Terror vs. Trade

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I was talking the other day with a man seriously involved with public ports. He described how systems at airports and seaports were not designed for the sort of security now being imposed. The whole flow of people and goods, the delivery trucks, the parking of air passengers’ cars, the parking of airplanes, the inspection of ships, the stuffing and certification of containers – all of it, the whole system, was designed in the innocent age in which the paramount value was trade.

Now the arteries of trade are to be .clogged with more inspectors, maybe federal employees with public pensions and mandatory dues to the public-employee unions; more machines able to spot a greater number of knives, knitting needles, and guns; and more Guardsmen on patrol.

I do not argue, as some do, that all this is useless. Sure, procedures can be gotten around. So can the deadbolt on my front door. But I am safer with the deadbolt than without it. Nor do I buy the idea that the ultimate safety is to let everyone pack Rugers and Glocks onboard commercial flights. Pilots, maybe; passengers, no thanks.

Security creates no new wealth; it merely safeguards what is, and makes all things more expensive. At the ports, new security procedures amount to a blanket tariff on all goods and people crossing the national border. As Bastiat said, a tariff is a human blockage. Dig a tunnel to make it cheap to cross the mountain range, and slap on a tariff to make it expensive again. We have cut the cost of transport by building bigger and faster ships and airplanes, and now we cancel out those gains by making everyone wait in lines.

That doesn’t mean I’m against it. I’m for some of it. I do resent having to have it.

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