James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Wrong Troops, Wrong Gulf, Wrong Time

My latest at the Partial Observer, on Katrina. Excerpt:

This is what governments do. They misallocate resources. Setting aside any sinister motives and high corruption, even supposedly well-intentioned governments fail to do their job. As the Austrian School of Economics has long held, government planners do not have enough information to establish priorities. You would think that the economic well-being of the Midwest would be a higher priority than the Middle East, that the states of the Gulf of Mexico were more important than the states of the Persian Gulf. That President Bush and Congress would know that the levees of New Orleans were more crucial to America's welfare and security, than the leveling of Fallujah. That they knew their responsibility is to govern the United States, not the world.

But the ambition inherent in politics - the chance for fame and a "place in history," lies in trying to bring peace to the Middle East, in being known as a "courageous wartime leader," in defeating the Hitler of the hour. It doesn't lie in mundane spending bills.

And that's why, in a very real way, we lost New Orleans in the War on Iraq.


  1. I'd never thought of it in those terms. You're absolutely right, though. Excellent post!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that the government did not plan well for this event, nor did it handle the fallout of the hurricane as well as it could have or should have.
    The loss of life and distruction of property have been horrendous. Watching a part of our country go from the first world to the third world in a matter of days is horrible.
    But I wonder what government could fully prepare for an event like we saw. I fear that a more Libertarian government would not want to get involved in the upgrading of the levies. There would be property rights issues involved let alone the “pork barrel” feel that the infrastructure improvement would have.
    A government focused on war in the Persian Gulf and a “war on terror” moves resources away from infrastructure towards the aforementioned wars.
    A more socialist government might do a better job at the infrastructure than any other type of government (Amsterdam comes to mind), but then other things are given up. Just as with the “war on terror” one must decide how much freedom is given up for security.
    Furthermore, there are scientists out there predicting all sorts of catastrophes. When the catastrophes don't happen, we think the planning for them is a waste: pork barrel. When a catastrophe does happen, we look back and say, "We should have..." How much planning (and money) should we put into the possibility of an asteroid strike? How about a huge earthquake that destroys California? How about the bird flu? For every prediction that is fulfilled there are scores of ones that aren’t.
    Last night I was flipping through the radio and came across someone (I don’t know who) comparing America to a rich kid. We have grown up with a silver spoon in our mouth, expecting to have things handed to us. When disaster does strike, we don’t know how to deal with it.
    I honestly think this is much more the problem that we have than the government. People don’t want to waste their taxes on probabilities. We have gotten used to being in the first world and don’t know how to react to a third world event. I don’t have an answer. I just don’t think the question is quite that simple.

    James, I do have another question for you. What is the Libertarian response to disaster relief? Is FEMA something that is important? Does the government have a responsibility to help its citizens when disaster strikes?

  3. James, without reading your site first (I swear, I didn't plagiarize, but have credited Paul Krugman, who writes with many of the facts in hand, today in the NYT), I have echoed your sentiments over on my blog (www.kazablog.com).

    I'm a first time visitor, and I take it from Pastor Gavin that you might consider yourself a Libertarian. He raises some good questions, which I hope you'll respond to. But I also think the Good Minister is a little too kind to the government in power.

    This cannot be compared to an asteroid hit. Hurricanes are a common occurrence in the Gulf coast region. Some have said this is our "tsunami" - even that is a bad analogy. The severity of this hit was magnified by government mis-management, ala some third world countries. The probability of a hit (somewhere) was not really in question (and there will be more, of course).

    In fact, if you're paying attention to the news, you will find stories that indicate this particular disaster was VERY well anticipated. But budget cuts and other priorities (like developing a theocracy in the middle East) have taken precedent.

    America is extremely rich, and the richest have been driving policy decisions in Washington DC for the last few years now. Polls show the average person didn't favor tax cuts, but the Rs and Bush pursued them anyway. The estate tax is next.

    Libertarians probably, to some extent, agree with all that, but I agree on the Pastor's central point. Choices have to be made; certain government (or contracted private) services HAVE to be provided. To operate in advance (where probabilities run high) is only prudent and ultimately much more cost-effective.

    But for a fiscally-irresponsible govt. such as this, the latest events are no surprise. We are broke and over-extended in our foreign mischief. Unfortunately, the worst may be still to come!

  4. Thanks for writing. I have responded in the separate post
    Libertarian Priorities and Disaster Relief

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