Airport security and democracy

But for too long, Americans have let the security folks make all the security decisions, even though those decisions have tradeoffs that affect us all. In November, when consternation over the new searches started to boil, economist Steven Horwitz argued forcefully that the stepped-up air security might cost more lives than it could save, by encouraging large numbers of Americans to drive—which is vastly more dangerous—where they otherwise would have flown. Given that air travel statistically is much safer than driving, he may have a point.

Remember, the only time a terrorist attack on a U.S. airliner has been defeated (as opposed to fizzling when a shoe bomb failed to detonate) was on Flight 93. That’s when the passengers themselves took action. Security has always been about everyone, not just the professionals, because where terrorism is concerned, everyone is on the front line. Anyone might be a first responder, by virtue of being where an attack happens. So it’s time for the public to weigh in, and for authorities to listen. To fight terrorism, we need a populace that is informed, motivated, vigilant and prepared, not one that is seething and feeling powerless and resentful. Yet our current security approach seems almost designed to produce the latter, rather than the former. Can that be right?

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