The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

March 05, 2006

The Ports Fiasco

Should Congress kill an impending deal that would allow an “Arab” company to manage six U.S. ports?


Restrictions on port operation, like most measures the U.S. adopts to promote “security,” do not prevent terrorist attacks against the U.S. The number of potential targets is virtually unlimited: buildings, chemical plants, nuclear facilities, bridges, trains, subways, stadiums, school buses, and so on. Any determined group, and especially any group with access to suicide bombers, can terrorize the U.S. at will. Thus restrictions on port ownership, and anti-terrorist measures generally, are all cost and no benefit.

What are the costs of restricting port management? Increased burdens for cities that want cost-effective operation of their ports. Increased opportunity for non-Arab companies to use anti-Arab racism as backdoor protectionism. Increased hostility toward the U.S. as a result of this perceived racism. And a false sense of security for Americans who think killing this deal will reduce terrorism.

Islamic terrorists target the U.S. because the U.S. interferes in the Middle East. The way to reduce terrorism is to stop interfering.


At 3:46 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

Would you agree that there are cases where the governemnt might, in a consequentialist manner, be justified in regulating who does and doesn't manage ports?

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Alan Miron said...

If by government we mean the city government of the port in question, then of course that city should use its judgement about which managers would do the best job. But I doubt there would be any case where federal or even state government oversight of such decisions would be beneficial on average.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Dennis said...

You don't think there are issues of the public good that are national in scale, and important in aggregate, but would tend to be ignored in each local instance? The marginal effect of effort on security would not be much felt by the proprietors of each port, but would be felt by potential victims elsewhere in the country. I think security would be underprovided without government intervention here. This is not to say that the Dubai firm couldnt' provide the proper level of security, of course, but just to say that without proper standards we'd get an inefficient level of security at ports.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Roger Thornhill said...

If it is made clear to the citizens who uses the ports and what poducts flow through them, then consumer pressure will dictate which owners are viable...

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Professor Kurgman, PhD, PhD, PhD said...

Thank you, Professor Miron, for explaining that "Islamic terrorists target the U.S. because the U.S. interferes in the Middle East."

And because the U.S. interferes in the Middle East (especially by helping war-mongering Zionists), so-called Islamic terrorists also target Spain, France, Nigeria, Russia, Holland, Denmark, The Phillipines, India, Morocco, Thailand, Algeria, Argentina, and Indonesia.

And who can blame them? I too am furious at Thai Buddhists because of American interference in the Middle East!

Frankly, I still feel that our air-traffic control should be given to an Iranian company.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

Man, welcome to the blogosphere, Dr. Miron.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger David Gress said...

Islamic terrorists act for one main reason, to establish the worldwide rule of Islam. US policies in the Middle East enable some terrorism, they don't explain it and retreating will simply confirm to the terrorists that they are winning and that the US (being a decadent and infidel nation) lacks the courage to defend its interests. There may be other good reasons to cut and run from Iraq, but appeasing fanatics isn't one of them.

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