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(Mis)Diagnosing the Problem

Per an NYT May 27, 2016 (electronic) article describing and complaining about the time-consuming ordeal resulting from T.S.A. security lines for those seeking to board commercial flights in the U.S.: “Fundamentally, the problem isn’t about politics. It’s economics.”

The idea that economics can be cleanly separated from politics seems a modern and erroneous phenomenon (e.g. philosophy of economics). This is one of the reasons why the study and practice of accounting and law, especially the forensic sub-disciplines that challenge, where appropriate, accepted conventional wisdom, is helpful to wade through the purposeful / inadvertent mucks of obfuscation: Without a broad understanding of the concepts of costs (e.g., who pays and who does not as a result of a more or less rationally determined public policy), benefits (e.g., who prospers and who does not prosper from a more or less rationally determined public policy), rights and obligations (e.g., who receives economic and financial assets and who is burdened with economic and financial liabilities imposed under the rule of law resulting from a more or less rationally determined public policy), etc. the concepts of economics may be useful and thought-provoking (e.g., opportunity cost, externalities) in some contexts but not directly on point in other contexts.

From the same article: “But T.S.A. ledgers don’t capture the cost of wasted time.” Indeed, the T.S.A. does not (like other reporting entities in the public, private, and independent sectors in the U.S., if not across the world) record and report costs borne by other persons (e.g., externalities) until and unless these result in a probable and measurable obligation to the reporting person(s). Many ideas that bore (and bear) prosperity for some persons from public policies enforceable through courts of law may be analyzed as economic in nature, but this would not comprise a materially complete and accurate assessment of the eruption of the problem (e.g., idle / stressful time-consumption endured by the ordinary air traveler). Policy is neither etched in stone (cf. geology) nor a product of accidental thinking (cf. astrology).

Analogously, are the issues occurring at CUNY (and other public universities across the U.S., if not across the world) economic and not political in origin and solution? Are politics and budgets imposed through the operation of natural law (as bears swipe fish from a stream and the earth orbits the sun); or are they dependent on the operation of artificially created rules and laws? As I probably too often remind my students: one person’s expense is another person’s revenue. Qui bono?

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