Sunday, September 11, 2005

Does David Brooks Read the New York Times?

In his column today, David Brooks offers this apologia for the total incompetence of FEMA in response to Katrina:
This preparedness plan is government as it really is. It reminds us that canning Michael Brown or appointing some tough response czar will not change the endemic failures at the heart of this institutional collapse.

So of course we need limited but energetic government. But liberals who think this disaster is going to set off a progressive revival need to explain how a comprehensive governmental failure is going to restore America's faith in big government.
If he had bothered to read the lead story on the front page, he would have discovered the following:
Under the Bush administration, FEMA redefined its role, offering assistance but remaining subordinate to state and local governments. "Our typical role is to work with the state in support of local and state agencies," said David Passey, a FEMA spokesman.
In other words, FEMA failed not because of some inherent inability of government, but because this administration has attempted to get out of the business of government. The reason that FEMA failed (in addition to the fact that Bush had filled the upper ranks with political hacks with no experience or competence in disaster relief) is that, following the Bush party line, it intentionally abdicated its role as the principal source of disaster relief.

National governments have the ability to do things that state and local governments and the private sector cannot do. These smaller entities typically face more immediate financial pressures. By way of example, if New Orleans or Louisiana had attempted to undertake the cost of building a levee system or a massive relief organization-in-waiting, they would have been bankrupt in no time, since businesses would have fled to lower tax jurisdictions. The federal government can undertake these tasks because the American citizenry is not likely to flee to some other country.

Government can provide essential goods and services for its populace that cannot be provided in any other way. When you place the reins of government in the hands of ideologues who do not understand or appreciate the central animating principle of government, you end up with failures like the one that we have seen for the last two weeks. The response to Katrina was not an illustration of some natural limitation on the ability of government to act. Rather, it was a demonstration of the fundamental failure of the ideology of the Republican right which refuses to recognize the necessity of government.

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