Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Better Not Bigger

Walter Russell Mead on Hurricane Sandy and the Perils of Nanny State Governance:

Here in New York we have a very busy government. It’s worried about the kinds of fats we eat and the size of the soft drinks we buy, and there is no shortage of regulations affecting businesses, street vendors, and individuals. But in all this exciting fine tuning, nobody seems to have bothered to think about the much greater task of keeping floodwaters out of the subway system. Admittedly, getting public support and finding the money for flood protection would be hard, but it is exactly that kind of hard job that governments are supposed to do. Leadership is getting the important things done, not looking busy on secondary tasks while the real needs of the city go quietly unmet.

The problem with nanny state governance isn’t just that it’s intrusive. It isn’t just that it stifles business with over-regulation, and it isn’t just that it empowers busybodies and costs money. It’s that it distracts government from the really big jobs that it ought to be doing.

Mayor Bloomberg has done an admirable job under great pressure as the city reels from Sandy’s attack. But an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. The city needed flood protection for its subways and electricity grid—and it didn’t get it. If the Mayor had spent less time and less of his political capital focusing on minutiae, this storm could have played out very differently.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, liberals are rushing to try to use the storm to show why bigger government is necessary while also falsely positing that if conservatives had their way there would no government resources available to deal with such serious situations. When it comes to government the choice isn’t between more and none. What conservatives want is government that’s capable and competent to do the things it should do and nothing more. Mead makes a great and underappreciated point that when the government engages in such activities as telling people how big their sodas are going to be it’s not only getting involved in areas that it shouldn’t, it’s diminishing its ability to do those things that it rightly should be doing.

An editorial in today’s WSJ also shows that the charge that Romney wants to do away with FEMA is a deceitful one

The rap on Mr. Romney seems to be that he once said emergency management could be done well and perhaps better at the state level, and he also endorsed Paul Ryan's House Republican budget.

Let's look at the record. Regarding the budget for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), Mr. Obama's own fiscal 2013 budget sought $10.008 billion. That was a cut of $641.5 million, or 6.02%, from fiscal 2012. We couldn't find an apples-to-apples comparison in the Ryan budget resolution, because FEMA spending was part of a larger category and the Senate never did pass its budget. But if budget cuts to FEMA are the liberal standard, their beef is with Mr. Obama. By the way, Mr. Romney says he doesn't want to abolish FEMA.

None of which means that FEMA is above reform. Matt Mayer of the Heritage Foundation has found that annual FEMA disaster declarations have multiplied since the Clinton years and have reached a yearly average of 153 under Mr. Obama. That compares to 129.6 under George W. Bush, 89.5 under Mr. Clinton, and only 28 a year under Reagan. Mr. Mayer argues that taxpayers and storm victims would be better served if FEMA devoted itself to helping out in the biggest disasters, such as Sandy, and not dive in at every political request for assistance.

Again, when conservatives talk about reforming government, it doesn’t mean eliminating it entirely. It means defining the proper scope and scale of government activity which would allow it to focus on the things it should be doing and do them well. Conservatives want good government. Good doesn’t mean more.