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Many lessons left unlearned from hurricane disasters

Today being the second anniversary of breached levees in New Orleans, it’s depressing to note that many have learned no meaningful lessons from the aftermath, although a few rays of hope are out there.

The typical ignorant response is found in what appears to be an opinion column written by Ron Fourner, who usually covers national politics for the Associated Press. Fournier attempts to link what’s going on in New Orleans on a number of public policy fronts with the remainder of the nation. Implicit in his message is that big government needs to increase its presence in order to cure what continues to ail New Orleans, and by extension the rest of the country. Some examples:

Health care: Fournier writes a big crisis has come because of the lack of its provision, particularly because the uninsured use emergency rooms and other inefficient methods which drives up costs, and while the storms created the crisis of supply in New Orleans, nationwide it’s employers reducing coverage. What he either doesn’t know or understand is that the charity hospital system in Louisiana deliberately encourages this kind of care, which existed long before the storms and nationwide it is increasing governmental intrusion into and provision of health care that discourages employers from offering health care benefits (what business in their right mind would compete against the entire federal government).

Infrastructure: he cites underinvestment in it as a growing problem, but in New Orleans the real problem has been too much government spending too inefficiently. The patchwork of agencies that oversaw flood control, including the cumbersome Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans which now sends out dire warnings of water system failure, contributed to weakening defenses prior to the storms of 2005. However, the inefficiencies of its past uses of resources helped contribute to the problem, including rejection of privatization prior to the disasters.

Education: Fournier decries the state of education in Orleans both before and after the storms, and sees it as a harbinger of things to come nationally. But if he were accurate, he would have observed it is a failure of government-run education, because charter schools which have many fewer government restrictions placed on them have done spectacularly well in Orleans in the past two years. He fails to point out that reduced government involvement in education and institution of voucher systems are the surest way to increase the quality of education for all.

Crime: he states correctly that the legal “system that was at the brink of collapse before Katrina,” which encouraged criminal activity, but fails to add that, once again, big government was to blame for this situation. A fragmented judicial system with soft-on-crime attitudes and unreliable police forces, all caused by too much tolerance for corruption and willingness for politicization, put the Orleans system into such sad shape. Reduced bureaucracy and attitudes that did not look at it as a place for patronage and payoffs would have withstood much better the collapse after the disasters.

Garbage in, garbage out; in the final analysis, Fournier is so spectacularly wrong because his approach is ahistorical: he doesn’t seem to get that big government in New Orleans, and Louisiana, through its inefficiency and increased propensity for corruption, created these problems exacerbated by the emergency conditions created by the hurricane disasters. He reveals as such when he laments the loss of confidence Americans have institutions of all kinds – blind to the reality that it is not institutions that create progress in America, but individuals not impeded by government who voluntarily (through markets, philanthropy, communities, etc.) come together to do so.

And here is where there shines a ray of hope that somebody gets it. Over in New Orleans East, a number of individuals with minimal government assistance have gone about making tremendous progress rebuilding. But even they are being held back by local government because one of the few things government can do not badly is public safety, and their efforts are being threatened by rampant crime.

Two years later, many have learned nothing from the 2005 hurricane disasters by their failing to acknowledge that more government and by itself more government money are not going to bring New Orleans back. Needed changes in attitudes which existed long before encountering the storms must precede all else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no more brilliant or honest observor of LA politics and history than Prof.Sadow. This state is lucky to have him.