Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Balanced Government and Disasters

Well, I was over at my personal page, replying to comments on my latest post. Such a mundane topic of rain came up, which naturally got the old brain a-working.

I had heard maybe a week ago on the radio that particularly in Texas and Oklahoma, the central-southern states had been pounded with some heavy rains, to the point that certain communities might be declared disaster areas, the newsman speculated.

So, I got to thinking about balanced government, of course, and how the reaction to a "disaster" is different in a balanced vs. imbalanced scenario.

Today, when a storm hits, the feds rush in to "save the day" and declare the affected area a "disaster area." This ostensibly frees up the feds to marshall resources to communities that need them. Except... didn't we have a pretty big storm a couple years ago that proved this model doesn't work as effectively as the most local spheres taking charge?

There were lots of lessons to take away from Katrina. Like, don't hire your buddy for FEMA Chief if he's not qualified for the job. Well, true, but more importantly: the federal government is too big, distant and slow to respond to the needs of citizens when you get right down to it. And on the heels of that: self-governing people are the best responders to disasters like Katrina.

Now obviously, when a genuine disaster hits (Katrina's estimated cost: $80 billion), states are going to need help. In a more balanced government, however, we'd witness states helping each other out more often before rushing off to call in the feds.

Something like this happened in my neighborhood on a small scale a few years back. After a pretty strong storm, an enormous tree branch was hanging down off of one of the neighbor's trees, laying partially attached in the middle of the yard. Three of the neighborhood guys were attempting to turn the branch and dislodge it from the main trunk, with no success (bunch of Sallies). Naturally, I came along and volunteered my services and the four of us were able to dislodge the bugger; then the chainsawing could commence. If you have a meat head like me in your family, take heart: even we have our moments of glory, although it usually involves lifting heavy objects.

I think this is a fine analogy to illustrate how a more balanced government would work. Before calling in the cops (or the public works department, or a tree cutting service, or whatever) we all grabbed hold of the problem and turned it around.

This is not to say that there shouldn't be times when the feds might have to step in and lend a hand - use the same analogy and have the entire tree knock down some power lines for the whole block. Clearly, this is something that a handful of neighbors aren't equipped to handle. Yet, there is much that we can do for our neighbors when they need help without running off at the first sign of difficulty to get some help from the "authorities."

Lord knows that the lesson from Katrina was that there are times when the "authorities" aren't going to be able to help you, and you need to count on your own wits and the help of your community.


Terry Morris said...

MT, you'll recall that I told a similar story off-blog with regard to our most recent ice storm here in Okie land.

To inform the readers, we had an ice storm that literally leveled trees across whole communities in my area back in February this year.

My little area did not escape the effects of all that ice on our trees and powerlines. And in fact we had a large tree fall across my road directly in front of my driveway completely blocking the only passage for neighboring motorists dumb enough to brave the elements.

So, I who count myself a rather 'self-governing' individual, broke out the ol' chainsaw and began sawing on the tree in question. It weren't long before I realized that I'd neglected the sharpening of the chain, as well as that of providing myself with a new one to replace it. But as I was working to literally burn my way thru' the tree in question one of my neighbors happened along with a sharp chainsaw, and he and I removed the unseemly obstacle.

Interestingly enough it wasn't but a few days later that the neighbor in question came by my house with a pickup load of water provided by fema, as our water was out for about two weeks. I politely refused the offer asking that my allotted portion be divided among others in the community given that I'd made provision for my own.

But I'll tell y'all something, a good way to clear large trees around your house of accumulations of ice is to break out the old 12Ga. shotgun and start blasting away. But you better have plenty of ammunition on hand, I can tell you that.

The EPA'd probably have a cow if they knew I'd done that! Y'all keep that just between us, ok? ;)


Michael Tams said...

I do indeed recall the story of the ice storm, although I have to confess I can't recall the part about the water supply, and that you had provided for your own.

You know, it might behoove the readership to do a piece (or a series) on emergency preparedness. What do you think?


P.S. You... shot your trees? I mean, I understand not being a tree hugger, but being a tree shooter? That's great.

P.P.S. Reminds me of a comedy bit (maybe Steven Wright?). The comic says he's a vegetarian not because he loves animals, but because he hates vegtables, LOL.

Maggie said...

I work for an insurance corporation and there's a lot of buzz about the role of the government in insuring high risk areas, such as along the coasts or on fault lines. Many would like to federalize wind or water insurance, or at least have the government provide a bail-out for the companies when disaster hits hard.

This situation exists in many places already on the state level... in Florida a lot of homeowners are with Citizens, which is the government-backed "insurer of last resort." It takes a special kind of insanity to write homeowners policies in the hurricane-prone areas, and I know my company is no longer writing any new property policies in California. When the private market can't or won't provide a vital service, most people think the government has a responsibility to step in.

But the problem with putting government in charge of insurance is that when the worst happens, the taxpayers are stuck paying massive amounts to settle claims. If wind storm insurance was federalized, people in Michigan would end up footing some of the bill for homeowners who chose to live, say, in the Carolinas. Not fair, and not really the proper role of the government.

Michael Tams said...


Right you are. I might add that the truly self-governing would probably choose not to live in areas with a high propensity for natural disasters. Something about a keen sense of self-preservation sort of makes the idea of facing down hurricanes every year seem pretty foolish.