Thursday, September 08, 2005
The core problem
So Katrina: what can I say that already hasn't been said? Do I think the response was slow/inadequate -- yes. But the core question is why -- after 4 years -- wasn't the nation better prepared for a large scale disaster.
First, the thing that pissed me off was finding out the Bush-appointed head of FEMA spent the '90's as the commissioner of the Arabian Horse Association... Great, sounds like the perfect experience to head up the nations disaster relief agency. OK -- every administration practices nepotism: but usually those put in positions of real responsibility have some relevant experience. Did the fact that the head of FEMA have NO disaster relief experience play into the response -- or lack thereof? I'm not sure -- it's a big government agency -- but it would seem so.
Moving on, the bigger issue/answer seems to be the administration's blind faith in the ability of corporate America -- and businessmen in general -- to solve/address our social problems. The market and capitalism isn't 'god' -- they don't solve social problems (as the Republicans' would - in general - have you believe): That's what government is for. Capitalism, as an economic system, is great at identifying and bringing to market those products and services the populace wants... now or "tomorrow"... but it is terrible at preparing for and addressing those less fortunate: whether their state was created by natural disaster or by birth (contrary to the Declaration of Independence, are men are not 'created equal' -- simply look at the statistics for the numbers of people who come from relative poverty to "make it" vs idiots like our current president who, having not been born with a silver spoon in his mouth would be a urine-soaked drunk somewhere in Houston. The role of government is to try and reduce this disparity ( i.e. try to level the playing field) while also ensuring we don't end up with a plutocracy (which we seem to be moving toward inexorably).
Government is the best agency we have for preparing for the future -- the "longer term" future. I believe that all meaningful, basic research is performed by government -- or government funded agencies (e.g . - our national labs, universities, etc.). This research isn't marketable, but provides the basis for the next series of innovations. Why would corporate America perform research that wasn't directly related to the creation of a new product or service? They wouldn't and don't. However, we know this research is very important: many of the modern conveniences we enjoy were derived from government funded research started in the '60s.
Back to the original topic: the government is uniquely positioned to plan for natural disasters. Charities are great, but they are good at bringing food and water -- clothing and maybe providing shelter after the fact ... But during the event, you're gonna need helicopters and other rescue services that are provided for by your tax dollars... And those services simply don't provide a 'return on investment' that would motivate private industry. That's why we have local fire departments, police, etc.
Maybe we need some of these other 'public' services too -- like a well run FEMA.
OK, enough rambling for one day...