Airport Security is too darn expensive ?


My posting over at the Airports Blog says we are spending too much on Airport Security.   This may seem odd to  many in light of the recent foiled terror plot at JFK, but I don’t hear any advocates for huge budget military and security spending balancing the cost of all the security and military spending with alternatives to that approach.

The reason they can’t rationally make the case for current budgets is that the cost is completely out of line with the return on the investments.    Ironically those claiming to be “fiscal conservatives” have become the most flagrant spenders in history, suggesting that the war on terror justifies all budgets because the cost of catastrophe is very great.   The problem with this line of thinking is similar to the big spending social program line – government work is expensive work.    We need to find more effective and cheaper ways to challenge terror, and probably need to factor in many scenarios so we can compare them with alternative investments in infrastructure.

For example I think many would say it is worth it to spend 5 billion government dollars for a 50% chance of thwarting  an attack that would kill 1000 people.   Yet those same folks would vote against spending an extra 5 billion on health care measures that would save 10,000 people.   The second spend is *twenty times* more cost effective than the first.   Sure there are many factors, but this type of analysis should at the very least be fleshed in a bit to avoid what we do now – spend based on political and emotional agendas that bear little relation to cost effectiveness.

My argument is simple -we are currently foresaking a lot of good in favor of fighting bad, and this approach is probably not sustainable for the long term.

4 thoughts on “Airport Security is too darn expensive ?

  1. Consider also that the JFK plot was uncovered with the help of an informant. Running informants is not generally a huge and high-profile effort, as far as I know; I think that’s what’s usually called “good police work.” And that works much better when the community is generally happy with the type of service and protection they get from the government… which implies that spending 4 gigabucks on health care, most of the rest on police who have the time and the motivation to work with the community, and a couple dozen megabucks on PR would be an effective anti-terrorism campaign.

    Unfortunately, it’s not sexy.

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  3. Right Tommo. I think the “wow” factor really plays into spending decisions because people tend to judge according to spectacular coolness or spectacular failures rather than the “correct” way to spend my tax money: Mundane and dry ROI analysis.

    In the military budget you’ve got folks who don’t earn much making billion dollar decisions about fancy systems. I don’t think there is much graft there, but I think there is a HUGELY expensive combination of political requirements from congress, bureaucratic requirements from agencies, and the tendency to pick really cool solutions over equally effective boring solutions.

    I’ve never understood the aversion in so many to challenge the defense budget, which is probably the most bloated form of government spending *in global history*. Most people have no idea how much we spend on military, preferring to fret over (stupid but trivial) Gov’t pork barrel projects of a few million.

    The military number is jaw dropping – about one half trillion annually which is approximately half the global military total. $500,000,000,000 is such a large number that you basically need to make the case that global peace and stability is at stake and our US military is keeping things intact. I would not say it’s “crazy” to make that case, but it’s certainly weaker than the notion that we should either return a lot of this tax money to people or spend it on infrastructure.

    As with so many spending issues people simply think emotionally and politically rather than asking the simple question of returns on tax investments, or perhaps “where is the best place to use the last dollar of this tax money?”.

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