screen passengers before they enter the airport."
  • I experienced this last summer.  Seems very labor intensive.  I didn't like it, but then again, I was not really sure what was going on.  It also meant poor food choices once you get close to the gates.  
"Marianne Nassef of Abilene, Texas, proposes stopping potential terrorists before they even get to the airport. "Nothing gets denied faster than a credit card," Nassef reasons. Going by her plan, anyone on a no-fly list would be denied the right to purchase a ticket. Judges pointed out that the bad guys are likely to catch on and work around the system, but at least this would throw up a stumbling block."
  • Given that the NYT had an article today about an eight yearold that has been trying to get off the list for the past five years or so, I am not so sure this makes a great deal of sense.  Still, this moves a key element of the process away from the airport, and that has to be a good thing.
"Neil Stelzner of Santa Monica, Calif., and Phil Nettl of South Brunswick, N.J., would like to see G-men manning our airports. "They are dedicated, educated, and trained in law enforcement and have a desire to excel at their jobs," Stelzner and Nettl explain. The judges agreed that TSA agents are the last line of defense against would-be terrorists, and employing actual law-enforcement agents would mean having a security force that's committed to law enforcement. Added bonus: FBI trainees would get invaluable experience working with the public."
  • Hmmm, this sounds interesting, but I am not sure how much of a difference it will make.
Benton Love of Houston received top marks from the judges for proposing a system of constant tests for TSA workers. Love advocates a carrot/stick approach: Screeners would be paid a bonus for each federal agent they caught trying to sneak a dummy bomb through security and docked for each one they let through. Judges liked the competitive spirit of the idea (TSA vs. the feds!) and the incentive factor, which would inject some needed energy into screeners. One judge pointed out that drills are a part of our airport security today, but efforts along these lines need to be doubled.
  • This could become a reality tv show that raises money for the government and/or airlines!  
The reality is that our airport security is actually not bad.  We overreact after an incident, but the reality is that our planes are relatively secure, especially since we have now heaps of vigilant eyes (the other passengers).   We cannot reach perfection.  We accept risks when we drive.  We cannot eliminate risk, but we can mitigate it.  We can manage it.  Removing all discretion is probably not the way to go--airlines should let 8 year old kids on watch lists board without much hassle. 

What is my idea for improving airport security?  Better pay, training for the security folks and hiring more of them.  This is a jobs program I could believe in.

1 comment:

Bill Ayres said...

Your second-to-last paragraph is the key one. Everyone from the President on down talks about how a given incident is "unacceptable," and how the government's most important job is "protecting American lives." Both are patent and obvious nonsense; the latter can be found nowhere in the Constitution. Whether airplanes even make sense as a target for serious terrorists (not wannabe shoe or underwear bombers) is another question. The sooner we escape from the notion that Government Must Protect Us From All Harm, the sooner we can return to something resembling rationality.

And the cited suggestions are a great argument against "crowdsourcing." Others have pointed this out as well: crowds don't solve problems. Individuals with specialized knowledge and insight solve problems.