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08/20/2006

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Roman Goldstein

Randall Kennedy has described the concept of a "race tax," an exaction that only those of specific race or ethnicity pay. For example, blacks pay a race tax for "driving while black," Hispanics pay a race tax in border enforcement in the southwest, and Muslims pay a race tax at airports. As you suggest, it is more efficient for these "taxes" to be racial in nature (e.g., airport screening makes more sense against Muslims).

As compensation for various minority groups (including Muslims) paying these racial taxes, how about affirmative action? This policy is paid mostly by whites, who so far have not paid a race tax of their own. And as the holders of much of the privilege and power in the U.S., the marginal disutility of excluding a white person from a certain position is exceeded by the marginal utility of putting a minority in that position.

The way I see it, imposition of race taxes on everybody results in a net gain for society, in terms of crime, border, and terrorism enforcement, and minority advancement.

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Richard Mason

Becker: Muslim terrorists might offer compensation and use persuasion to get a few non-Muslims to be willing to commit suicide, but experience shows not many succumb.

A non-Arab recruit would not necessarily have to commit suicide to exploit predictable weaknesses in screening. For example, if a non-Arab can get a weapon through the airport security checkpoint, he can rendezvous in the restroom on the other side and pass the weapon to a more expendable Arab terrorist. The non-Arab is potentially preserved to be used again-- a sensible conservation of resources, if non-Arab recruits are indeed scarce.

David

Professor Becker:

You write that "the issue in this discussion can only be about whether it is worth subjecting young Muslim males to special scrutiny and surveillance." I would ask only that you tell me just what a Muslim looks like. I am not a Muslim but I do know that Muslims come in all shapes and sizes, are light-skinned and dark-skinned, and have both straight and curly hair.

Judge Posner correctly points out that profiles can be circumvented by using individuals who do not fit the profile. You are right that, in the case of fundamentalist Islamic suicide bombers, it is difficult to conceive of recruiting, say, a Southern Baptist, no matter how much he or she is compensated in material goods. But it is not at all impossible to conceive of a terrorist group recruiting, say, an African-American or white Muslim, or even an Indonesian, in order to very easily evade a profile derived from our facile equation of "Muslim" with "Middle Eastern-looking." (And an individual's name, of course, would be a terrible profiling tool.)

I hope that your use of the word Muslim was simply a slip. Otherwise it would seem to imply that you are in favor of demanding of all of us that we identify our religion when we buy a ticket from Southwest Airlines. This would not only be a drastic requirement--and I believe one that does not exist anywhere in our government except on an application for conscientious-objector status--but one that would, as you surely recognize, be even more easily circumvented.

I do agree, however, that the recently reported tactic of "behavioral profiling" is probably the best solution. While it might be easy to defy all of the profiled characteristics listed above, it would be very hard to instruct a terrorist--suicide or no--not to appear nervous at all when trying to get through security with a bomb. This is what El Al does and it has protected them for fifty years.

Finally I suggest that you read, if you have not, some of the material by Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist who has become something of a security theorist; his books are excellent and he writes every day at www.schneier.com/blog.

Thank you very much for reading this excessively long post. Your "Economic Approach to Human Behavior" is among the few books I keep permanently on my desk.

Sincerely,
David Singerman

Dude

First, everyone is seriously overestimating the competence of the TSA. They are not very bright, poorly trained, and barely supervised. All your brilliant ideas will fail because these people can't carry them out.

Second, it is trivial to kill lots of people. This obsession with air security is blinding everyone to the vast number of easy targets in the US. The only real solution is to deport everyone except for old, white UofC professors.

When you're not the one being profiled, it's too easy to dismiss it as an "unfortunate inconvenience".

Richard Mason

I don't suppose there any hope of a draconian profiling regime to keep spam out of the comments?

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