Five years ago today, four planes were hijacked as part of a terrorist operation that handed the u.s. government one of the juiciest Higgs crises it has ever enjoyed. In the years since, the government has exploited this bonanza enthusiastically, launching wars abroad (wars that have long since claimed far more innocent lives than were lost on 9/11) and chopping away at civil liberties at home – all in response to an incident that u.s. government policies led to in the first place.
The ever-increasing hassling of airline passengers in the wake of 9/11 is far from being the worst of what the government has been doing. Hell, it’s probably not even 20th worst. But it’s an apt illustration of the dynamic of statism.
The 9/11 hijackers used sharp objects, so government security starts confiscating nail clippers. A later would-be airline bomber tries to ignite a bomb in his shoe, so passengers have to start taking off their shoes. Some bozoes in Britain may have talked about using airline bombs involving gels, so passengers are relieved of their hairspray and water bottles.
The pattern is clear: each time the terrorists use a new tactic, the government imposes a new restriction on the rest of us, a restriction designed to combat that specific tactic; so the terrorists switch to a different tactic, followed by new restrictions. If the terrorists switch to targeting trains and buses, more restrictions will be imposed on people riding trains and buses – until the terrorists switch to standing on overpasses and dropping bombs on cars as they pass.
By the logic of the situation, government restrictions will always increase. When restriction A makes one tactic more difficult, the terrorists switch to a different tactic, so the government imposes restriction B – but, of course, doesn’t remove restriction A. Given the massive variety of tactics for terrorists to switch among, this process has no natural endpoint short of total government control over every aspect of life. What Mises showed with regard to price controls applies equally here.
Part of what makes this process possible is the externalisation, the socialisation, of the costs of governmental decisions – the separation of the decision-makers from the burdens their decisions impose. When the cost of a new restriction is not borne by those who make it, the demand for such restrictions will be artificially high. If there were a competitive market in airline security, passengers could decide for themselves whether to choose a low-security or a high-security airline: the gels-or-no-gels decision would then get made by the people who bear the costs either way.
Besides this institutional perversity, another factor that helps to make the government-ratcheting-to-infinity dynamic possible is ideological: the tendency to imagine that passing a law magically brings about its desired result. This comes across clearly in the interviews that were broadcast with long lines of delayed passengers in the wake of the Gel Terror. “I’m willing to put up with the inconvenience in order to be safe,” they kept saying (or at least, that’s what the passengers the networks chose to broadcast kept saying). The problem is that this describes the trade-off inaccurately. Confiscating everybody’s liquids doesn’t move passengers from a dangerous condition to a safe one; at best it shifts their chances of being killed in a terrorist attack from already-very-low to very-slightly-lower. But when a government policy is advertised as Preventing the Gel Terror, it is seen as Preventing the Gel Terror; the ideological mystification that sets up the state as external to the social relations it attempts to govern enhances its perceived effectiveness far beyond its actual effectiveness.
The real lesson of 9/11 is, or should be, the ineffectiveness of state action. On 9/11, the danger came not from a well-armed, well-funded state military but from a small group of passengers armed with box-cutters; and the most effective defense (on flight 93) was likewise not a well-armed, well-funded state military but another small group of passengers armed with fists and hand luggage.
The state is incompetent to protect us. What it’s good at is, first, dragging us into crises, and second, using those crises as an excuse to expand its control over our lives, and over the lives of people around the globe – wading through blood in the process. But even this ability depends not on its inherent powers but on our own acquiescence.
Withdraw your consent!
Four years ago today, I started both this blog and the Molinari Institute. This month sees a major retool of the blog; and this coming winter will see both the launch of the Institute’s periodical The Industrial Radical (are you writing for it? have you subscribed? if not, how can you bear the bleak desert that is your existence?) and the third symposium of our daughter organisation, the Molinari Society. Our quest for world domination continues apace!
I withdraw my consent. Excellent! (And thanks for the link.)
The best commentator on security issues r.e. terrorism etc that i have found is IT security specialist Bruce Schneier see his articles here. Full of practical common sense and a minimum of pre-packaged ideology.
One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying “We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]”. Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I’ve ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four “pilots” among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake “pilot” of the bunch. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports. These “hijackers” somehow managed to board all four airliners with their tickets, yet not even ONE got his name on any of the flight manifests. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn’t work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn’t work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won’t let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you “aren’t supposed to think about”. Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name, more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn’t respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn’t happen, not even close. Somehow these “hijackers” must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn’t have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were “supposed to see”. Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these “hijackers” wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn’t even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying “We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down” attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers’ magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be “Muslim hijackers” the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don’t laugh) one of their passports was “found” a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously “surviving” the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also “survived” the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be “indestructable” like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn’t bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastical far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the “nineteen hijackers” is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.
This was some thoughtful commentary overall, however when you mention the socialization of security costs, you ignored the “externality” of a low-security plane being hijacked and rammed into a building belonging to neither the airline nor any of the passengers.
I don’t agree with the existence of government, having now long since withdrawn my consent, however I still don’t think that the costs of security in this instance are successfully de-socialized simply by letting passengers choose their security level. Not saying they need that decision imposed on them or that gov is thus justified, I am just making an observation. In the end, accidents happen I guess.
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