I am going to take a break from blogging for a while. Some other commitments have become too time consuming. I hope to return to blogging in 6-8 months. In any case, thanks for reading.
I am going to take a break from blogging for a while. Some other commitments have become too time consuming. I hope to return to blogging in 6-8 months. In any case, thanks for reading.
In a column earlier this week, John Tierney of the New York Times suggests that current approaches to safeguarding airplanes are ineffective because the Transportation Safety Authority is bogged down with bureaucratic inertia and misfocussed Congressional mandates. The particular issue Tierney highlights is whether screening should consist of searching bags or of identifying people who behave suspiciously. His overall concern, however, goes beyond this one issue:
It’s not that the T.S.A.’s leaders don’t see the problem. Kip Hawley, who took over the agency last year, is a smart manager who has been trying to change the agency’s focus. He removed small scissors from the taboo list, and he has complained about all the time spent by screeners seizing cigarette lighters to comply with an order from Congress.
But he’s making little headway because he has inherited an unworkable mess created by Congress after Sept. 11. It ignored the security model in Israel and much of Europe, where screening programs are run by airports under the guidance of a national agency. Instead, Congress ordered the T.S.A. to both supervise and run the screening programs itself.
The result has been a waste of billions of dollars on an unwieldy federal agency that’s become known as Thousands Standing Around. The T.S.A. should be trying to anticipate new terrorist tactics, like the bomb plot uncovered in England, but it had to raid its research budget to pay for the screening program, as Eric Lipton and Matt Wald reported in The Times.
I do not know whether Tierney and the sources he quotes are correct about screening bags versus screening people, but I do think there is only one way to find out: get the government out of the airplane security business and leave security matters to the airlines.
Now, this suggestion will strike many as lunacy. A standard assumption is that without government provided security measures, there will be no security provisions. Airlines, so this thinking goes, are only interested in profits. Security is expensive, so airlines will undersupply it to the determinent of their passengers and anti-terrorism efforts more generally.
In fact, airlines face strong incentives to make their planes safe. Consumers will refuse to fly on airlines that do not provide adequate safety. Pilots and flight attendants will do the same. And insurance companies will not insure airlines that fail to take adequate security precautions.
The real question, therefore, is whether a privatized system would be more effective than the current system? What exactly might a privatized system do differently?
The short answer is, we do not know. A crucial negative of government imposed "solutions" is shutting down the innovation and experimentation that would occur if the private sector were free to act.
But it is easy to imagine approaches that airlines might adopt if they could provide security in whatever manner they saw fit.
Some airlines might develop preferred flyer lists that allow individual passengers to submit to extensive background checks and then become eligible to board planes without waiting in long lines. The TSA has considered this approach, but so far it has not been implemented.
Some airlines might decide that the best approach is complete separation of passengers and baggage. That is, you fly on one plane while your bags fly on another, thereby elminating the risk of bombs in either checked or carry-on bags, at least for planes with many people on board.
Some airlines might utilize extensive air marshal programs.
Some airlines might utilize extensive profiling.
But what airlines would not do is spend countless hours screening people who pose no risk. They would not expend enormous resources screening checked luggage even while carrying cargo (packages sent by third parties who are not traveling on the planes) that is totally unscreened. And airlines would not pay inflated union wages to employees with minimal skills or training.
To be clear, no system can be entirely safe. A determined terrorist will occassionally find a way to beat any system.
But privatization will not only provide information about what works and what does not; it will do so in a far more efficient manner than the TSA and the government imposed system it operates.
Are drugs and terrorism linked? The Drug Enforcement Administration thinks they are:
A photograph of President Bush waving a flag after the Sept. 11 attacks is juxtaposed against a black-and-white image of an African American mother smoking crack cocaine in bed next to her baby. Larger-than-life portraits of Osama bin Laden and Pablo Escobar line the walls. The central message of a traveling Drug Enforcement Administration exhibit unveiled at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry yesterday is that terrorism and drugs are inextricably linked.
This is just the most recent example of a message that U.S. drug warriors have pushing for years. Many will remember a sequence of television ads that aired during past Super Bowls making the same claim. The premise is that if no one purchased drugs, terrorists could not profit from drug trafficking.
The logic is unassailable as far as it goes, but it tells only half the story.
Many terrorist organizations do profit from illegal drugs. Usually, terrorists sell protection services to drug traffickers, who have huge profits at stake and are at war with law enforcement authorities and each other. Terrorists organizations are natural suppliers of protection services since they are already fugitives from justice and have the necessary expertise and equipment. This symbiotic relation between drug traffickers and terrorists has persisted for years in Colombia and Peru, where the FARC and the Shining Path finance their campaigns against the government with drug profits.
But the reason for this connection between terrorism and drug trafficking is that drugs are prohibited. If drugs were legal, the producers would not need protection from government or from rival suppliers. If drugs were legal, their prices would fall to competitive levels so there would be no excess profits to protect.
A different reason for the connection between terrorism and drug trafficking is that both tend to locate in countries with weak governments, such as Afghanistan. But opium poppy, marijuana, and even coca grow in a broad range of countries, not just those where production currently occurs. If drugs were legal, production would be widely dispersed and have no particular overlap with countries that harbor terrorists.
Thus, there would be no drug trade if no one purchased drugs; but there would be no connection between drugs and terrorism if drugs were legal.
So which approach to fighting terrorism is most likely to be effective: the interdiction and eradication efforts the U.S. has pursued for decades; or the legalization of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana?
Past attempts to eliminate drug trafficking have had no demonstrable success. After billions spent on interdiction and eradication over the past several decades, drugs are far cheaper and more readily available—and indicators of drug use little different—than twenty-five years ago, before Ronald Reagan launched a major escalation of the War on Drugs.
Legalization, however, would eliminate excess profits from selling drugs, forcing terrorists to rely on more limited sources of funding. The U.S. could not unilaterally impose legalization on other countries, but since the U.S. has been the driving force behind prohibition, much of the world would follow the U.S. lead.
Legalization would also reduce the bloodshed in countries that produce drugs by stopping the violent resolution of conflicts between drug traffickers, politicians, and law enforcement authorities. Legalization would allow the police and the armies in drug-producing countries to fight terrorism, not drugs. Legalization would undercut the corruption that is funded by drug profits. And legalization would bring drug production above ground, providing additional tax revenue.
The legalization approach does have its own risks; drug use might increase. Claims that use would skyrocket are scare tactics based on no evidence, but an honest defense of legalization must acknowledge that use could rise. Thus, the fact that legalization would hinder terrorism does not by itself mean legalization is the right policy (although in my view, it is).
But blaming terrorism on drug use is a cynical attempt by Drug Warriors to cash in on concerns over terrorism. The sponsors of this new industry exhibit know it will have no effect, but they also know it makes good press. Only the country’s fight against terrorism will suffer.
1. The U.S. and U.K. authorities all say the alleged terrorists "might" have links to Al Qaeda. Does this mean authorities have no evidence of a link? What is exactly is a link?
2. The alleged terrorists in this plot are mainly UK born and bred. Did UK participation in the Iraq war inspire their plot?
3. Why are the authorities banning liquids and gels only in the cabins? Why not in the checked baggage compartments as well? Does one need to detonate these kinds of explosives manually? Or could it be done with a timer or other remote device? If so, why is there any benefit from banning the liquids and gels just in the cabins? If it is possible to detonate liquid explosives using a remote device from the cabin, then why did the plotters not use that approach?
4. There are millions of possible targets for terrorists other than airplanes (trains, bridges, soccer stadiums, school buses, restaurants, and so on), and terrorists have chosen other targets many times (e.g., the London and Madrid subways). Why would terrorists again focus on airplanes? Because an airplane explosion over the Atlantic is dramatic? To prove they can do it despite all the added security measures since 9/11?
5. Why do the press and the public seem to accept that everything the authorities are telling us about this alleged plot is correct? Consider statements made after the London police shot and killed a man suspected of being connected with the London subway attacks in July 2005:
London police say a man they shot to death in front of horrified subway riders Friday was "directly linked" to their investigation of recent bombings aimed at the city's transit system.
It turned out, of course, that the man had no connection whatsoever to the subway bombings.
1. The information released by authorities yesterday seems to imply that all the waiting in line at airport security since 9/11 has been a total waste of time; terrorists have had the ability all along to blow up planes using liquid explosives.
2. A widely held view about the cause of terrorism against the U.S. / U.K. is that the terrorists hate freedom, or Christianity, or Jews, or U.S. wealth, or U.S. influence in the world. A different view is that the terrorists hate U.S. / U.K. intervention in the Middle East and the U.S. / U.K. support of Israel.
3. If the second view is correct, the only way for the U.S. and U.K. to substantially reduce terrorism is to eliminate their presence in the Middle East and stop supporting Israel. Note that Germany and France, which did not participate in the Iraq invasion, have not been the targets of attacks.
3. There has been much commentary in op-eds pages and the blogosphere about whether it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel's invasion of Lebanon. That question should be irrelevant. The right question is whether it serves U.S. interests to support Israel.
4. My answer is No. Our support of Israel makes the U.S. a target of terrorism, and it does nothing to promote peace or prosperity in the Middle East. A better policy, for the U.S. and for Jews around the world, is open borders. Imagine how the history of the past 75 years would have been different if the U.S. had offered unrestricted immigration in the 1930s and 1940s. Jews would have left Europe in large numbers. The Holocaust, if it had occurred, would been vastly smaller. The U.S., U.K., and other powers would probably not have created Israel. All the wars between Israel and Arab countries would not have taken place. For that matter, open borders would have reduced or eliminated other humanitarian calamaties, such as the killing fields in Cambodia in the 1970s or the slaughter in Bosnia in the 1990s. And so on.
5. To be clear, I am not suggesting elimination of Israel: it exists, and it has the right to defend itself. My best guess is that it can do so successfully without U.S. support (which is a separate question from whether the recent invasion of Lebanon is in Israel's best interests). But the U.S. should play no role, positive or negative. This is exactly the position the U.S. should take regarding conflicts around the world.
John Stossel writes today in Real Clear Politics about abuses of the tort liability system. He begins as follows:
Imagine if an evil business routinely deprived us of products that would help us live longer with less pain and more comfort. We'd be outraged, and lawyers would line up to sue. Yet something similar happens today, thanks to lawsuit abuse. Makers of all kinds of products are afraid to sell them to us because one lawsuit could ruin them.
Personal-injury lawyers claim they make America safer, but that's a myth. It's easy to see who benefits from those big damage awards we read about. Less obvious -- but just as real -- are the things we'd all like to have but never will get because of this climate of fear. Here are a few examples.
Monsanto once developed a substitute for asbestos -- a new fire-resistant form of insulation that might save thousands of lives. But Monsanto decided not to sell it for fear of liability. Richard F. Mahoney, the CEO at the time, said, "There may well have been a safe, effective asbestos replacement on the market, and now there isn't."
Stossel goes on to provide many other examples where fear of litgation has allegedly prevented companies from researching or producing valuable new products.
I am a big fan of John Stossel, but I am not sure he is on target in this particular case. Stossel's lament is a common refrain among conservatives and libertarians, and the anecdotes that Stossel and others offer in support of their view are indeed disturbing. But the criticism may suffer the same short-sightedness as the judge in the beauty contest who, having seen the first contestant, declared the second one the winner. We have to be careful what we wish for; the tort liability is plausibly better than the alternatives, despite its own imperfections.
To see this, note first that everyone benefits when companies consider the potential risks and liability from any products they produce. Without question, an overly zealous liability system might result in too little innovation and too few new products; but an insufficiently zealous one could produce the opposite effect. To know we are on the wrong side of the tradeoff requires more than examples of products that "should have been introduced" but were not; it requires a systematic accounting for all such cases and for the cases where companies thought better of developing and selling products that would have carried excessive risks relative to their value. I am aware of no such accounting, nor it is obvious how one could produce it.
In addition, it is a mistake to compare the current, imperfect tort liability system to a hypothetical but "perfect" tort liability system; that is not the choice we face. Perhaps there are reforms of the current system that make sense, but there will always be abuses. Lawyers are simply too clever at circumventing rules that attempt to limit their payoffs.
Worse yet, the alternative to a tort liability system, with all its warts, might be a government regulatory agency that decides what products can be researched and sold. That is roughly what occurs for medicines under the Food and Drug Administration, and the result is not encouraging. In particular, the FDA seems to err on the side of caution and introduces enormous delay and cost in the production of new drugs. The actual choice society faces, therefore, is likely between an imperfect tort liability system and an imperfect regulatory system. At a minimum, the choice is not obvious.
My own hunch is that the tort liability system is the lesser of the evils. One reason is that, for the most part, this system is run by individual states. This allows for variety, innovation, and experimentation. It also means competition between states to provide a business environment that is not excessively hostile. These considerations will not guarantee an ideal outcome, but I suspect the results will be better than under a federal regulatory approach like the FDA.
Joe Lieberman, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, is facing a tough primary re-election fight because of his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
In a dramatic bid to stave off a potential defeat in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) on Sunday rejected charges from rival Ned Lamont that he has been one of the chief cheerleaders for President Bush's Iraq policy, but he reaffirmed his belief that a hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would prove disastrous for Iraqis and for the United States.
With polls showing Lamont leading the three-term incumbent, Lieberman at last moved to confront the issues -- opposition to the war and anger with Bush -- that have put his political career in jeopardy. The decision came after a lengthy debate within his campaign over whether he could win the primary without directly addressing his position on the war and his relationship with the president.
Lieberman stated his position on the war as follows:
Saying he still believes his vote to authorize the war was correct, Lieberman added: "What I don't think is right, as I've said over and over again, are many of the Bush administration's decisions regarding the conduct of the war. The fact is I have openly and clearly disagreed with and criticized the president."
Lieberman cited what he called Bush's failure to develop more allied support before the war, to have a plan to win the peace and to put more troops into the conflict.
This position -- that invasion was the right policy but that the administration bungled the occupation -- is one that politicians of both parties are likely to embrace this fall. Most incumbents in Congress voted to support the invasion, but they now face an electorate that has become disenchanted with the progress of the occupation. Thus, they need a way to rationalize their earlier support while distancing themselves from the current situation.
In all likelihood, however, nothing we could have done would have avoided the current mess. A multinational force, or a greater number of troops, would not have eliminated the religious and ethnic tensions. Nor would a greater number of troops have decreased resentment of the US; indeed, it might have exacerbated that resentment. Better planned or executed reconstruction efforts, especially in the immediate aftermath of invasion, might have eased frustrations with the occupation. But the task was so enormous as to defy a fix sufficiently fast to make any real difference. Other controversial decisions, such as whether to fire Baathist members of the Iraqi Army, look unfortunate now. But hindsight is much easier than foresight; at the time it was understandable that the U.S. wanted to remove those affiliated with Saddam Hussein.
So, I am dubious we could have "won the peace" had we simply conducted the occupation "better." More fundamentally, the possibility of all the difficulties the occupation has faced should have been recognized by everyone before the invasion. So defending the invasion while criticizing the conduct of the war is a dodge.
And, as I have noted previously, all that is water under the bridge. The question now is how long to stay. Lieberman argues against hasty withdrawal. Drawing on our recent experience, however, what reason does he have to think continued occupation will do any good?
Beginning this week, I plan to reduce my blogging to roughly 3 posts a week. With luck, the lower frequency will mean higher average quality.
As always, thanks for reading.
A long-standing complaint of the political right is that academia displays a strong liberal bias. In a recent op-ed, Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle discusses two recent studies that document the overwhelmingly prevalence of Democrats among academics:
Then step back into the real world, where academia has become a solid bastion of the Left, as demonstrated by two articles in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Current Review. One article presents a survey of academic social scientists that reports that 79.6 percent of 1,208 respondents said they voted mostly Democratic over the last 10 years, with 9.3 percent voting Republican.
Call that a near monopoly marketplace of ideas.
A second article studied the voter registration of California college professors and found that the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans (among professors located in voting registers) is 5 to 1. Let it be noted that the researchers made an effort to include schools reputed to be right-leaning. Some disciplines demonstrated more orthodoxy than others -- with sociology departments showing a ratio of 44 Democrats to 1 Republican, but economics departments employing 2.8 Democrats for each member of the GOP.
Thus, the dispoportionate share of Democrats is not in serious dispute. And no one who has spent time in academia would find any reason to think otherwise.
The facts raise an interesting question, however, and one that should trouble right-wing critics of the current situation: why is liberal dominance of academia a problem given that it represents a market outcome? That is, if liberal academics are so bad, why does the market support so many of them? Why is there not a demand for conservative universities? If one believes markets do things right, in what sense is the liberalism in academia excessive?
A possible response from conservatives might be that higher education is not a competitive market; a substantial fraction of higher education is owned and operated by state governments. This line is not persuasive, however, since many of the most successul colleges and universities are private, and they are every bit as liberal as their government counterparts.
So free-market critics of the liberal "bias" in academia need to think through their criticism. In what sense is Democratic predominance a problem? And what "market failure" is responsible?
Perhaps the truth is that many conservatives do not really believe in competition; instead they want conservative ideas imposed because these ideas are not doing well in the marketplace.
Robert Pape is a political scientist at the University of Chicago and perhaps the leading authority on the motivations of suicide bombers (see his book, Dying to Succeed). He has a sobering op-ed in today's New York Times about Israel and Hezbollah. The key paragraphs:
In writing my book on suicide attackers, I had researchers scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and the biographies of the Hezbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. Shockingly, only eight were Islamic fundamentalists. Twenty-seven were from leftist political groups like the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union. Three were Christians, including a female high-school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.
What these suicide attackers — and their heirs today — shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hezbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.
Thus the new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying the Hezbollah movement. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hezbollah’s recruiting.
The claim that foreign occupation is the key driving force behind suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks is in contrast to the more widely held view that terrorists are motivated by religion or by hatred of the U.S. and Israel. If Pape's analysis is correct, a broad range of anti-terror actions by the U.S. and Israel are far more likely to generate terrorism than to prevent it.
Documents released by the National Security Archive show that the CIA expected the Cuban people to welcome a U.S.-sponsored invasion, spontaneously rising up against the Castro regime. It expected Cuban military and police forces to refuse to fight against the CIA's 1400-man mercenary invasion force. President Kennedy had withdrawn support for the invasion at the last minute by canceling several bombing sorties that could have crippled the entire Cuban Air Force. The brief military invasion ended in total failure and quickly became a foreign policy debacle for Kennedy. He had approved the plan just three months into his presidency.  ...
Many theories are offered for the failure of the operation. Some argue that Kennedy's last minute decision to withdraw air support caused the invasion to fail, though this has been more recently discarded.  The likely cause of the failure, was that the Americans misjudged Cuban support for Castro.  They had believed the testimonies of the Cuban exiles, who told them that Castro was not well supported by the Cuban people, when in fact, Castro enjoyed wide support at this time. The idea that Cubans would rise up against Castro, was simply a misconception on the part of the Eisenhower, and then Kennedy administrations. As well, the CIA-trained force of 1,400 armed only with light-arms, faced a Cuban force of tens of thousand armed with tanks, and artillery.  In addition, the covert placement of dozens of Cuban intelligence officials in the invasion force gave the Cuban government detailed information on the operation. 
The parallels with our Iraq experience are striking. No doubt many Cubans, and many Iraqis, did have positive attitudes toward the U.S. and did welcome U.S. help in removing a dictator. Overall, however, invasion appears to be a problematic mechanism for achieving this goal.
An alternative approach in the Cuban case is for the U.S. to end the longstanding trade embargo. This embargo probably has small effects on the Cuban economy, since most other countries still trade with Cuba. But the embargo is a key political tool that helps Castro demonize the U.S. in the eyes of many Cubans. Free trade would promote a broader view of the U.S. among Cubans and likely undermine support for Castro's socialist policies.
Again there is a parallel with Iraq. The UN-imposed sanctions perhaps affected the Iraqi economy more than the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. But the publicity value to Saddam Hussein of portraying the world as anti-Iraq may have more than compensated in helping him maintain his totalitarian regime.