In the case of airport security,
September 26, 2001 4:29 PM   Subscribe

In the case of airport security, the free market has failed to provide for the public good.
posted by Ty Webb (16 comments total)
If the kind of security necessary to prevent the attacks of Sept. 11 had been implemented before the attacks, consumers would have screamed bloody murder. They were trading security for convenience, and before Sept. 11, who was to say they were wrong to do it?
So it's not a market failure as the author describes it. Should the government have forced the air travel industry to adopt the measures over the objections of consumers? That's an entirely different question.
posted by lbergstr at 4:48 PM on September 26, 2001

When something this big happens, everyone has to jump in and claim it for their pet ideology. Soon we'll have vegetarians letting us know that if the terrorist had switched to a meat-free diet, they probably wouldn't have been so aggressive.
posted by cell divide at 4:52 PM on September 26, 2001

A good analogy are the air bag laws. For years, auto makers resisted it. The government forced it. Now auto makers tout them as big features. And gee, lives are saved.

Increased airport security will be forced. Then you'll see marketing slogans like "the safest airline in the sky."
posted by skeptical at 4:56 PM on September 26, 2001

There are innumerable cases of free exchanges that affect people other than the ones carrying out the exchange. Economists call the side-effects "externalities", and they can be positive (e.g. theoretical research) or negative (e.g. pollution).

The possibility of an airplane being turned into a missile that would destroy skyscrapers and kill thousands was not figured into the equation when passengers, airlines, and airports decided amongst themselves what tradeoffs between security, convenience, and price they wanted to accept.

It was a cost mostly external to the people making the decision, which is always going to be a problem, no matter what system you use to make decisions. I'm not convinced that civil servants and elected officials possess the wisdom to make perfect decisions any more than the free market does.

A good solution seems to be a regulated free market, in which the government concerns itself with imposing costs or rewards based upon the externalities that certain transactions generate. This is called "internalizing the externalities," and is a good place to start in the search for further information on this topic.
posted by marknau at 5:06 PM on September 26, 2001

Good point about the bailout taking away the free-market incentives, phatboy. And I'm also going to give you an "Amen, brother!" for the last sentence.

Falwell's convinced the attack proves that homosexuals and the ACLU are evil. Michael Moore is convinced it cements the rightness of his Marxist, anti-globalization beliefs. Why anyone would want to adopt a line of "reasoning" endorsed by these sorts of idiots is beyond me.
posted by marknau at 5:13 PM on September 26, 2001

Cell divide, you probably wouldn't be so hostile towards vegetarians if you didn't eat meat.

Haha, got you with a paradox insult.
posted by starduck at 5:47 PM on September 26, 2001

Since my post got lost in the shuffle, I am reposting:

In a free market, the incentive to improve security at airports would be provided by the costs associated with a hijacking. Since the government is bailing out the airlines, the cost is shifted to the taxpayers, thus there is never a true incentive to improve security. This is therefore not a "free market". One could argue that bad security is due to government intervention.

I am not arguing that government intervention is a bad thing. Every bailout should be followed with increased government regulation, as it is the result of a market failure.

Could people stop capitalizing on this tragedy to flagrantly promote their political views? I find it completely tasteless.
posted by phatboy at 5:52 PM on September 26, 2001

I liked the writer's tagline...

Matthew Duss is a freelance writer living in Seattle, Washington. I am a member of the New Style Collective, a group supporting local independent art and research. He can be reached at:

Third person, first person, third person. Sinner is still not sure if Matthew Duss is in the New Style Collective or not. But I might be.
posted by Sinner at 5:57 PM on September 26, 2001

Trading convenience for security is only necessary if there is a failure in technology to pick up the slack.

What ever happened to those airport scanners that got pulled because they made it "appear" that people were naked?
posted by rushmc at 6:34 PM on September 26, 2001

Rush: you aren't thinking of Airplane! are you?
posted by phatboy at 6:41 PM on September 26, 2001

Everyone keeps complaining about people "capitalizing" on this tragedy to promote their agendas. How is this bad? As awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, it's entirely defensible behavior. Just like anything else, this is a historical happening that can be used as a point in an argument. If I've been unsuccessful in arguing that we should do X given that we know Y, and all the sudden, we have this new information, very important to a lot of people, Y', why shouldn't I use this new information in my argument? If I can use this information and in a convincing way say, "Well Event E was bad. It was brought about by policy P. If we use policy Q, you can see this would have averted, and will avert in the future, more events like E." It's the fundamental concept of empiricist argument.
posted by jeb at 7:38 PM on September 26, 2001

Free market doesn't serve to promote "public good", whatever that is. Free market serves customers. And untill now, the free market provided exactly what customers wanted, convenience and low prices at the expense of security.
posted by Witold at 7:59 PM on September 26, 2001


I agree with your point, however there appears to be an excessive amount of almost gleeful point scoring going on in the aftermath of the WTC tragedy. I don' t have a problem with intelligent, pragmatic analysis.

There are too may people however who are shoehorning a national tragedy into an argument for their own political views. This article crossed the line (which is admittedly fuzzy) for me.
posted by phatboy at 7:59 PM on September 26, 2001

Since the government is bailing out the airlines, the cost is shifted to the taxpayers, thus there is never a true incentive to improve security.

Yikes. You don't think the airlines have an incentive to not have their planes shown crashing into buildings for a week straight on every major network in the world? What about the some 100,000 lay-offs the industry has just announced? Is that an example of the taxpayers taking the hit, or the airlines themselves?

I'm still recovering from the shock of having read that statement.
posted by MindRave at 10:17 PM on September 26, 2001


Perhaps I went overboard there. My point is that if the government subsidises something it is preventing market forces from correcting it. The airline industry is hardly a completely free market like the article suggests.

What about the some 100,000 lay-offs the industry has just announced? Is that an example of the taxpayers taking the hit, or the airlines themselves?
Actually I think that taxpayers are taking this hit.

It should be noted that the bailout package is 15 billion dollars. This is larger than the entire value of the top three air carriers in the United States.
posted by phatboy at 12:19 AM on September 27, 2001

For all this talk of externalities and free market vs. regulation, something is missing here:

Airport security sucks! And the steps we should have taken to fix it were not taken. While I admit as a consumer that I want fast, efficient service in the airport, and flights that leave and arrive on time, I do not want lax security. And I don't think its a case of one or the other.

Considering how easy it was (and possibly still is) to sneak weapons through the airport, or to board a plane without proper ID checks, there has clearly been a failure of government to regulate airport security.

Finally, if Joe Consumer is so worried about the time that proper security takes, then he needs to be educated:

Sir, the reason for the procedures is so no one is able to board your plane with a weapon and endanger you. Do you understand?

This should be less of a problem now.
posted by 4midori at 10:33 AM on September 27, 2001

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