Bring-it-on Dep’t

Whatever the merits, it’s hard to see how Congressional Democrats can lose the political argument over cargo screening.

I’m agnostic on the question of cargo screening. My inclination is to think that we’re now over-stressing defensive anti-terror efforts compared to offensive ones, but my opinion on the matter wouldn’t be a bargain for a quarter. Whether, among defensive options, universal cargo screening is on the high end or the low end of the relevant cost-effectiveness range, and how good the prospects are for technological fixes to bring down the cost or boost the effectiveness, are questions still further beyond my ken.

But strictly as a matter of politics, if the Bush Administration and the Heritage Foundation want to argue that the Democrats now running the Congress are too focused on security, and are proposing anti-terrorist measures that cost too much, all I can say is, “Make my day.”

Merely getting the Bushies to say that some things are worth doing in the name of security, and others aren’t, would be a triumph. As to cost-effectiveness, it’s going to be hard for them to make that argument with a straight face after dropping most of a trillion dollars on making Iraq a more friendly place for terrorists of all descriptions. How many days of “surge” would it take to exceed the lifetime cost of 100% cargo screening? Not many, I’d bet.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: