Monday, February 09, 2009

FEMA is the Disaster

The blame game over the response to Katrina was, rightly to some extent, put mostly on Bush for either being uncaring or bad at making appointments. As demonstrated by Jason Taylor at Reason, the problem is the incentives of the system, not who you put at the top:
The ice storm that slammed the American mid-south in the last weekend of January and then moved onward to the East Coast has left an estimated 1.3 million people without power. And nowhere was hit harder than Kentucky, where some 700,000 people lost electricity and 24 deaths were attributed to the storm. Yet President Barack Obama only declared the state a major disaster area this week. What took so long? Where is the presidential compassion for the victims of this tremendous disaster?

The answer is that nothing is wrong and President Obama surely feels for each and every person hurt or put out by the storm. The reality is that even after the emergency management reforms allegedly implemented after Hurricane Katrina, help from far-off Washington still does little in times of fast-moving crisis. This view may be heresy in the age of federal bailouts, but it is still true.
The story is not without its heroes:
Enter David Strange, the enterprising figure the Associated Press calls the "generator man." Strange drove the hills and hollows of backwoods Kentucky delivering and setting up generators to those without power—at a $50 to $100 mark-up over retail. Willing customers included a dialysis patient and a powerless 80-year-old woman dependent on an oxygen system. They called him a "godsend," although Strange prefers "jack of all trades" or even "hustler." To Adam Smith, he would be recognizable as an agent of the invisible hand.

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