Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I'm currently in the States at the moment, and for obvious reasons the destruction of New Orleans has been pretty much the major thing exercising everyone's minds (well, there's the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist, too, but I'll post more on that later when I've read more). The thing that strikes me refers to items I have written here before - most notably the piece "Blame and the State", which I will link to later. People are always quick to blame the government when things go wrong. Certainly, here there are reasons for complaint, although the fact that the impact of the storm seemed to be more a result of the aftermath, rather than the storm itself, probably was partially responsible for slow action being taken. Katrina may not have directly hit New Orleans, but the aftermath was terrible enough.

However, if you actually want government to act properly, you have to grant it the resources that it needs. Now, if you are a writer on Samizdata, you probably think that the private sector can deal with this all anyway and there's no need for government. Then again, you probably also like the fact that private citizens with guns are the most proactive in law enforcement following the looting that inevitably followed the evacuation. If, however, the White House and the State House are going to be hammered for failing to respond properly, the question has to be asked - could they have done so?

Of course, electing such a fiscally irresponsible President as Bush causes problems in itself, especially when he only granted about 20% of the request to help a flood defence fund - which may well have stopped the levees from breaking. (Not that this is a dig solely at Bush - Blair is presiding over a similar wasting of money in Britain - who knows where the money will go when we have to rein in spending in the UK?). But when things aren't going wrong in the US, the stock reaction is to hope that government butts its nose out of the way. Taxes are an unnecessary and unhelpful intrusion; regulation is seen as stifling things (although only in certain circumstances - it's perfectly OK to ban the NFL from playing on Friday and Saturday so as to avoid competition with high school and college football). Government action is always viewed with suspicion until it is too late.

In short, if you don't trust the government with necessary powers, then you can't always take the action that you want to. And in New Orleans this seems to be the case. States rights and small government cloud taking effective action immediately. There needs to be a recognition that government is a social institution, and like all social institutions, it needs help to perform the tasks that you want it to.