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Stuck on stupid XIV: The right way or the Louisiana way

Tell us something we don’t know: failure of government at all levels led to a poorer response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that should have been, according to a report to be released by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Until the report officially is released on Wednesday, look for the mainstream media to spin the report as unfavorably as possible for Pres. George W. Bush’s administration (it likely will be harder to do so when the details are known to all). But that partisan attempt misses the larger point: government as an institution is inherently flawed in its ability to respond quickly and adequately to sudden, large needs because it is government, made inefficient by the lack of a profit motive and by the realities of bureaucratic necessities of impartiality and effectiveness before efficiency.

That understood, theoretically government that is closer to the people – state and local – should be the most responsive of the sluggish bunch because it is the most immediate and least impersonal. Thus, where reform is most urgent is at the state and local levels; reform should occur at all levels, but where it will have the biggest impact is at the lower levels.

To accomplish this, it’s necessary to promote efficiency within government operations and in the organization of government. This is why it is important to have less government at the lowest levels, both in terms of structure and power. And with the latest Louisiana legislative special session half over, it appears from it that lesson at best has been only half-learned.

Part of the problem with the flooding that occurred was because of a fragmented levee governance system. Yet it seems only incomplete consolidation is going to occur, leaving a system still too decentralized to operate at its best and without safeguards to assure the maximal amount of professionalism and minimizing the effect of politicization in flood control. No other state in the country allows its flood control system to be fragmented even to the degree that the legislation that would combine a few, but not most, southeastern Louisiana levee districts, does.

The same is true with making other Orleans governments more efficient. No major city in the country has its property assessment not unified as New Orleans does, yet legislation to unify it was killed. Only the legislation that combines the civil and criminal judicial systems there looks like it will succeed (ironically, it is the only feature that actually is not the only of its kind in America: some states do set up different civil and criminal courts tracks).

Yes, the report makes clear that leadership such as Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s failed in the days before and after Katrina hit. But real leadership occurs way before any disaster happens, in the creation of government institutions best able to mitigate and respond to the effects of a disaster. And (even as the federal government strongly points the state in the right direction) it seems in this session Louisiana’s leaders are failing its citizens on that score as well, stuck on stupid yet again.

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