Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Libertarian Disaster Analysis

Dr. Eric Schansberg has summed up many of my own thoughts on government & Katrina in a few short paragraphs, in his latest Libertarian Writers Bureau article.

Afterthoughts on the Aftermath of the New Orleans Flood
by Eric Schansberg

A month after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the debacle of the ineffective levees surrounding New Orleans, and the disappointment with the government's relief efforts, let's look back at the lessons we should have learned from this disaster.

The disaster was much more about the flood than the hurricane. Many people seem to be missing this point. The over-estimation of Hurricane Rita's predicted impact is one symptom. Another side-effect is that, relatively speaking, the damage wrought by Katrina outside of New Orleans was ignored by the media. When we think about the devastation of hurricanes, unfortunately, we're far more likely to remember flooded New Orleans than flattened coastal Mississippi.

The blame game never ends—and rarely takes a break. It was good to see the Democrats and Republicans wait, oh, a few hours before they started blaming each other. Instead of a dispassionate analysis of the debacle after the dust had settled, we were mostly left with partisan hacks throwing mud at each other almost as soon as they could grab a handful.

All levels of government bear some blame for the debacle. The federal government could have responded quicker and better. But state and local plans were woefully inadequate and their implementation was inept. Anyone who tries to ascribe blame to only one level of government is remarkably blind or politically motivated.

The federal government bore too much blame and is now trying to bear too much responsibility. Why do people expect the federal government to be the chief solution to an essentially state and local problem? The federal government is not especially competent; it's out of their jurisdiction; and it's not as if they don't have enough to do already! And not surprisingly, local officials want boatloads of federal taxpayer dollars while being given as much control as possible over how those resources will be spent.

Far too many people depend on government far too much. Let me get this straight: government failed at all levels—before, during, and after the disaster—so the solution is to get the government much more involved. Hmm…Moreover, for the last 40 years, the federal and state governments have been busy subsidizing bad decisions by individuals through public policy. The result: many people have been left unable to make decisions to promote their own well-being—or unwilling to do so, knowing that the government would probably bail them out. Natural disaster plus government ineptitude plus sin nature equals a debacle of biblical proportions.

Politicians really enjoy spending taxpayer money. President Bush has said that he wants to spend $200 billion post-Katrina and cut spending elsewhere so that overall spending does not increase. He might as well say he'd like to see cows fly. The few Republican fiscal conservatives in Congress have run with this charge by proposing 'Operation Offset"— a plan to reduce pork-barrel highway spending and to postpone the recently-passed prescription benefit for seniors. For their efforts, they have already been brow-beaten by the House leadership. And Bush has repeatedly shown that he has no stomach or backbone for fiscal discipline.

Your taxes will rise dramatically. Bush says that he is committed not to raise taxes. If so, this means an increase in the national debt—in other words, higher future taxes. At this point, Congress is now looking to spend $250 billion—over and above the amount that private insurance will pay in claims. This turns out to be more than $3,300 in taxes from the average family of four—and almost $200,000 per person in the New Orleans MSA before the flood. Honesty and candor would require a mention of the spending's impact on taxes. Unfortunately, another Category-5 hurricane is more likely.

D. Eric Schansberg
Professor of Economics
Indiana University (New Albany)
Adjunct Scholar, Indiana Policy
Review and the Acton Institute
Author, Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian's Guide to Politics and Public Policy

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