24 November 2010

Yet We Must Abide

I would like to respond at some length to a comment made on my previous entry, Thoughts on Scans and Pat Downs.  Kristin wrote:
"What's interesting is that your comment "when a decision is made" doesn't include any of our individual concerns when they make their decision, but yet we must abide. And even with this loss of individual rights, are we really that much more 'secure?'"
First, some may consider the fact that the head of the TSA, an executive branch appointee, has to be confirmed by the Senate.  Because both the President and Senators are elected, one might argue that the electorate has had a voice in who heads the agency which makes the rules under which the electorate must operate.  Take that for what it is worth, which is not much, substantively, in my thinking.

What drives the executive branch - in particular the agencies which would have to respond to events like another 9-11 or hurricane Katrina - to make the policy decisions is a desire to avoid a negative response from the electorate after an horrific event.  Heads roll after horrible events; they don't tend to roll before a potential event.  Thus, there is at least some self-preservation operating with regard to the rule makers.

This self-preservation is not, on their part, an irrational act by the policy makers - if keeping their jobs is highly important to them.  The idea, particularly in urban areas, that the federal government must respond energetically and omnipotently to a disaster.  Most notably was the outcry for the lack of federal response to hurricane Katrina, particularly from the people and politicians in New Orleans - never mind the total lack of response from the truly responsible parties at the city and state levels.  President Bush never recovered politically from the false impression that the lack of a federal response to Katrina caused the city to be decimated and the urban population to suffer.

As a result, politicians and policy makers don't want to get "Katrina'd" and therefore come up with preemptive measures which can be pointed to in case some horrific event does happen.  These measures are the "but we did (insert preventative measure here), so we cannot be blamed" tactic.

The sad truth is that the part of the electorate that demands an energetic and omnipotent federal response to tragedy bears much of the blame for such policies.  So, if the TSA does not want to have its collective head handed to it by the public, then rules, procedures, and policies become more and more stringent - just in case something might could happen.

I could go on to discuss the infantilization of the electorate, zero-tolerance culture and such, but it is sufficient to say that TSA frisks and such are a result of a not-so-uncommon desire on the part of the electorate to be protected from tragedy.  The TSA may not have asked explicitly for public opinion, but public responses to past tragedies and political self-preservation drive decisions.  I don't expect government agencies to change "safety uber alles" mantra any time soon, if ever.  But then again, that's just my read on it; I could be wrong.

23 November 2010

Thoughts on Scans and Pat Downs

There has been an overabundance of talk about the TSA’s new security measures – full body scans and frisks. The conversation ranges from “do everything possible to make sure that nothing bad happens on any flight,” particularly another terrorist attack, to “this is a violation of fundamental rights” and every shade in between.

The discussion is useful, I think, if there is an understanding that the real question lies underneath the security versus rights debate. There will always be a tradeoff between security and individual rights; the more safety one demands from the state, the more individual liberty one must relinquish to the state. On the other hand, if one is willing to accept a relatively less secure situation, one tends to be able to exercise more individual liberty.

There is also another important thing to understand, or be reminded of, when it comes to the government providing security: once the measures are decided upon, compliance is not optional. It is more important, I think, to consider how intrusive we want our government to become in our lives in exchange for safety from those who wish us harm. It is my estimation that the more we allow the former, the more indistinguishable the two will become.

09 November 2010

Of Happy Meals and Individual Liberty

In an article on CNN.com, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar attempts to explain why he felt the need to propose and push a city ordinance that bans the addition of a toy to any nutritionally suspect meal.  Mr. Mar cites child health costs, impact with regard to the city's budget, and states that "everyone must do their part" to fight child obesity.

It seems that Mr. Mar feels that his "part" is to tell others how to run their private restaurants.  It would stand to reason that Mr. Mar might suggest that restaurants like McDonald's "part" would be to offer government sanctioned meals for kids.  Mr. Mar might also suggest that the "part" parents should play is to expect restaurants to offer only nutritious, government sanctioned meals (which may include a toy) so that neither they nor their children are tempted by less healthy choices - the toy being a lure.

I might suggest the folks he's trying to help - according to his own words, "[c]ommunities of color and low-income families" - simply vote with their dollars rather than have rules imposed by government.  That would be an exercise in individual liberty (pardon the pun).  I might further suggest that if folks did take their business elsewhere that, over the long term, restaurants like McDonald's would offer more choices which would appeal to health-minded consumers (regardless of economic or ethnic "status").  Again, restaurant owners would exercise their individual liberty by freely choosing - albeit influenced by business concerns - to offer different food options.  But somehow I do not think that the Supervisor had individual liberty in mind when he wrote and promoted this law.

I might further suggest that if Mr. Mar is truly and deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the children of San Francisco that he devise a business plan and open a restaurant which offers healthy, inexpensive, fast meals.  That, however, would be a financial risk; one which I'm willing to bet Mr. Mar would not be willing to make.  Far easier to legislate, as political "capital" is made and spent far easier than real money.

08 November 2010

Who Should Drive the Car?

President Obama, among many other Liberals, has repeatedly likened the economy to driving a car.  The use of this metaphor reveals a serious misunderstanding on the part of the user.

Mr. Obama and his supporters, in order to cast blame on Republican lawmakers, state that the GOP drove the economic car into a ditch and therefore cannot be trusted with the keys.  The choice implied - the only choice available in our political system - is to leave the keys in Democrat (read: Liberal) hands.  But what the use of this metaphor shows is a fundamental misunderstanding of free-market economy.  By using this metaphor, Mr. Obama assumes that the government must be in the driver's seat.  That he and other Liberals repeatedly use this metaphor suggests that the assumption of government as economic driver is a fundamental one.  It is not, say, a conclusion reached, but rather a basis from which to develop policy.

Private parties, not the government, should be in the economic driver's seat.  The government's proper role is to set the "rules of the road", so to speak, and those rules should not direct the economy (as was done in home mortgage lending, for instance) but rather make it fairly safe for participants on all of the given highways and side streets.