Security Takeovers and Bailouts: Aviation and the Return of Big Government

Article excerpt

The argument against big government is probably less salient today than at any time in decades. People want safe commercial air travel, regardless of the impact on the size of government or the cost. Period.

--Charlie Cook, The National Journal1

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

--Benjamin Franklin2

I. INTRODUCTION

It is now a cliche that the world changed on September 11, 2001. Until then, few Americans believed that the United States would ever again be attacked on its own soil. Most unthinkingly assumed that the country would remain immune from the terrorist attacks that have ransacked other parts of the world. Although the initial shock has worn off, Americans no longer live with the mistaken belief that they are immune from acts of terror.3

Reality has been difficult for the country to absorb. Americans panicked in the weeks following September 11. Overwhelmed and shell-shocked by the enormity of the catastrophes in New York and Washington, D.C., many Americans desperately sought something-anything-to restore their customary feelings of IMAGE FORMULA9

safety and security. Most immediately turned to an entity larger than themselves for help: the federal government.4 The government, unsurprisingly, responded immediately to this popular demand by increasing federal control of any aspect of life even remotely related to national security.5 In the months following the terrorist attacks, a whole host of government programs sprang into place.

For the most part, panicked citizens and businesses clamored for and willingly accepted these government-issued Band-Aids.6 Industries relying upon tourism lined-up for government handouts.7 Concerned citizens encouraged legislators to consider expansions of welfare programs.8 Insurance companies sought relief.9 The victims' families bargained for a compensation package issued by the federal government.10 Of the many industries that have sought government aid, however, IMAGE FORMULA11

the aviation industry was the most successful. Within a few short months of the attacks, the airlines had not only secured a financial bailout package from the federal government,11 but they had also achieved another long-desired measure. After repeatedly refusing to do so in years past, Congress finally passed legislation mandating that much of the security operations at the country's airports be handled by a federal bureaucracy, relieving the airlines both of the cost and responsibility.12

The governmental response to the aviation industry is problematic for several reasons. First, it contravenes the First Principles upon which this country was founded. The Founding Fathers did not envision a country in which every problem would be met with a federal bureaucracy. To the contrary, they feared that a large government would undermine liberty. They recognized that a federal government is necessary to perform certain functions, especially in the area of national defense;13 however, they saw this federal government as a " 'necessary evil' " to be restrained and watched at every step.14 Rather than using "national defense" as an excuse to needlessly enlarge the government in the midst of a crisis, they would have carefully evaluated the need for any particular government measure. Despite the recent panic, twenty-first century Americans should do the same.15 IMAGE FORMULA13

Next, the governmental response to the aviation industry poses practical problems. Even if the response were acceptable from a philosophical perspective, past history shows that solutions relying too heavily on increased governmental assistance are unlikely to help the aviation industry in the long term, although they may assuage short-term pain. A private security force at airports, meeting federally-mandated guidelines, will more successfully combat terrorism than a large, unaccountable bureaucracy. …