Archives: November, 2007

Identity Systems Aren’t Good Security, and Other Lessons From the Chicago Airport Fake ID Story

AFP is reporting that more than a hundred people with false identification documents were given employee security passes to Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

This is a good opportunity to compare conventional wisdom to actual security wisdom.

CW: This was a breach of the airport’s security system.
W: This was definitely a breach of the airport’s identity system, but identity systems provide very little security. The airport’s security, already weak if it relied on workers’ identities, was little changed.

CW: “ ‘If we are to ensure public safety, we must know who has access to the secure areas of airports,’ said Patrick Fitzgerald, US attorney for the northern district of Illinois.”
W: Public safety can’t be ensured by knowing who has access to the secure areas of airports. Knowing who has access may protect against ordinary threats like theft, but not against the threats to aviation that we care about.

CW: “A fundamental component of airport safety is preventing the use of false identification badges and punishing those who commit or enable such violations.”
W: Preventing the use of false identification is a trivial component of airport safety. It’s a fundamental component of airport safety programs, which are mostly for show. Security expert Bruce Schneier calls them “security theater.”

CW: “Unauthorized workers employed at sensitive facilities such as airports, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, military bases, defense facilities and seaports pose a vulnerability which compromises the integrity of those key assets,’ US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.”
W: Authorized workers employed at sensitive facilities pose a vulnerability which compromises the integrity of those very same assets. If you want to prevent some kind of harm, you must make that harm difficult to cause, regardless of who may try.

Security is not easy.

USA Today is Confused on Vouchers: It’s demand in a free market that drives supply.

USA Today knocks vouchers today on the basis of an unbelievably maddening canard about school choice in general and vouchers in particular:

Vouchers, which give students public dollars that can be used to pay tuition at private schools, are supposed to promote competition and improve schools. But they have never flourished as a national school reform because their logic contains a flaw. Vouchers don’t create new, high quality schools.

Economics 101 would be helpful for the folks at USA Today. Vouchers aren’t meant to create new schools. They are meant to moderate the ills created by a government-run monopoly by marginally reducing the penalty parents pay for choosing private education.

It is difficult to get new businesses to enter the kind of market that characterizes existing school choice programs: entry barriers are huge, the potential customer base is small, profit is small or non-existent (most private schools are non-profit), and the very existence of the market in question is subject to frequent elections and political whims.

That’s not a recipe for entrepreneurship and skyrocketing supply. But supply has increased substantially in Milwaukee and elsewhere despite the severe handicaps of that education market.

And Utah’s law would have created the largest education market to date, although still restricted and at a massive disadvantage to public schools that receive much more funding per-pupil.

Libertarian Voters Hiding in the Post Poll

The headline on the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll was “Poll Finds Americans Pessimistic, Want Change.” And why would they not, with a floundering war, civil liberties abuses, soaring federal spending, and the prospect of four years under the rule of Hillary or Rudy? But there are some signs in the accompanying data that seem to confirm the existence of libertarian voters, voters who don’t fit into either the liberal or conservative box.

One of the questions was an old standby: “Generally speaking, would you say you favor smaller government with fewer services, or larger government with more services?” Smaller government won by 50 to 44 percent, but the Post noted that that was a much smaller margin than previous surveys had shown, indicating the damage the Bush administration and the congressional Republicans have done to the “smaller government” brand. Still, a six-point margin is better than Bush achieved in his two elections, and 50 percent is better than Bill Clinton ever did.

The next question in the survey was “Do you think homosexual couples should or should not be allowed to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage?” Respondents said they should, by 55 to 42 percent, up from earlier surveys.

So if you take support for smaller government as an indicator of libertarian-conservative sentiment, and support for civil unions as an indicator of libertarian-liberal sentiment, then the libertarian position got a small majority on both questions.

I asked Post polling director Jon Cohen if it was possible to get crosstabs for those questions, and he generously supplied them. So we can use those two questions to construct a four-way ideological matrix. I categorize the responses this way: Roughly speaking, libertarians support smaller government and civil unions. Conservatives support smaller government and oppose civil unions. Liberals support larger government and civil unions. And the fourth group–variously called statists, populists, or maybe just anti-libertarians–support larger government and oppose civil unions. And thus we find that on these two questions 26 percent of the respondents are libertarians, 26 percent liberals, 23 percent conservatives, and 17 percent anti-libertarians:

A few other reflections on these questions: It’s often been noted that how you ask the question can shape the answers. For instance, if you offer three positions, people will tend toward the middle option. Polls usually show that a majority of voters oppose gay marriage, while a slimmer majority now support legal recognition for domestic partnerships or civil unions. But if you give respondents three options–marriage, civil unions, or no legal recognition–the opposition is reduced, and polls tend to show a strong majority supporting some form of recognition. In the 2004 exit poll, for instance, the results were 25 percent for marriage, 35 percent for civil unions, and 37 percent opposed to both.

I’ve always thought the “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government–“more services”–but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. A few years ago a Rasmussen poll did ask the question that way. The results were that 64 percent of voters said that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes, while only 22 percent would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes. A similar poll around the same time, without the information on taxes, found a margin of 59 to 26 percent. So it’s reasonable to conclude that if you remind respondents that “more services” means higher taxes, the margin by which people prefer smaller government rises by about 9 points. That suggests that adding “higher taxes” to the Post question would have widened the margin from 6 to 15 points, or perhaps a response of 55 percent for smaller government and 40 percent for larger government. (Note that Jon Cohen and the Post are not responsible for any of this speculation.)

And when you adjust the four-way division on the basis of our Platonic ideal of the two questions, then we get slightly more libertarians and conservatives and fewer liberals and anti-libertarians—29 percent libertarians, 25 percent conservatives, 23 percent liberals, and 15 percent anti-libertarians:

Yet more evidence that there is a libertarian vote that is indeed different from liberals and conservatives.

Flat Tax Generating Big Results in Georgia

Alvin Rabushka has some remarkable data on the positive impact of tax reform in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The economy has been roaring since the enactment of a 12 percent flat tax, with growth of 10 percent per year. And in news that should make the IMF happy, there’s been a big Laffer-Curve effect, with revenues rising dramatically as a share of GDP (though this should be a reason to cut rates even further):

Effective January 1, 2005, Georgia (the country, not the U.S. State) adopted a flat tax of 12%, replacing its previous four-bracket system. The flat tax was augmented with a 20% tax on corporate profits, 20% on social insurance (reduced from 33%), and 18% (reduced from 20%) on VAT. The new, simpler system has had a dramatic effect on economic growth, averaging 10% a year for the past three years, and taxpayer compliance. Tax revenue increased from 14.5% of GDP in 2003 to 22% in 2006, and should reach 24% in 2007. Between 2003 and 2007, the reforms reduced the number of taxes from 22 to 7.

John Stossel on Utah, Vouchers, and Education Tax Credits

John Stossel has some sober thoughts today on school choice in the aftermath of the Utah voucher law’s defeat. He considers the dangers that vouchers might pose to private schools because government funding typically brings government control, and asks:

If vouchers contain this potential danger, what can be done to help get kids out of dismal government schools? A better alternative is a tax credit for any parent who pays for private schooling or anyone else who helps put child through non-government schools.

All of us who work for educational freedom need to be wary of the risks of regulatory encroachment, and should be on the lookout for policies that can deliver parental choice while minimizing those risks.

Education tax credits not only provide an extra layer of protection from government control, they provide an additional level of freedom by allowing taxpayers to direct their own dollars to the kind of education they support – relying on private rather than government funding

Sensible Foreign Policies — and One that Just Doesn’t Make Sense

Over at the Partnership for a Secure America, I highlight three recent articles – by Justine Rosenthal, Barry Posen and Richard Betts, respectively – that advance the sensible proposition that the best way to restore balance to our foreign policy is to change the ends, not the means.

Specifically, all three articles make a compelling case for a new direction that is less dependent upon America acting as the world’s policeman; would expect and demand more of America’s allies; and would place fewer demands on our nation’s military.

This new strategy would enable us to reduce overall defense spending to pre-9/11 levels, a position supported by more than 4 in 10 Americans. As a Gallup Poll found earlier this year, “The percentage of Americans saying the government is spending too much on defense has increased by 11 points over the past year and is now at its highest level since 1990.” By contrast, only 20 percent believe that we should be spending more on the military.

The most direct and concise of the three, Rosenthal’s lead essay in The National Interest, makes a number of specific recommendations for what a new strategy would look like.

Of her several proposals, I would take strong issue with only one: Rosenthal calls for a concentrated national effort aimed at “creating alternate sources of energy.” I don’t see how this advances U.S. security, in general. We have very little to fear from the so-called oil weapon, as Eugene Gholz and Daryl Press argued earlier this year.

But even if one were to concede the dubious point that energy independence would make us safer, there are a number of other ways to achieve said independence that do not require a massive new Manhattan Project.

Rosenthal says, that “He who breaks the hydrocarbon monopoly rules the 21st century” – but technology is transferable. What is broken by one is available to all – for a price. Which explains why there are thousands of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists pursuing alternative energies. The UN Environment Program found that $70.9 billion was invested in renewables in 2006, a 43 percent increase over the previous year, and trends from the first quarter of 2007 showed still further growth.

That these investors would love to have taxpayer money to subsidize their efforts shouldn’t surprise anyone; that we would be gullible enough to do so is another matter entirely.

It may seem trite to point out that the market still functions with respect to the allocation of all other natural resources, from gold, to copper, to tin, but the “oil markets are different” mentality persists. Perhaps what we really need is a Manhattan Project to teach Americans the basics of economics, beginning with the laws of supply and demand?

News Flash: Neocons Hate Ron Paul

So Ron Paul’s record fundraising haul has rattled the cubicles on 17th Street, forcing the Weekly Standard to run a hit piece on him, offering the limp zinger that he’s the “don’t tase me, bro” candidate, named for the fellow who got zapped at a John Kerry event earlier this year*.

It’s not surprising that the neocons hate Ron Paul, for his policy views, of course, but it also seems likely that they’re envious. As Cato’s president Ed Crane and chairman Bill Niskanen pointed out over four years ago

The neoconservative agenda is a particular threat to liberty perhaps greater than the ideologically spent ideas of left-liberalism. Always a movement of bright intellectual leaders, neoconservatism has mostly been a movement with a head but no body. One rarely runs into a neocon on the street.

That’s what makes it so obvious that the Standard’s lament that

Paul supporters organized the event on their own with minimal coordination with the campaign.

is an apt reflection of their envy that an unlikely fellow like Paul has had such a genuinely grassroots groundswell of support, and has been pushed forward by his supporters rather than attempting to cajole them into line. It’s equally funny that an ostensibly conservative magazine criticizes his views not just on foreign policy, but grouses that

He hates the Iraq war. He hates the rest of our foreign policy. He pretty much thinks we shouldn’t have a foreign policy. He hates our bloated and meddlesome federal government. (What’s that they say about stuck clocks?) He hates abortion. He hates the Treasury and floating currency.

That sounds fairly conservative to me. But it’s funny to see the Standard squirm at the realization that the ideas of peace and freedom are rousing the electorate.

*[Update: A reader advises that the tasing incident took place at a John Kerry speaking engagement earlier this year, not in 2004. I regret the error.]