Wade's World

Just leave it where Jesus flang it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Damn Fine Point

Margaret Griffis has an interesting take, and one that's hard to argue with, on the disaster that is New Orleans:

Make no mistake. When New Orleans appeared out from under Katrina, it was mostly cosmetic damage. Lines down, roof shingles scattered and the normal aftermath of a good sized hurricane. It was annoying but it wasn't a disaster. What happened in the hours AFTER Katrina was a completely man-made catastrophe. It started years ago when people gladly accepted that the government can protect them.


The government isn't a thin tissue preventing chaos, it only exaggerates it. In Mississippi where the borders aren't shut down, private citizens have already arrived with ice, water and food. Elsewhere, private citizens have offered their homes and transportation all around the country. It's only by mutual consent that the whole country hasn't erupted into a battlezone in the wake of this national disaster. The government's magical pixie dust works only as long as you believe it does, then you realize it has always been up to you.
I'm not sure that I ascribe to everything that Magaret is pushing, but she makes a damn good argument that government was the source of the problem and not much help (and probably a hinderance) in the solution. When you consider the fact that Katrina itself didn't exact anywhere near as much damage as the breech of the levee ("How has the [federal] government taken care of them besides selling them a weak levee?"), and that the poor (read "complete lack of") execution by the local and state authorities as first responders led directly to a great many of the deaths, Margaret's point makes a great deal of sense.

[h/t Kn@ppster]

** UPDATE **

Jon Henke visited the same issue, albeit from a different angle, with some analysis of what private markets could offer as an alternative to failed levees and evacuation plans. Including a menagerie of linked posts, Jon offers the following:

Via Billy Beck, I find Walter Block writing a good defense of the alternative: Markets
First of all, the levees that were breached by the hurricane were built, owned and operated by government. Specifically, by the Army Corps of Engineers. The levees could have been erected to a greater height. They could have been stronger than they were. The drainage system could have operated more effectively. Here, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board was at fault. ... Had they been, a lot of the inconvenience, fright, and even loss of life undergone in this city could have been avoided.

Then, too, these facilities may have fooled many people into thinking they were safer than they actually were. I know this applies to me. Thus, people were in effect subsidized, and encouraged to settle in the Big Easy.
This is precisely the effect I addressed in the post on Flood Budgeting. The New York Times—and Congress—weaved back and forth on how much money should be spent on flood control projects...based mostly on issues entirely unconnected to the actual value of the money spent and projects undertaken. Neither the NYTimes nor Congress had more than a whimsical investment in New Orleans. They gambled...and lost nothing.
As they say, read the whole thing, including the comments.


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