Saturday, November 13, 2010

Police State Keynsianism

By Eric Phillips

The TSA’s campaign to virtually strip search air travelers with its new full body scanners is forcing Americans to confront the true nature of the police state like never before. In this microcosm of totalitarianism, all are guilty until proven innocent. None enjoy the right to privacy. And the few—the federal employees directing the security theater—are allowed to do things that would land the rest in jail. The TSA stepped up its efforts to implement these machines across the country in the wake of the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt. Political decisions like this, of course, are not guided by considerations of efficiency or effectiveness. Several commentators have pointed to Michael Chertoff’s connection to Rapiscan, a chief manufacturer of the scanners. Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, has lobbied hard for the scanners in dozens of media interviews since he’s left office. Incidentally, Rapiscan is a major client of the Chertoff Group, the former secretary’s security consulting firm. Such corrupt dealings are a defining facet of today’s corporatist regime. The same cozy relationship that connects Goldman Sachs and the Treasury Department, exists between security contractors and the police state, between defense contractors and the military, and between insurance companies and the growing health care state.

Fortunately for Chertoff and his clients, the pretext of the Christmas bombing attempt coincided nicely with the disbursement of economic stimulus funds. The Recovery Act initially provided the TSA with $25 million to install new scanners. This figure was quickly expanded to $173 million in the aftermath of the scare. In a recent press release, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano brags that the installation of scanners at eight new locations will strengthen “security at U.S. airports while creating local jobs.” Not only, then, are the long lines and systematic humiliation of the modern airport a microcosm of the police state; they are a microcosm of the Keynesian policy of wealth redistribution and the corrupt system of interest group politics that necessarily accompanies it. Whenever Congress gets an additional $787 billion to spend, it’s inevitable that each individual member will fight to divert part of the loot to his constituency, pet programs, and favored contractors. Rent seeking, logrolling, and vote trading will ensure that all components of leviathan will expand—the welfare state, the warfare state, and the police state. Politicians can easily draw on Keynesians like Paul Krugman—who emphasize that spending, any spending, and as much spending as possible is necessary to fight recessions—to justify their political patronage. In this post-9/11 world, with its unified Department of Homeland Security and ever larger economic stimulus packages, police state Keynesianism will lead to more egregious attacks on Americans’ privacy and the continued federalization and militarization of police and security forces across the nation.

Unfortunately, neither major political philosophy in America adequately addresses the apparatus of taxation and redistribution that makes the existence of tyrannical agencies like the TSA possible. Progressivism, which on the one hand opposes the federal government’s assault on civil liberties, but on the other hand calls for confiscatory levels of taxation and massive sums of government spending, is just as self-contradictory and incoherent as conservatism, which espouses the virtues of small government while demanding an ever larger military and intelligence budget. Only when Americans transcend what Tom Woods refers to as “the spectrum that runs from Mitch McConnell to Hillary Clinton” will the TSA truly be threatened.
Eric Phillips is a graduate student in history at Temple University. He can be reached at

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