November 12, 2018

I said the other day that skin in the game is "one of those irritating cases where once you give something a name, you can't help seeing it everywhere". Like Twitter (sorry for typo).

Or the Beijing subway. Where they force every rider through a metal detector. Only the machine is set too high, so every single person trips it.

So then, out comes the dreaded "wand": a handheld metal detector. The agent runs it over your entire body in about four seconds, then hurries you onward.

Getting a gun onto the subway might be tricky, but I could probably manage a knife.

Classic case of a no-skin-in-the-game "looks effective but actually isn't" system. You get that when the people in charge care more about appearances than results, which is equivalent to, no skin in the game.

This particular incident was a throwback to my days as a computer security researcher: the subway is classic security theater. Bruce Schneier describes it well:

Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No-one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards. Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at US airports in the months after 9/11 -- their guns had no bullets. The US colour-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

Nassim Taleb is right: skin in the game is a moral imperative.