Friday, November 02, 2007

"Confusion is sex"

by Tom Bozzo

John Quiggin is perhaps a bit too fair and balanced describing how legitimate libertarians might look back on the Bush administration's dazzling successes:
This process cuts both ways. It’s hard to witness the catastrophic government failure that has characterized every aspect of this war without becoming more sympathetic to certain kinds of libertarian (and also classically conservative) arguments, particularly those focusing on the fallibility of planning. [link omitted]
If Iraq is a lesson in the fallibility of planning, then the inability of my car to transform into a flying robot is a lesson in the failure of Toyota's engineering.

Meanwhile, our friend Stephen Karlson points to a Weekly Standard article suggesting businesslike incentives (read, privatization of airport management) could cure those annoying security lines. At Fair Harvard, Irwin "Condoleezza Rice's Charm Enhances Her Power" Stelzer learned:
If lines lengthen at security check points no one has an incentive to add staff, open more lanes, or do anything to relieve the passenger's plight. By contrast, such a situation at Whole Foods, Giant, or any respectable supermarket results in the opening of more check-out lines to relieve congestion. Store managers have an incentive to prevent customers from taking their business elsewhere; airport managers don't, or think they don't. Indeed, they have every incentive to keep costs down and profits up, even if that means providing a miserable service. Imagine what life would be like in an airport in which security personnel, or at least the managers, had their pay cut every time lines lengthened beyond some target limit, and the power to correct the situation.
How soon they forget! As recently as six years ago or so, airport security screening was almost totally privatized! Lines were short, so that in my former frequent-flying life, I could show up at 0700 for an 0720 departure from Madison's (still) relatively passenger-friendly airport. The cursory screening was pretty effective at what it was meant to do, which is to say keeping random nutballs from hijacking planes to Cuba. As for the non-random nutballs, well, that was another matter.

In any event, airports actually had been pushing for increases in TSA screeners — which had been capped by act of the late Republican Congress — and/or less time-consuming screening procedures. Amazing what you can learn via Teh Google.


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"the power to correct the situation."

Nice afterthought there for Mr. Stelzer.

I freely admit I'm not a fan of the way airports were de-privatized, since it was basically shifting a bunch of useless Argenbright employees (there are at least two redundancies in those three words) onto my tax bill. But Stelzer lives in Boston, not, say, Lincoln, NB or the like, so he has alternative airports available—most of which would take more time and/or effort than spending a few extra minutes queued at Logan.

Airport managers know that longer queues mean a supply-chain effect: the passenger who can't get through security in time misses her flight, and has to be compensated and/or managed by the airline, which then comes back to the manager.

So the flow of information has gone up the chain, and—like Don Boudreaux before him—prefers to rail about the problem, rather than point out (as you did) that attempts to manage it as being frustrated by friends of Stelzer and Boudreaux.
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