Thank you, John Boehner and Paul Ryan

Security screeners and Customs agents at airports are “domestic discretionary spending. Think about that the next time you miss your flight because the security line didn’t move.

I got to the airport and hour and ten minutes early for my flight today. It was a mid-afternoon flight, not at one of the peak periods; I had a boarding pass; and I wasn’t checking a bag. So the timing should have been ample.

But I almost missed the flight anyway, because the security-screening line was out the door; only two of four lanes were open.

TSA screeners are “domestic discretionary spending.” So are the Customs folks whose scarcity when I landed in Dallas on a flight from Guatemala caused me to miss my connecting flight to Washington; the line, also at a non-peak period, took more than an hour.

Think about that the next time someone tells you we need to work on the deficit by shrinking the size of the federal government.

Footnote Could we save money and make life easier for passengers by simplifying the screening process, without losing anything on the security side? Probably. But it’s not as if the Teahadis in Congress are actually working on that problem; they’re just slashing everything in sight save defense and rural pork. While we have the rules we have, fewer screeners and fewer Customs folks at airports means more missed flights.

A price worth paying? No, I don’t think so, either.

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:

22 thoughts on “Thank you, John Boehner and Paul Ryan”

  1. TSA needs more people now that they have gone to the virtual strip-search machines (popularly known by us frequent travelers as “nude-o-scopes”). Whereas before you needed one TSA employee to watch the metal detector, you now need one to stand in the metal detector to keep it from being used, one to direct you into the machine, one to tell you to come out, and one to sit in a room looking at the naked images. TSA now has the manpower to staff only half of the number of lines that they used to. Oh, and the benefit to the traveler? The super-advanced-whiz-bang machines take longer to clear you, so the remaining lines don’t move even slower than they used to.

    I still blame Boehner & company, since they created the climate that doesn’t allow Obama to dial back airport security. If Obama restored our bodily integrity to Bush-era levels (pre “scope-and-grope”) and an incident did happen, Boehner would probably be leading the way to impeachment charges because Obama wasn’t keeping us safe.

  2. This is the best self-parody since Nobel God-King Krugman blamed 9/11 on the lack of Federal unionization for baggage screeners.

          1. Boychick! If you’re referring to the apology that you owe Professor Krugman for your willful distortion of his words, I haven’t yet seen it.

      1. Here you go:

        Krugman, Paul. “Paying the Price”New YorkTimes Link

        Now if “Max Bialystock” had even a scintilla of dignity, he would give me a simple apology, like a mensch. I’m not holding my breath.

        1. Krugman’s argument appears not to blame 9/11 on the lack of Federal unionization but rather on a lack of training of security personnel which he attributed to the fact that airport security was paid for by the airlines, who acted on incentives to save money. This led them to provide only a few hours of training, in contrast to the practice in Europe, where airport security was seen as a law enforcement issue and screeners received extensive training. Screeners were also paid more in Europe, which Krugman saw as commensurate with the level of competence expected of them in executing their duties.

          Krugman argues that governments must spend money on crucial functions, and that it is wrong to nickel-and-dime these functions because of ideological opposition to “big government.” I do not hold his opinion to be self-evident, but neither is there anything ludicrous on the face of his argument, which Professor Glass House holds to be a self-parody, construing Krugman’s analysis of the problem as a lack of unionization in airport screeners rather than poor training and a pay scale on a level with fast food service.

          I do not know how the professor grades his students, but if I had turned in such an analysis of a newspaper column in high school, I would have received about a C minus.

          1. Ed Whitney, you beat me to it! Seemed to me that Krugman’s arguments for having competently trained security personnel being paid a living wage were put forth clearly enough for anyone with a modicum of reading comprehension. So our respective readings of Krugman coincide and I would have to conclude that the professor was engaging in a deliberate misreading, in order to get in a gratuitous swipe at unions.

            I would also point out that the problem dates back to the deregulation of the airlines in 1978 which led to subcontracting out security to the lowest bidder. The NYT published a letter describing the problem of security-on-the-cheap in 1985>/b>:


            In the aftermath of the first WTC bombing, I recall coming across a “cost-benefit” analysis commissioned by one of the right-wing think tanks, in which the idea of fortifying cockpit doors against forcible intrusion was dismissed out of hand as being cost-ineffective. The tortured train of logic arrived at an estimate per life saved of $300,000,000. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate the paper anywhere on line and I suspect that it was disappeared down the memory hole, as 9/11 changed everything.

            I recall that in the days immediately after 9/11 that a friend of mine, a lawyer with the TSA was telling me about an acquaintance who applied and was accepted for a screening position at JFK airport, the training for which having consisted of a 30 minute video. And we wonder how it was possible for box-cutters and knives to be smuggled aboard aircraft.

          2. “And we wonder how it was possible for box-cutters and knives to be smuggled aboard aircraft.”

            The question was never why it was possible to smuggle a box cutter or exacto-knife aboard aircraft, but why it was possible to hijack an aircraft with such pathetic weaponry. The answer was, because people were being told to LET the plane be hijacked, on the premise that it was just a free trip to an exotic location. As soon as it was realized that a hijacking might mean your flight would be turned into a suicide weapon, airplane hijackings became effectively impossible… this happened so fast Flight 93 never made it to it’s intended target.

            And you want to talk about ideological opposition, shall we bring up the armed pilots program?

          3. Okay, so there are a lot of charges going around.

            One charge was from “Max Bialystock” who claimed that I was a fabulist who wasn’t even referring to any particular writing by Prof. Krugman (who is an actual professor, not like me) because I was just “throwing stones.” This has been proven false.

            Krugman strongly implies, but does not state, that the security workers on 9/11 were the unable to competently perform their duties because they were paid less than they could earn in fast food. So, Krugman implies, “you get what you pay for”–in this case inadequate security.

            Of course, it point of fact, there was no rule against taking boxcutters on a commercial flight. These low-paid workers did not fail to enforce a rule.

            Where was the failure on 9/11? Security experts who have studied the problem think that two measures would have prevented it: (1) locked cockpit doors and (2) willingness on the part of passengers to fight back rather than remain passive (as was the official advice on 9/11). (As for “which security experts,” the one that I had in mind is Bruce Schneier.

            Professor Krugman doesn’t specifially mention unionization in that column. The issue of whether federal TSA workers would be allowed to unionize became an ideological spat later that Fall and I distinctly remember it mentioned in a Krugman column. I will find it if someone asks me in good faith to look for it.

            My main point wasn’t really about liberals vs. conservatives or big government vs. small government. It was actually more about a politics-centric way of looking at the world and how it seems to instantly knock about 50 points off of anyone’s IQ.

            If you see an unreasonably long line at the security check-in at the airport, it’s certainly reasonable to wonder what’s the hold-up (and to indict government policies). To assume that you can instantly deduce the specific policy choices that led to that particular line on that particular day being too long and chalk them up to the politicians Boehner and Ryan is a kind of overly neurotic obsession.

            Do you know what else is an overly neurotic obsession? Answering every snotty comment (referring to my own) as if it’s an answer to a question on a final exam in a graduate seminar.

          4. Krugman sees the right as irrationally opposed to government; this is a consistent theme of his columns. He wanted federalization of airport security after 9/11, and criticized Republicans who saw this as “a federal intrusion” into a private market function: likens the federalization of airport security to having city governments in charge of fire departments. Firefighting cannot be contracted to private firms, since no contract can cover all contingencies; similarly, fire protection cannot be left up to individual building owners, given the fact that a fire starting in one building can spread to another.

            I am pretty sure that Krugman did support unionization of the TSA, even though I do not have a link to a column supporting that specifically. There is a column opposing privatization of federal jobs at, and this column mentions privatization as a conservative attempt to break union power. Here the main point of the column is the protection of the federal work force from political pressures associated with the spoils system.

            I agree that Mark’s near miss of his flight is likely to have arisen from a number of factors at that airport on that particular day. Maybe there were only two lines because a TSA worker was in a traffic accident on the way to work, or maybe that afternoon was unusually busy because of random variation in the number of weekday travelers.

            I do not agree that Krugman’s columns make simplistic attributions of specific events to specific government policies. Rather, they identify many critical societal functions as public goods and oppose the idea that these functions can be executed by private markets. He faults conservatives for treating these nonexcludable and nonrival goods as if they were private goods, which are rival and excludable. And he condemns the current Republican Party as fanatically devoted to market suppliers of goods which private markets can be counted on to undersupply.

            Krugman did not attribute the success of the 9/11 attacks to lack of unionization of airport screeners. And Mark is correct in consistently condemning the prevailing philosophy of the GOP with its obsession with cost-cutting as an end in itself.

          5. Every time Paul Krugman says something about faking an alien invasion to manipulate the American public, he loses credibility. When will people stop quoting his nonsense? Please, please watch the video:


            He is advocating something that is not democracy.

  3. You may have missed the Congressional grilling of the head of NOAA for not having the assets to fully monitor the potentially hazardous material generated by the Japanese tsunami currently drifting toward the West Coast. If, as the Congressional grillers correctly assumed, such monitoring (and, if necessary, protective or corrective actions) are essential functions of the federal government, the correct response is simple: Give NOAA the cash and it will properly discharge its responsibilities.

    The issue both with respect to TSA and NOAA is the same: There are certain activities that only federal agencies can appropriately take and these agencies must be funded. In a real sense, these activities are not “discretionary.”

  4. The last time I passed through SFO I noticed that they were using plywood, rather than a person, to block the metal detectors. This seems a small improvement. I always opt out and get the groping anyway, because I like strange men touching my penis.

  5. Missed your flight? Long lines the culprit?
    Sit down, enjoy a couple of those nice nine-dollar beers, and enjoy your good fortune…..

    These are better days, here in New Amerika, eh?


  6. If they are slashing everything but rural pork and defense spending, then it is only a matter of time until they slash the TSA’s budget. Also, so what if you missed your flight? Didn’t missing your connecting flight to Washington seem to indicate to you that you should have gotten to the airport earlier?

    I find this post amusing as it fails to address the real CONSTITUTIONAL issues with the TSA or the fact that passengers are being constantly exposed to radiation by being asked to walk through machines that every engineer knows are likely not well calibrated (or face an intrusive pat down that would constitute harassment were it not done by a federal employee).

    This is a typical Mark Kleiman rant about how some lesser worker annoyed/inconvenienced him.

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