By Walter E. Block
I recently travelled from New Orleans to Lake Jackson, Texas.
One thing struck me as I contemplated this trip. Should I drive instead? True, it would take about a six-hours by car, but when you add up all the modern air travel hassles – the demand that you arrive there two and sometimes even three hours before take-off, the groping, the compulsory masking (well, they’ve lightened up on that a bit, but who knows for how long), picking up and then dropping off a rental car, an entirely different aggravation– it is a close call. I suppose I’m a masochist, and a lazy one, since I chose air travel.
Something else struck me en-route, even though I had experienced this several hundred times in the past. I became fully aware for the first time of this this strange Transportation Security Administration arrangement. If you have a first-class air ticket (I didn’t; I’m not like the mayor of New Orleans who flies first class at taxpayer expense) the TSA gives you far better “service” than if you don’t. Well, the “service” is about the same, but you get to wait on a much shorter line than your inferiors, the poorer hoi polloi. Yes, there are some exceptions to the general rule that first-class passengers are richer than those who fly in the back of the plane. Frequent flyers get upgrades. But even those who often gad about in the skies, even paid for by their employers, are not exactly on the bread lines.
Isn’t this system a bit strange, then, when you come to think about it? It is as if government judges ruled in favor of the wealthy, not because they had a better case, or, even, better lawyers, but simply because of their greater wherewithal. It would be akin to a system where cops gave traffic tickets to the drivers of 20-year-old Fords, and not to those with new BMWs -- for engaging in the exact same moving violation. It resembles nothing so much as if public school teachers awarded higher marks to students from richer families even though they scored equally on the exam (I suspect they already do just that in behalf of certain demographic groups, but don’t get me started on that).
This TSA practice is even more curious because the government is now run by the regressives (I refuse to call them “progressives”; if that is what their socialist nostrums amount to, I want no part of progress.) This system would not be justified for any type of government. The constitution mandates that the state treat all citizens equally. It is especially galling for the government to place its big fat thumb on the richer side of the balance wheel for air travelers, but it must be especially problematic for our egalitarian friends.
Of course, in the free society, there would be private police forces in charge of airplane safety. The TSA would be privatized. These private organizations could, if they wished, give expedited service to first class passengers. Then the market would determine whether this bundling was a good idea or not. It might well be so. After all, high class restaurants offer free valet parking services. McDonalds and Burger King provide nothing of the sort. We expect this sort of thing from free enterprise.
But when the government emulates this practice, it seems highly problematic. After all, at least the myth is that the state should treat us all equally, without favoring any of us. Ok, ok, pregnant women and the physically handicapped (not the “differently abled”) get better parking spots, and this doesn’t seem to stick out like a sore thumb as does this TSA practice of favoring first class passengers.