Friday, September 16, 2005

The problem isn’t with government – it’s with ideology

The more I hear about the Katrina disaster the more my belief in progressive government solidifies.


As everyone knows, Katrina was a huge natural disaster. But what some fail to realize is that a lot of the damage could have – and indeed should have – been avoided if, as a society, we more fully backed progressive principles that put dollars behind the concept that "we're all in this together".


By now most everyone has heard about the drastic budget cuts to the levy projects down in LA. The Army Corps of Engineers has been requesting several hundred million dollars, each year, for the last several years in an attempt to shore-up the well known flaws in the New Orleans levy system. Even if all those repairs and modifications were made the city would still likely have flooded but maybe not to the degree seen.


But the larger point is this: The neo-conservative philosophy of "government as the problem" is really the central issue here. Conservatives across the spectrum all decry the inefficiency of government and laud the power of free markets. If government just gets out of the way, they say, capitalism will cure most-all our woes…


Indeed, free markets are wonderful things: they are a sure-fire way of identifying what the populace wants – and to a certain degree, what it needs. Free markets are very good at getting those products and service to market efficiently. But free markets, while great at giving us the next technological widget that everyone 'needs', are horrible at identifying and addressing the safeguards that define society. Those safeguards range from Social Security – which helps members of our society who (maybe due to their own lack of foresight) didn't plan for their old age; to funding for research and development at our Universities; to maintaining the nation's infrastructure.


This belief that the free market, left to it's own accord, will solve most, if not all, of society's ills leaves our leaders hamstrung: unable to act. This is exactly what we saw both before and after Katrina.


The free market economy does little if anything to address disaster preparedness and poverty (some of which has its roots in openly discriminatory government policies as recent as the '50s and '60 and hence should be addressed by government). What about the natural outcome of competition (which necessarily creates winners and losers)? I believe you quickly come to the conclusion that government has a role to play in all of these areas. If it does not for you, I'd argue you don't want to live in society but rather in a free-for-all where survival of the fittest is the rule of the day.


While I truly applaud our president for finally saying 'the buck stops here' I have to ask if the magnitude of this disaster could have been largely avoided. Operating with an attitude that 'government is the problem' along with blatant cronyism we ended up with someone with NO emergency management experience in such a crucial position at a time we know "emergency management" is such a big deal ( i.e. – terrorism). Now we find ourselves in a position where the federal government will have to spend several billion dollars as opposed to the several hundred million the Army Corp of Eng requested to complete the levy upgrades.


How many other New Orleans levies are out there waiting for funding?


More importantly, will we elect leaders that will invest in us… in America's future, instead of gambling with that future (by using our $$$) on a foreign policy that seems to be making more people in the world despise us, than admire us.


Intellectual Insurgent said...

The Neo-cons are a bunch of hypocrites because they are the biggest proponents of bigger government, especially when it comes to the (un) free market. Just see the Unocal sale, the energy bill, Iraq, Halliburton, tariff battles with China and Japan to see how much the neo-cons hate the idea of free competition. To them free market means supported by government with no competing bids allowed.

That said, how can we keep asking government to protect us from ourselves? Legislating and demanding more and more from the government has done little to save society overall. How do you balance your proposed marriage of socialism and capitalism into something that works?

Reign of Reason said...

Well, that's the trick isn't it. I don't have all the answers, but a philosophy of investing in infrastructure that supports business growth as opposed to the direct corporate well-fare you mention would point our economic policy in a 'more fair' direction: Any and all companies can take advantage of a better educated populace... efficient public transportation and good disaster preparedness. Such things free up business resources to focus on what they do best.

But, as you point out, this administration views corporate America as the god-head from which all prosperity flows: what's good for Halliburton is good for America -- simply hogwash.