After a week of watching, listening, and reading about one of the most painful episodes in the history of American life, I don't think there is much I can say that hasn't already been said, better. I remember Hurricane Camille, but the human and financial costs of Hurricane Katrina are likely to be the worst ever recorded in the United States. I am only thankful that friends and colleagues who lived in the area (including Journal of Ayn Rand Studies advisor, Eric Mack) survived the storm.
I've read a lot of very interesting, provocative, and instructive commentary from writers such as John Tierney, Stephen Murray, Radley Balko (e.g., here, here, and here), Will Bunch, Wayne R. Dynes, first-person accounts by Geoffrey Allan Plauche (start here, and also see his links to many other interesting libertarian discussions here), and Arthur Silber (e.g., here, here and especially here, with links to that Aaron Broussard appearance on "Meet the Press," which was heartbreaking to watch this past Sunday morning).
I must admit that I am morally outraged by the racist crap that I've read, which poses as sociological analysis in the blogosphere, in such places as this, where we are told that the "plain fact" is that "African-Americans ... tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society." Hence, this writer asks, why are we surprised over the catastrophe of New Orleans? After all, the city is two-thirds black!
I have always appreciated explorations of the sociological effects of interventionism on generations of African Americans, who have been subjected to a history of statist and collectivist coercion, from the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow, and hateful and murderous discrimination to the nightmare of public education, institutionalized poverty, and bureaucratic welfarism. I have no doubt that some of these injustices have affected the social psychology of some African Americans, the way it would affect the social psychology of any other groups in this country, indeed, all groups, to the extent that each is both parasite and host in the grand war of all against all that statism breeds.
But to blame the horrors of New Orleans on the "poorer native judgment" of African Americans is to sink into a fetid pool even worse than the one that has engulfed that city.
Let's not forget either that interventionism creates the underclass it attempts to quell with its welfare policies. Let's not forget either that interventionism creates and bolsters the privileges of other classes and groups through an ever-evolving network of corporatist policies, both domestic and foreign. (As if to emphasize the domestic-foreign connection, Kenneth R. Bazinet informs us "that Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, which has handled much of the repair work as well as support services for the U.S. military in Iraq, was hired to restore power and rebuild three naval facilities in Mississippi that were wrecked by Katrina.")
It would be ideal for local, state, and federal officials to get out of the way, to allow entrepreneurial ingenuity to save the devastated areas of the South. But the structures and institutions of the system will not allow for this. There is a supreme politico-economic boondoggle in the making, in which billions of taxpayer dollars will pass through various levels of government bureaucracy. As Errol Louis puts it: "Ten billion dollars are about to pass into the sticky hands of politicians in the No. 1 and No. 3 most corrupt states in America. Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet."
In the perfect storm of its first few days, the response to Katrina has revealed too the utter failure of local, state, and federal officials to grapple with crisis. It is not very reassuring in this post-9/11 world. It is also not very reassuring to know that tens of thousands of National Guard troops continue to do the work of an international army (hat tip to Ilana Mercer), even as their services are required here at home. There is an inescapable connection between this administration's foreign policy adventure in Iraq and the drain on domestic human and financial resources.
I'd like to make one final observation.
Many readers know the depths of my anguish concerning the nightmare that unfolded in New York City on September 11, 2001. This Thursday, I will be posting the next installment of my annual World Trade Center tribute (the remembrances are archived on each tribute page, starting here).
I was asked by several readers if I thought the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was worse than 9/11.
I think the question compares apples and oranges.
The devastation of a natural disaster of this magnitude (and the accompanying man-made mismanagement) is worse on almost every level: Concerning New Orleans alone, we have witnessed the virtual obliteration of an entire city, with economic effects that will last decades. The thousands of deaths, the billions of dollars in property lost or damaged beyond repair, are simply hard to fathom.
But on another level, of course, 9/11 is worse: It was an attack, an act of war, which, unlike a hurricane, caught its victims completely unaware. The mismanagement of pre-9/11 intelligence and post-9/11 foreign policy adds yet another dimension to the level of tragedy entailed.
I think it matters not, however, to those who have been victims of the respective tragedies, to engage in a fruitless debate over whose hurt, whose pain of loss, is worse. There are certain things over which people have no control. All that matters is that they improve their ability to manage the things they can control, so that disasters of any kind are not an occasion for yet one more day of national mourning.
Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.