(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
This interview was first published on November 24, 2010.
Editor’s Note: If you’ve flown on an airplane in the U.S. in the last ten years, you know that TSA stands for the Transportation Safety Administration. It’s the group of government workers who frisk and interrogate travelers before letting them on a plane.
Many Americans think the TSA keeps them safe from terrorists. Casey Research founder Doug Casey has a different view…
Louis James: Doug, your favorite group of people, the Transportation Security Agency, have been in the news a lot lately, with their chief being summoned to Capitol Hill to answer for the excesses of his underlings. Today is National Opt-Out Day, when Americans are encouraged to refuse the full-body “porno” scans and the alternative pat-downs. And yet, the TSA is said to have very high approval ratings…as high as 81% in one CBS poll. As straws in the wind go, that does not bode well. What do you make of this?
Doug: They’re certainly the face of government that one encounters most often these days. Some newer polls and news stories suggest that support for what they do may be waning, but in general, it’s another sign of the accelerating decline of the American Empire. As Tacitus pointed out in the second century, the more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state. Although it’s also true that the more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws…
All bureaucracies inevitably become sodden, counterproductive, and centered mainly on their own agendas. But the TSA is on an extraordinarily steep downward trajectory. I suspect that is for several reasons. One is that the TSA is on the “front line,” as they pathetically describe it, of an unnecessary and illusory war on terror, so they’re very sensitive about somehow justifying their existence. Another is that they’re dressed up in uniforms and organized in a paramilitary manner; once you put people in costumes, they become much more obedient chimpanzees. Another is that their employees are actually the dregs of U.S. society. It amazes me that when Congress created it, they found 50,000 people, practically overnight, who thought that getting paid to go through fellow citizens’ dirty underwear at airports was a good deal.
This is unskilled labor of the most menial sort. But these are not, by and large, teenagers with no skills; rather, they are middle-aged people who should be able to find some more productive (or at least higher-paying) use for their time. I suppose it was perceived as a step up for those who were Walmart greeters or packing bags at Safeway…although that’s incorrect, because although those are low-paid, unskilled, and unchallenging occupations, they are at least honorable work.
And they’ve now expanded the force to 65,000, and they are still hiring: they’ve placed ads on the backs of pizza boxes. These people are truly the bottom of the barrel.
L: I’ve just looked it up, and the TSA screener gets paid $10.91-$15.59 per hour. Overtime is up to $23.23, and there are bonuses. I wonder what those are for…
Doug: I doubt the bonuses are based on “customer satisfaction.” Though I bet the government benefits are significant, and the fringe benefits are commensurate with government employment. At this point, the average government employee makes about 50% more than a civilian worker. It’s appealing to those who have not bothered to learn a useful trade.
But the real problem is psychological. Certain types of people are drawn to certain types of jobs. Only a certain type of person would, for example, become a prison guard. It’s bad enough being sent to prison involuntarily, so what does it say about a person who’ll spend his or her days there, just to be the one with the baton? Many are really bad apples, and the power has, quite predictably, gone to their heads.
L: You don’t think any of them think they are actually making people safe; Saving lives?
Doug: There might be a few who actually believe that, but that doesn’t mean they are not still, on average, the sort of person who enjoys bullying other people. Actually, the people who are even more contemptible are the members of the chattering classes who cheerlead for the TSA, by saying “Yes, some mistakes are made, some officers are overzealous, or lack common sense, but it’s good and necessary in principle.” That’s totally pernicious nonsense on all levels. It’s a matter of principle that’s in question, something to which they’re completely oblivious.
There are many, many recent examples of just how arrogant and abusive these thugs have gotten recently. I just read today about a cancer victim that had a bladder bag…
L: Can’t take any liquids through security!
Doug: Yes. So they pawed the thing and spilled urine all over the fellow, and he had to travel that way. Another story I read recently was of a woman who had pierced nipples and the TSA removed the rings with some pliers they had lying around, even after the things were identified and were obviously no threat. And there was a six-year-old child who couldn’t walk without a leg brace, but they made him take it off to go through the metal detector.
And you better not back-sass your betters today, either…
Actually, the TSA serves absolutely no useful purpose. On the one hand, it’s playing into the bad guys’ hands by helping bankrupt the U.S., by death through a thousand cuts. On the other hand, if a bad guy really wanted to do some damage, he’ll just stand in a line with hundreds of others waiting to go through screening, and detonate his carry-on bag there. That will certainly happen.
Doug Casey is a multimillionaire speculator and the founder of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting during economic turmoil. Doug’s book, Crisis Investing, spent multiple weeks as number one on The New York Times best sellers list and was the best-selling financial book of 1980. Doug has been a regular guest on national television, including spots on CNN, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, and NBC News.
Doug and his team of analysts write The Casey Report, one of the world’s most respected investment advisories. Each month, The Casey Report provides specific, actionable ideas to help subscribers make money in stocks, bonds, currencies, real estate, and commodities. You can try out The Casey Report risk-free by clicking here.