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What do terrorists and capitalists have in common?

December 28, 2009

In response to the Christmas Day attack, Homeland Security has issued new regulations.

 From:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/26/AR2009122601773.html?hpid=topnews

–U.S.-bound passengers aboard international flights must undergo a “thorough pat-down” at boarding gates, focused on the upper legs and torso. All carry-on baggage must be inspected.

— Passengers must remain seated for the final hour before landing. During that time, they may not have access to their carry-on baggage or hold personal items on their laps.

— While over U.S. airspace, flight crews may not make any announcements to passengers concerning the flight path or the airplane’s position over cities or landmarks.

  As usual, government’s response to a problem is regulation. But people, including terrorists, don’t just blindly obey the spirit of rules. People act in their self-interest, even when that interest is martyrdom. Now that we have a rule forcing passengers to play the Quiet Game for 60 minutes, terrorists will simply act 90 minutes before landing. It is far easier to circumvent rules than it is to create a foolproof set of rules.

Terrorists and capitalists both look for ways to use existing rules to their advantage. They both take advantage of the reduced competition created as law-abiding people follow those rules.  Gun laws often work the same way. Robbers take advantage of the fact that guns are highly regulated, reducing the chance that they’ll have to face a loaded gun during their robbery.

The history of trouble on airlines paints a clear picture. The regulations in place before 9/11 were a response to the pattern of airline hostage-taking in preceding decades. Terrorists adjusted, and used the rules in place at the time to crash 3 airliners into buildings. The 4th attempt was thwarted by people who ignored the rules, overpowered the terrorists, and took Flight 93 into the ground before it could reach Washington.  After 9/11, we put in rules about boxcutters, and worked to make the cabins of jets more secure. In response, the terrorists put PETN in their shoe. Security response: take off your shoes and run them through the X-ray machine. On Christmas Day, the terrorists showed their response to our response- hide the explosive in your shorts.

This sort of measures and counter-measures is an everyday part of war. It’s also how capitalism works. Businesses are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs and increase revenue. Government fundamentally fails to recognize that rules are made to be broken. You cannot devise a set of regulations that will keep us safe from terrorists, any more than regulations can prevent greedy people from making money.

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