9/07/2005

Ronald Reagan Was Right

Listening to all the complaints about the "slowness" of the response of the Federal government to Hurricane Katrina, I'm struck by the eagerness of people to increase the size and power of the government. That of course ignores the fact that adding additional layers of bureaucracy makes the government less responsive, not more. As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, "A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you've got."

The call for more centralized government power ignores the fact that there is a reason we have multiple levels of government. Jefferson felt that the closer the government was to the governed, the more freedom we would enjoy. He was a big fan of local government, and with good reason. The President doesn't just take over from incompetent local and state officials (Yes, Mayor Ray "Buses" Nagin and Governor Kathleen "Hamlet" Blanco, I'm talking about you.) even if it would make it easier to get things done. We have a system of laws that circumscribe the behavior of even our most powerful leader.

The answer to this problem is not to increase the size, scope and power of the federal government. To every crisis or disaster, the response is to layer on another level of government to respond to it. That misses the point entirely.

The disaster of Katrina stems from a human failure. The failure is not one of imagination. Brendan Loy, a 23 year old grad student at Notre Dame by the way, blogged the entire storm--correctly predicting what was coming several days in advance. It's not that he is a brilliant meteorologist; he just took time to read what the National Hurrican Center said and read the reports issued by state and federal governments about what would happen in a hurricane. The bottom line is that we knew what was coming...we just didn't want to believe it and act on it. Had the local and state governments done what their own disaster preparedness plans called for, the human tragedy would have been greatly abated. It still could not have been completely prevented.

As Americans, we have a wildly unrealistic view of the world and our place in it. We think somehow that we are (or should be) immune from natural disasters that strike others. And on a certain level, many blame the government when reality sets in and we find out we are not. It is not the government's job to prevent every imaginable bad thing that could happen. Reagan was right...a government that size is a threat to every freedom we cherish, not just a protection from disasters.

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