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Required Reading

June 15th, 2005 - 7:57 am

Great WaPo column today from Robert Samuelson. Some highlights:

With high unemployment benefits, almost half of Western Europe’s jobless have been out of work a year or more; the U.S. figure is about 12 percent. Or take early retirement. In 2003 about 60 percent of Americans ages 55 to 64 had jobs. The comparable figures for France, Italy and Germany were 37 percent, 30 percent and 39 percent. The truth is that Europeans like early retirement, high jobless benefits and long vacations.

The trouble is that so much benevolence requires a strong economy, while the sources of all this benevolence — high taxes, stiff regulations — weaken the economy. With aging populations, the contradictions will only thicken.

A weak European economy is one reason that the world economy is shaky and so dependent on American growth. Preoccupied with divisions at home, Europe is history’s has-been. It isn’t a strong American ally, not simply because it disagrees with some U.S. policies but also because it doesn’t want to make the commitments required of a strong ally. Unwilling to address their genuine problems, Europeans become more reflexively critical of America. This gives the impression that they’re active on the world stage, even as they’re quietly acquiescing in their own decline.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Wow. Even better Anne Applebaum piece on the expensive idiocy known as the Transportation Security Administration:

If you happen to be reading this while standing in one of those disturbingly slow, zigzag lines at airport security — looking repeatedly at your watch, wondering if this time you really will miss the plane — here’s something to make you feel worse: Almost none of the agony you are experiencing is making you safer, at least not to any statistically significant or economically rational degree. Certainly any logical analysis of the money that has been spent on the airport security system since Sept. 11, 2001, and the security that the system has created, must lead to that conclusion.

[T]his mass ceremonial sacrifice of toenail clippers on the altar of security comes at an extraordinarily high price. The annual budget of the federal Transportation Security Administration hovers around $5.5 billion — just about the same price as the entire FBI — a figure that doesn’t include the cost of wasted time. De Rugy reckons that if 624 million passengers each spend two hours every year waiting in line, the annual loss to the economy comes to $32 billion. There has also been a price to pay in waste, since when that much money is rubbed into a problem with that kind of speed — remember, the TSA had only 13 employees in January 2002 — a lot of it gets misspent. In the case of the TSA, that waste includes $350,000 for a gym, $500,000 for artwork and silk plants at the agency’s new operations center, and $461,000 for its first-birthday party. More to the point, the agency has spent millions, even billions, on technology that is inappropriate or outdated.

In fact, better security didn’t have to cost that much. Probably the most significant measure taken in the past four years was one funded not by the government but by the airline industry, which put bulletproof doors on its cockpits at the relatively low price of $300 million to $500 million over 10 years. In extremely blunt terms, that means that while it may still be possible to blow up a plane (and murder 150 people), it is now virtually impossible to drive a plane into an office building (and murder thousands). By even the crudest cost-benefit risk analysis, bulletproof cockpit doors, which nobody notices, have the potential to save far more lives, at a far lower cost per life, than the screeners who open your child’s backpack and your grandmother’s purse while you stand around in your socks waiting for them to finish.

But, then, this isn’t a country that has ever been good at risk analysis. If it were, we would never have invented the TSA at all. Instead, we would have taken that $5.5 billion, doubled the FBI’s budget, and set up a questioning system that identifies potentially suspicious passengers, as the Israelis do. Even now, it’s not too late to abolish the TSA, create a federal training program for airport screeners, and then let private companies worry about how many people to hire, which technology to buy and how long the tables in front of the X-ray machines should be (that last issue being featured in a recent government report). But every time that suggestion is made in Congress, someone denounces the plan as a “privatization” of our security and a sellout.

As I’ve said many times before, even if there were no security checks at airports, there will never be another successful hijacking of an airliner with Americans aboard. The 2001 attacks were successful only because the hijackers took advantage of three decades of government-encouraged social conditioning: “Don’t resist. Do as you’re told. Wait it out, let the professionals negotiate, and chances are you’ll be all right.”

Nobody is going to follow that advice, ever again. While I’m not in favor of eliminating airport security checks entirely, we’ve clearly gone way over the line of reason (to say nothing of cost benefit, as Applebaum cogently points out) in today’s mindless bureaucratic airport “security” mania.

It’s a shame there aren’t any politicians of either party with the nerve to say the very obvious things that Applebaum so aptly summarizes here. Read it all.

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