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The TSA and the economics of institutions

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

(Read caption) Thanksgiving travelers lined up to go through a security checkpoint at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Nov. 24. What is the role of the state, and is the TSA filling that role?

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At the suggestion of an editor, I wrote a sequel to last week’s proposal to abolish the TSA (and I just published a third piece for your reading pleasure while you’re passing the time in an airport security line). Tyler Cowen offers a cool-headed and dispassionate analysis, noting (correctly) that there are probably more important challenges to our liberty and our safety than the TSA. I don’t expect a solution to emerge magically, but I view the furor over the TSA as an opportunity to introduce good ideas into the discussion and move the proverbial ball forward. At the margin, the TSA matters.

My back-of-the-envelope theory of social change includes the proposition that people are generally moved to consider one set of ideas when they encounter a very vivid set of complementary ideas. If people are mad about being groped on their way through airport security, then perhaps they will start to ask why we aren’t allowed to bring liquids on flights or why we have to take our shoes off when we go through scanners. Or why we have a TSA (or a state) to begin with.


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