If you have traveled or turned on the radio or TV recently, you might have noticed concern about new TSA measures at the airport.
Some think the new measures are an invasion of privacy and that the TSA is incompetent. Others think the measures are necessary for ensuring our safety and that the TSA is doing a great job. Most fall somewhere in the middle.
All are missing the point.
The controversy doesn’t show that the TSA is incompetent. The solution is not for the TSA to just “use common sense.” This controversy shows the failure of central planning. The solution is competition and choice.
Let’s assume, for this article, that the TSA is made up of the most qualified people possible. Even in this best-case scenario, they will always fail to plan a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem.
They don’t fail because they are stupid or evil or corrupt (sometimes they do, but not always). They fail because in a complex society there is a massive amount of knowledge and individuals only have a small amount of that knowledge.
Each person has an individual knowledge base that includes everything she knows plus all of her wants, needs and desires at any point in time throughout his or her life. When a small group gets together to plan a policy, they are able to draw on the knowledge of the members of that group and possibly outside studies and other research.
This relatively small group, however, ignores the knowledge bases of the people impacted by the policy and ignores how those preferences change over time.
There is only one system that effectively communicates individual wants, needs and desires throughout society: the free market. Through free market competition people “vote” with their dollars and their feet and transfer their knowledge base to others.
A free market allows people to choose from many options. The best products (and services) survive and the worst products go away. As preferences and situations change, even the best products have to adapt and innovate to stay ahead of the competition.
It is a dynamic system that rewards those that innovate and provide value to customers. This principle is the same for airport security.
Airport security should be the responsibility of the airlines. If the government mandates one set of standards (either through the TSA or a private contractor), it destroys innovation and incentives to improve.
Each airline should establish its own security standards and allow travelers to determine what they want. People want different tradeoffs between security and privacy. Only competition and innovation can utilize the knowledge and preferences of all of the travelers and find a variety of security measures that will suit the needs of the travelers.
There is not one ideal way to do security. If people were all the same, there would be one-size-fits-all solutions that could be centrally planned. People are not the same and they are constantly changing.
Airport security should be as diverse and adaptive as the people riding in the planes.
Todd Hollenbeck is an MBA student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and research associate at the Independence Institute in Golden.