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Friday, September 02, 2005

The Newest Deal Does Not Help

Edward Alden, writing in The Financial Times, believes Bush policies have reduced our ability to respond to natural disasters and that the government has abandoned its role set forth in the New Deal. I agree, and this does too.  So does this:

Bush policies have crippled disaster response, by Edward Alden, FT: For a world watching astonished as one of the US’s oldest and proudest cities descended into anarchy this week after Hurricane Katrina, the enduring image will be the crowds of ... Americans pleading to the cameras with a single message: “We want help.” For the past quarter century in Washington, since the Republican Ronald Reagan rode a conservative backlash all the way to the presidency, US politics has been dominated by the conviction that what was wrong with America would be solved by getting government off the people’s backs. … Advocates of limited government have much on their side: the US has enjoyed higher growth rates, lower unemployment and greater economic flexibility than its more heavily taxed European rivals.  … But that is little comfort to the tens of thousands stranded in primitive conditions in New Orleans who are begging for government help, and will face months and years of rebuilding their lives even after it comes.

There are at least three reasons why the hurricane may mark a turning point in the US debate over the role of government. First, the deep tax cuts enacted in 2001 … left no room for government initiatives that might have prevented the catastrophe and increased capacity to respond. The Louisiana Army Corps of Engineers had identified some $18bn (£9.8bn) in projects to shore up the levees and improve flood control in New Orleans after last year’s vicious hurricane season. Despite warnings … that New Orleans would face disastrous flooding even with a category 3 hurricane … none of those projects was funded. Instead, Army Corps funds in the region have fallen by nearly half since 2001, and the Bush administration has proposed a further 20 per cent cut next year. …

Second, despite huge increases in spending to fight the war in Iraq, the hurricane revealed how thinly the US military has been stretched. National Guard units, under the control of state governments, are supposed to be the front line for rescuing people and maintaining law and order in natural disasters. But 3,000 of Louisiana’s guard troops are in Iraq, as are 4,000 from Mississippi, and many of those back home have recently finished gruelling tours in Baghdad. The hurricane forced local authorities to seek help from guard troops in nearby states, but aid has been far too slow in coming for many of those stranded.

Most striking, however, has been how the storm has ruthlessly exposed the poverty that still afflicts a substantial minority of Americans, and has grown worse since Mr Bush pushed through tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefited the well-to-do. … The images of those left behind told the story. While nearly 1m people evacuated the region before the hurricane, New Orleans’ poor – most of them black – were left behind. ... Those who remained were probably not any braver than their wealthier white counterparts. Instead, many did not own cars or otherwise lacked the resources to leave the city. They waited behind and hoped. Many are still waiting.

Pico, a network of faith-based community organisations, says: “We are watching catastrophic failure by public officials to respond to those who are most vulnerable.” The criticism is ironic – as Washington has scaled down taxpayer-funded public services, it has encouraged such faith-based charities to step into the breach. The Salvation Army was the first group to get aid into the ravaged Mississippi Gulf coast, well before any government help arrived. With the New Deal in the 1930s, helping those who could not help themselves became a mission that spawned a vast expansion of government’s role. After a generation of determined effort the conservative movement has succeeded in squelching that mission. In the aftermath of Katrina, its success appears to have come at high cost.

    Posted by on Friday, September 2, 2005 at 02:52 PM in Economics, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (19)

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