Travel restrictions come with high price

Commentator David Frum.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: Detroit's would-be Christmas Day bomber was indicted today. Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with attempted murder, possession of a firearm and four other counts.

Commentator David Frum says when you add everything up, this case is really gonna cost us.


DAVID FRUM: Let's do a little aviation-security math.

In the year ending September 2009, there occurred a little under 710 million departures from U.S. airports, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Let's hypothesize that the typical air passenger's time is worth $50 an hour, twice the average hourly pay.

Now let's add an extra 15 minutes screening delay at the security gates to every flight. How much did we just spend? It's not a complex formula. It works out to almost $9 billion.

Add 30 minutes, and we've spent almost $18 billion.

In these trillion-dollar days, that may not sound like much. But it's still money. The entire University of California system, the nation's greatest, costs only slightly more at $19 billion.

Unlike university funds, wasted money never shows up in a budget. It's experienced person by person, enterprise by enterprise.

Yet, that cost is exacted by deliberate political choice.

There are two ways to do aviation security: either look for bombs or look for terrorists. Looking for terrorists is easier. Out of 100 passengers, there can be at most 100 terrorists. But among them, these hundred passengers offer thousands of possibilities for secreting a bomb.

And every time federal authorities are embarrassed by their failure to intercept a known terrorist suspect, they compensate by hunting ever more furiously for hidden bombs.

It's expensive. It's dumb. And it's bad security. But it's the line of bureaucratic and political least resistance. No tangling with civil liberties groups. No complaints from anti-discrimination lawyers.

So who dares say that all those hard-working men and women in the screening lines are looking for the wrong thing, in the wrong way?

RYSSDAL: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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