Welcome to America

My New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is angry that “legal citizens and permanent residents of the U.S.” will be detained and asked for their “papers” in Arizona. In a CNN interview yesterday, the Senator says that “Arizona has become a ‘show me your papers’ state,” and he declares that, if asked, “the only papers [he] would show is the Constitution.”

Has Senator Menendez been to an airport recently? Every time I fly I have to produce papers, even though I am a native-born legal citizen and a permanent resident of the United States. I am routinely treated like a criminal—I have to partially disrobe, my bags are routinely opened and their contents searched and examined, I am patted down—even though I have committed no crime, I am not accused of committing any crime, and I am not even suspected of committing any crime. And, of course, I am not the only one.

As I wrote many years ago, before 9/11 I used to refuse permission to airport security personnel to inspect my bags. Since 9/11, however, I no longer have that choice. Either I submit to whatever the security personnel want, or I am indefinitely detained. Of course, I also have the option not to fly, which seems an awfully high price to pay.

If Senator Menendez believes that legal citizens of the United States should not be subject to random detaining and should not be required to provide proof of their identities and of their citizenship, why is he not organizing protests at our airports?

7 thoughts on “Welcome to America

  1. Don’t you know the expression: “Two wrongs don’t make a right”? The airport paper shuffle in the guise of security is crap also.

  2. This is almost completely a false analogy. The saving grace is that the law is for only Arizona right now.

    You voluntarily choose to fly on an airplane. And people voluntarily choose to live in Arizona. With this new law, individuals can choose to stay in AZ, or they can decide they do not want to live in a state that enforces such a law. Of course, as people choose to not live in such a state, jobs will leave the state. So we will see the true support for this law a few years down the line when the market decides AZ’s fate.

    Imagine if this was on a national scale. Would you support it? I wouldn’t. Moving outside of the US is a lot harder than moving from AZ to New Mexico (or any other state). Just like the airlines, you can’t fly an airplane without going through ridiculous security, so there’s no means to protest (you can’t choose to fly an airline with less security checks).

  3. C’mon Son: Exactly my point.

    C Palsson: Doesn’t your final paragraph show that the analogy I draw is . . . apt after all?

  4. My guess is that Sven and I are going to take a different position on this one than Jim. I’d say the magnitude of the potential negative externalities involved with a plane hijacking post 9/11 provide a reasonable basis for sensible security measures (and while many of the ones we have are not sensible, I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater).

    Moreover, I think we’d have something approximating those sensible security measures if airports and airlines were simply operating as fully private entities. And while you could choose not to purchase air travel from those airlines, Jim, my guess is that you wouldn’t argue against the right of such companies to freely choose such measures (as consistent with their property rights). Given potential fear of lawsuits, not to mention potential costs of lost airplanes, etc, all airlines would have these basic sensible security measures in that purely private market.

    So, Jim, I think the problem is that the TSA has bad procedures, not that procedures themselves can’t be justified.

    I do wonder why domestic paperless travel is a problem since it is a bomb, knife, gun, etc that is the problem – not traveling anonymously.

    1. Grover, I’d think it would be a basic moral point that if you coerce somebody to do something, the fact that they would have done it anyway is irrelevant to their claim that you have done something pretty egregious. Beneficence doesn’t justify coercion in most books. Submitting to what American Airlines requires, when I choose to fly their planes, is a different story morally than a third party telling us what those arrangements may be. There’s nothing different in this case than any other interference between consenting parties in contract. And I don’t even see that there are the usual public-goods arguments available to make the case.

      Also, without the one-size-fits-all government requirements, there could be, perhaps would be, experimentation in security. It’s puzzling to think that government provision of this good is warranted just because we think it’s desirable. Usually that conclusion doesn’t follow at all. It certainly doesn’t follow that we are getting that good without giving up other things we value as well, and needlessly so.

  5. Since I can, I’ve stopped flying, full stop. Yeah there are places I want to go and to see, but airport dance is such that I can see things and go to places locally. And so far it’s my gain and their loss.

  6. Steve, a friend and colleague of mine will not fly if he can get where he wants to go in eight hours of driving or less. That is a calculated decision: the costs of airport “security” and inconvenience are that great to him.

    I wish I could say with you, however, let’s take our money and business elsewhere. The airline industry is subsidized and protected by the government in various ways, and my guess is that it would not be allowed to fail if more people decided not to put up with it. Like public schools, like Amtrak, like GM, like the banks, like airports themselves, the airlines would become public utilities.

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