Keeping Us “Safe”

Since 2001, airline passengers — regular people without weapons or training — have helped thwart terrorist attacks aboard at least five different commercial airplanes. It happened again on Christmas Day. …

And yet our collective response to this legacy of ass-kicking is puzzling. Each time, we build a slapdash pedestal for the heroes. Then we go back to blaming the government for failing to keep us safe, and the government goes back to treating us like children. … Since regular people will always be first on the scene of terrorist attacks, we should perhaps prioritize the public’s antiterrorism capability. …

President Obama: “The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe.” …  Obama … did not call for Congress to cut spending on homeland-security pork and instead double the budget of Citizen Corps — the volunteer emergency-preparedness service. …  He did not demand that the government be more open with us about the threats we face.

More here.  This is indeed puzzling, but it seems related to our medical over-insurance.  We know we could save on average by paying less less up front, and then making more last minute decisions on which med treatment is worth the cost.  And perhaps we even know we wouldn’t be any less healthy in this scenario.  But we don’t want to make such stressful decisions; we like putting it out of our mind and paying high status docs huge sums to affiliate with us and deal with it.

Similarly maybe we prefer to pay our high status leaders to inefficiently deal with terrorism for us, rather than facing the stress of thinking we each may have to deal with a terrorist ourselves, even if that would work better, and even if that’s what really happens anyway.  See also our neglecting to support ordinary folks’ discouraging of auto accidents.

Fear of (thinking about) death is a very powerful thing.

Added 3p: Justin Fox:

If all the various elements of the intelligence community had simply Tweeted their findings, the hive mind of the Internet (or, more specifically, some 14-year-old in his bedroom in Bakersfield) would have blown the whistle on Abdulmutallab weeks ago. … And what’s the best mechanism known for sharing and weighing dispersed information? A market. … [Yet] in all the public discussion of what went wrong in the Abdulmutallab case, I have seen not a single mention of the Policy Analysis Market, as the Pentagon called its project, or the terrorism futures market, as everybody else called it. Hanson hasn’t even brought it up lately on his blog. So I figured it was time to rectify that.

Big government agencies hate to change how they do things, especially changes that threaten their autonomy.  So they won’t change unless the public cares much more about outcomes than the appearance of “doing something.”  At the moment, the public hardly cares about either.

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