Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Disasters and democracy

The basic protection of citizens is a fundamental responsibility of government. Furthermore, since 9/11, "security" has been one of the dominant themes in American politics. But Katrina has revealed failures, at several levels, of government preparation for crisis.

Tyler Cowen argues that this is a structural problem of democracies: elected politicians generally lack the incentives to do disaster preparation right. If this is the case, the current outrage over the Katrina aftermath won't translate into adequate planning for future threats. Politicians will continue to be more interested in appearing serious in the short term than in implementing serious, long-term strategies to prevent and mitigate future disasters.

One way we can do better is to create institutions that depoliticize and professionalize our crisis preparations. On the federal level, we already have a model in the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which makes politically difficult decisions of national importance in a "objective, non-partisan, and independent" manner. Why not develop a similar mechanism to review FEMA/DHS priorities and readiness?


Blogger casey said...

I agree that "outsiders" should review the objectives and success of FEMA/DHS, but I fear that their conclusions might be taken too narrowly by elected officials.

For example, one of the most ubiquitous and obvious changes our gov't implemented after 9/11 was airport security and, to some degree, preventing various forms of terrorism. Unfortunately, hurricanes cannot be stopped in their tracks, and I feel that with all the money poured into "emergency management" our gov't did little to address "emergency response" in its broadest sense. I feel that an evaluation of FEMA/DHS following this disaster would, as such evaluations did after 9/11, focus too much on the most recent catastrophe and overlook other possibilites that have not occured as recently. I, however, have no ideas about how to broaden the imaginations of FEMA/DHS officials. I do not envy them or their tasks.

9/08/2005 12:24 AM  

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