Politics & Policy

Liberate the Commanding Heights

Lining up at Reagan National Airport. (Larry Downing/Reuters)
The TSA is only part of the stranglehold.

The United States is suffering an air-travel meltdown as the TSA attempts to slow-walk its way to a fatter budget. France is suffering a general transportation meltdown as union goons lay siege to the country’s oil refineries and fuel terminals, with a civil-aviation strike looming, too. In a few days, I’ll be going from the American frying pan into the French fire as I fly from an airport named for George H. W. Bush to one named for Charles de Gaulle — World War II heroes who helped whip the Axis but who probably would have less luck against the public-sector unions than they did against Hitler and Hirohito.

The madness isn’t that our employees attempt to extort more money from us. The madness is that we permit it.

The catalogue of the TSA’s sins reads like the diary of the Marquis de Sade, from the sexual abuse of children to the production of child pornography, beside which such workaday offenses as looting travelers’ property and smuggling drugs seem quaint. This is not a few bad apples — this is a crime syndicate pretending to be a federal agency.

Of course, there is always a way to make things worse, and in the case of the TSA passengers who are groped, inconvenienced, bullied, condescended to, and stolen from, most suffer that while knowing, if they read the newspapers at all, that this theater of cruelty is performed for no particular reason at all: The TSA’s record for providing actual security is practically nonexistent; security testers sneaking mock explosives and weapons past TSA screeners achieved an astonishing success rate of 95 percent

RELATED: TSA: Total Security Abyss

TSA complains that it just cannot keep up with the traffic at American airports. This is unpersuasive. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport processes more passengers than does New York’s JFK, and its security process, including something like an El Al pre-board interview in which a well-trained security officer gives passengers the hairy Dutch eyeball, generally takes only a few minutes, whereas traversing JFK can take hours. There is, of course, a combination of factors at work here, and it is not as though U.S. airport authorities are simply unable to do the job. Las Vegas’s McCarran airport handles more passengers than does Houston’s Bush — about 1.5 million more per year — but tourism-dependent Sin City generally has its act together, whereas Houston, to put it gently, does not.

Dynamic societies are almost by definition ones in which people are literally on the move. For all of that hopeful late-1990s talk about virtual presence and telecommuting, a great deal of business is done face-to-face. But it is increasingly difficult to move around in these United States. I myself left Manhattan at the dawn of the de Blasio era when my eleven-minute hop-skip on the No. 6 train routinely became a 40-minute commute — from City Hall to 32nd Street, a distance of only 2.8 miles. That’s another public-sector monopoly, one that holds its customers in complete contempt. In libertarian circles, every joke has the same punchline: “But who will build the roads?” Spend a week or two navigating rush-hour traffic in Houston, Washington, or Atlanta, and you’ll ask precisely the same question. Our transit infrastructure also is under the monopolistic management of the public sector, which, if the evidence is to be believed, simply hates us — mere negligence and stupidity cannot explain the state of our freeways.

The great parasitic class in the United States isn’t the people receiving welfare checks but the people writing them.

The great parasitic class in the United States isn’t the people receiving welfare checks but the people writing them, the vast array of desk-occupiers, time-servers, and pornography enthusiasts who consume the public payroll. They have an unsurpassed talent for insinuating themselves into the critical junctures of life in such a way as to stand between people and their ends. You can drive a car — with their permission, on their terms, and after they get paid. You can take the train, so long as a ticket-puncher on the Metro North railroad, whose job could be done (and in many places is done) by a simple scanner, gets a six-figure compensation package. True, you may sit for an hour as the best and brightest transportation minds on the southern edge of New England figure out that it snows in the winter in Connecticut, but you will at least have the opportunity to expand your vocabulary, learning what a pantograph is when the one on the train breaks.

And you can fly. Maybe.

#share#In France, it’s always 1968 so far as the unions are concerned. But in much of Europe and in a great deal of Asia, it is far easier to move about, within cities and between countries, than it is in the United States. And that is not a result of splendidly financed European public sectors: Spain, which is not known for the efficiency of its public institutions, spends less on its trains by most relevant measures (total passenger trips, passenger-miles) than New York’s MTA does. The Swiss and German passenger railroads are much more efficient than are their American counterparts. And it is far easier to travel from Amsterdam to Zurich than it is to get from New York City to Cleveland, even though that is a shorter trip.

(Another problem with the latter scenario is that at the end of it, you are in Cleveland.)

RELATED: The Public Sector: Standing in Our Way until We Pay Up

In France, François Hollande is having a Jimmy Carter month: One-fifth of the country’s gas stations are out of fuel because of the union blockades. I feel for him, the way an American conservative does for a French socialist, and I hope that he sorts things out before — well, before they inconvenience me. My sympathy for the French people is limited by the knowledge that their government is democratically chosen.

But so is ours. And we need a massive, fundamental rethinking of how we handle the business of moving around people and goods. The TSA is the public face of that dysfunction, because its agents are the ones with whom we are intimate, much more so than we’d like to be. But behind the TSA is a raft of dysfunctional airport authorities, corrupt municipal contracting, an incompetent FAA, and more. This is an economic millstone around our national neck, and it ought to be a source of shame, too: Millions of visitors’ first taste of American life is standing in line for two hours at JFK waiting to be condescended to by a federal halfwit whose literal stamp of approval they require, just like peasants in the old country.

We need choice, competition, and accountability. And we also need to fire a few tens of thousands of people, starting with TSA administrator Peter V. Neffenger, a retired vice admiral who should be thrown overboard before he has an opportunity to go down with the ship.

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