It’s typical to preface a Techdirt article, for me at least, by backtracking to a bunch of articles on related subject matter. I’m not going to do that with another piece on the TSA. Not because there isn’t enough material to choose from. Oh no, there’s simply too much of it, so if you want to see insanity in its most naked form (this statement assumes you don’t live next to Gary Busey), just click here and you won’t be disappointed. That said, even those outraged by the pure idiocy of the TSA’s post 9/11 production of security theater will normally decry it as a massive waste of money or a gross encroachment on civil liberty. And they’re right on both counts. Still, the more striking fact should be that the TSA, an agency with the mission of keeping us alive, is causing death.
Compare the dangers of air travel to those of driving. To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.
Yup, you read that correctly. The TSA, in an attempt to keep us safe through the wonders of naked scanners and light petting, has pushed people away from air travel and out onto the road…where they’re dying. I suggest we all stop thinking of the TSA as just a waste of money and add “death-causer” to the list. The absurdity of this fact is striking, to say the least. This is a government agency that has failed on every measurable level, from cost effectiveness, to its terrorist-catching-batting-average, to the blatant offense it causes to American ideals… and now we know people are dying as a result of all this nonsense.
This is just another symptom of our overreaction to the constant drumbeat of the Islamic-extremism threat. While death of American citizens is chief amongst my concerns, the economics are flat out insane.
According to one estimate of direct and indirect costs borne by the U.S. as a result of 9/11, the New York Times suggested the attacks themselves caused $55 billion in “toll and physical damage,” while the economic impact was $123 billion. But costs related to increased homeland security and counterterrorism spending, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled $3,105 billion. Mueller and Stewart estimate that government spending on homeland security over the 2002-11 period accounted for around $580 billion of that total.
Three Trillion dollars in response to a single, albeit terrifying, event. I’ll excuse us all, myself included, for the first year or so after 9/11, a time that I remember quite well in that I was scared. Much in the same way I’m legitimately frightened at a horror movie when the masked weirdo with the knife rips open the shower curtain to stab some barely memorable woman. But then, a couple minutes later, my heartbeat returns to normal and I remember that it’s all just a movie. This holiday season, as all of us endure the uptick in our travel schedules, remember that. It’s time for the TSA budget to reflect ongoing reality, not the single terrifying moment.