Monday, September 27, 2021

Markets-Based Bottom-Up Data Driven Systems of Rewards and Punishments: Proposing an Air Travel Blacklist in the United States


Pix Credit HERE


For an increasing number of people--at least among the chattering class of academics, policymakers, and their related claques--social credit, and especially its Chinese version, is viewed as either a failed experiment, or the manifestation of a legitimacy deprived  approach to the management of behavior that is worth judging badly. And yet, the temptations of social credit--understood as data driven systems of assessment whose analytics produce judgments against ideal expectations of behavior which produce rationalized systems of punishments and rewards--are great.  While those temptations align nicely with the responsibilities of the vanguard elements of society charged with its guidance through the organs of state in Marxist Leninist states, they align even better with the responsibilities of market actors who are increasingly charged with the responsibility for the protection of the integrity of the social order and the advancement of its norms, articulated through the performance  of providing societal consumables.  (Discussed earlier and in more detail HERE).

That temptation toward markets-driven social credit bound up in the rights related structures of responsible business conduct is now overwhelming for key actors in critical industrial sectors in the United States. Consider this:

Delta Air Lines is calling for an industry wide effort to keep passengers  from boarding competitors' flights after being banned for disruptive behavior. . . "We've also asked other airlines to share their 'no fly' list to further protect airline employees across the industry," Delta said in a memo last week. "A list of banned customers doesn't work well if that customer can fly with another airline." (Michael Laris, "Delta Calls for Air Carriers to Share Names of Unruly Passengers," Washington Post (26 Sept. 2021), p. A20).)

So, at least one large air carrier is now lobbying public opinion for the imposition not just of a social credit system (passenger behavior based), but a system of rewards and punishments based on an assessment o triggering points for bad behavior (unruliness) that would apply system wide. And perhaps with good reason: "Delta Air Lines has 1,600 passengers on its no-fly list. United Airlines reportedly has more than 1,000 on its own banned-from-flying list. American, JetBlue, Southwest, Hawaiian and Alaskan airlines all have their own lists of personae non gratae." (Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, "Delta is Asking Airlines to Share their No-Fly Lists," Forbes (25 Sept. 2021)).

It makes one appreciate the irony of the self righteous reporting of similar no fly back lists (aligned with Chinese values and idealized behavior norms) when developed for Chinese citizens (here, and here). But there, perhaps, the fight isn't as much about the systems of data driven governance, as it is about the values advanced by such systems--and as well by the entities charged with its administration. And there the double irony.  In the United States, it appears that it is the state that appears to stand in the way of markets in the construction and administration of such systems (again without taking a position on whether this is a good or bad thing).  First, the state apparatus is ill equipped to manage this aspect of behavior given the tools at ist disposal and its cultures of administrative operation. 

Historically, the FAA has tended to deal with unruly passengers by doling out warnings or civil penalties. In January, the agency announced that it was ramping up its game with a much stricter, “zero-tolerance” policy toward passengers who are disruptive on flights, but the very premise of zero tolerance is laughable.  The FAA is clearly ill-equipped to deal with the sheer volume of air rage incidents. So far this year, the agency initiated 755 investigations, which is more than double the number of cases opened in 2019 and 2020 combined but only 17% of all reported incidents in 2021. (Kelleher, "Delta is Asking Airlines to Share their No-Fly Lists, above).

But worse, from the perspective of the societal expectations  of enterprise conduct respecting the physical safety of its passengers, is that the state apparatus appears unable or as yet unwilling to devolve authority to those charged with enforcement at the operational level--a reluctance that is odd given the trajectories of delegation expectation generally in the context of human rights related expectations of business responsibility. 

At a House Transportation Committee hearing Thursday to address  what officials called a "surge in air rage," Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) pressed a representative of Airlines for America, an industry trade group, on whether one airline can share its list of banned passengers with another airline. Lauren Beyer, the group's vice president for security and facilitation, said that "there are legal and operational challenges with airlines sharing those lists amongst one another." . . . Citing the problems, Beyer raised, DeFazio said, "Maybe we can have the FAA create a database and they can ask people to post to that, and then airlines can access it in the future." (Laris, "Delta Calls for Air Carriers to Share Names of Unruly Passengers," above).
And so, in the end, the impulse in the United States appears to align with that of China--the solution is not markets based social credit, but state directed mechanisms the operational authority with respect to which is then devolved to business.  Interestingly, the airlines already share such information with the state--but the administrators at the FAA appear unwilling to change the manner in which they  operate. And in a way that suggests opaqueness of governments in liberal democratic bureaucratic organs, the "FAA spokesman declined to say how many names of banned passengers it has received or how the agency uses that information." (Ibid.). Instead, the FAA offered only this: "Representatives of the FAA met this week with representatives of the airlines to discuss ways to reduce unruly behavior, and asked the airlines to commit to more action. The FAA had earlier asked airports to work with local law enforcement on criminal prosecutions." (Kathryn Krupnik, Allison Elyse Gualtieri, "Delta has banned more than 1,600 unruly passengers. Now, it wants airlines to share ban lists," CBS News (23 September 2021)). 

Thus this curious path of markets based social credit, of data driven governance measures, continues in liberal democratic states from the bottom up and then back again. The pattern however, is unmistakable.  Data driven governance  is propelled not merely by the need to manage behaviors, but by the way in which such a need is increasingly served  through devolution of operational level responsibility to enterprises, and its normative construction through the language of rights (of individuals) and the duties (of enterprises and other institutions) for the care of individuals and for the use of institutional interactions for capacity building through the naturalization of expected behavior rules  through systems of punishments and rewards.   Smoking--one can find one's access to credit limited, health care more expensive and employment more difficult; politically deviant  (as these things are measured here) expression--one can find access to wage labor markets reduced, and one cut off from access to virtual associations on platforms for such expression.  The key here is that accountability, and coordination occurs at the public level (and within administrative organs also responsible for the delineation of normative baselines (and thus the ideal against which quantifiable behaviors are measured)) and the operationalization of that guidance (including their interpretation subject to the discipline of accountability measures) by operational level entities are centered mostly in and through markets and markets level behaviors. 

So what is Delta Airlines proposing and the FAA structuring? Data driven platform governance.  The airlines are the platform's consumers and providers. They provide the data necessary for the operation of the platform; they then extract through the application of their own analytics a subset of data (passengers) who meet threshold criteria of unruliness (meeting definitions that might be their own, or developed by agreement with other air carriers, or formulated by the administrative organ, the FAA) which generates a conclusion based on alignment with triggering thresholds (eg severe enough) to be placed on a list of passengers banned from flying on the carrier. The state provides the platform (the space into which data is deposited, curated, and made available to a small group of users  who are also data providers) which also serves as the space within which the state (through the FAA for example) coordinates data gathering, analytics, and rewards and punishments.  It elaborates this coordination process by a variety of means--from developing the standards and definitions of triggering events generating data points for submission to the platform (regulating and defining unruliness and responses), to managing air carriers in their roles as and through their offering of data (unruliness reports).  These also serve as a means of quality control and for the management of the providers' own systems of data generation and the preservation of system integrity. The platform serves as well as the site through which structuring principles and objectives may be inserted (goal of reducing reports of unruliness by some measure, with a devolution of responsibility for developing systems that meet these goals unto the carriers). What was once an administrative, bureaucratized regulatory system overseen by bureaucracies exercising quasi prosecutorial, judicial, and legislative authority has been transformed into an interactive platform within which governance is dependent on the quantification of normative goals realized through identifiable tasks, defined  through the process of data generation and analysis. What one now has is the rudiments of platform governance and the transformation of the older cruder social credit impulse into something potentially far more transformative.

Stay tuned.

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