Government Failure

The hurricane Katrina crisis is still on-going, but one thing is already crystal clear to me.

The government, at all levels, has failed spectacularly.

From civil engineering, to disaster planning, to communicating with citizens, to preparing resources before the crisis, to deploying resources after the storm, to evacuating victims, to maintaining law and order…the governmental agencies responsible for these things have proven themselves grossly incompetent.

I know that there are many great people working for these agencies who are deeply committed to their missions. But, it’s the nature of these organizations to function in ways that fail to accomplish that mission effectively. There are perverse incentives, and rigid structures that prevent an effective, agile, response to dynamic problems.

One thing about this that I find particularly infuriating is that most people will stare straight at this colossal failure and be unable to propose anything other than more of the same: Higher funding for more planning and better resources, etc. Many people are simply unable to imagine that the proper response to big problems is anything other than more government. They forget all past and present failures and assume that with enough resources, well intentioned bureaucrats will be able to do what they have never demonstrated the ability to do.

Here are a few words from Don Boudreaux:

I understand that the devastation spread by Katrina makes even the most ordinary daily tasks difficult or even impossible to do. There may be good, if regrettable, reasons for why FEMA is taking so long to get water and food to the refugees, and for why there’s too little police presence in the Convention Center. Maybe. But damn it, isn’t it time people reject as a cruel hoax the notion that government possesses superhuman powers and is motivated by angelic intentions? That it can do things that non-political institutions cannot do?

Who can still believe that, when the chips are down and there’s no one left to count on, people can count on their government for basic help?

Katrina, in addition to stripping my hometown of life, unmasked the pretenses of government as savior.

UPDATE: Apparently, not only did the government fail to deliver needed relief to New Orleans, but they prevented the Red Cross from doing it as well.



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