Around 6pm October 29, 2012 Congressman Robert Edwards, on MSNBC said – as Hurricane Sandy menaced our still-not-completely-healed-from-Irene shoreline mentioned the following: Anyone who criticizes public servants needs to walk a mile in their shoes today. They’re doing a great job!” And indeed they are: Atlantic City – for the most part – was evacuated ahead of the storm. Corey Booker spoke at length about his city’s preparations, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appeared in front of cameras to list with his patented efficiency the important numbers to call and the fact that all bridges, tunnels, and subways would be closed. By all accounts, our elected officials and their administrations – even hizzoner – have performed admirably. But it’s the rank and file members of the road crews, the uniformed services – police, fire, National Guard, Coast Guard, and public hospitals that will do most of the caring for folks during and after Sandy’s passing.
The honorable man from New Jersey stopped just short of a diatribunal exposition on middle class values and public finance, but the implicit understanding was there. It even reverberated at the angst ridden replaying of Mitt Romney proclaiming proudly that Federal Disaster relief is “irresponsible.” But our responsibility at present is to examine this from a public administration angle. During the past several months of the vehemently contested political campaigns, much has been made of the trope: “We built that.” The Ron Paul mantra of not caring for those lacking in enough foresight to have built their residences in flood zones, on fault lines, or directly in the normal travel paths of hurricanes has been one of the defining themes in the election season. But this brings up the very economic principle which is the bane of every Tea Partier’s existence: the free rider principle. Yes, this very theme has been used as an indicator of bloated government and a clarion call for the imposition of draconian “efficiencies,” with the inherent implication being that private industry will fill in where government can, or should, not.
Private industry, however, does not protect the general populace, or risk their lives in their rescue, or design region-wide evacuation plans solely for the benefit of the people. Private industry’s entire objective is to make money, and that is, indeed, a worthwhile endeavor. However, likewise, on the back end of the Frankenstorm, and the fast on its heels, impending Snowpocalypse, private industry is not releasing billions of dollars in disaster relief funds for the reconstruction of residential areas. Certainly, private insurers will send funding for properties of those who have been able to afford it. Major infrastructure, however – our very own Tappan Zee Bridge, for example – or repowering everywhere in Manhattan south of 38th Street, or anything that can be considered for public benefit are also funded publicly. The depth and breadth of the manpower required for repairs, future tech, planning, new construction, and management is going to be tremendous. Jobs – both private and public, will literally be popping up all over the place.
The American populace will have to become reacquainted with the idea that government does, in fact, create jobs. When those disaster relief funds are released, they will go to a variety of public agencies. But those very same agencies, as well as local governments, will undoubtedly – from the sheer volume of work overflow, begin contracting with any local businesses with appropriate capacity and resources to handle as much as they can. This, then, is the most significant evidence that government does, in fact do what private industry cannot: protect the general populace, including those who are its greatest detractors, and help reemploy the region’s residents afterwards.
This is the second cyclone, although undoubtedly the more fierce of the two, in as many years to slam into New York. Last year’s caused damages in excess of $1 Bn. This year’s storm, given the dispersion of damages across more than just the mid-Atlantic region, is on track to well exceed that total. Since more frequent, more intense storms is an outgrowth of the global climate change for which we are directly responsible, since we have the capability to reverse the trend, repower America, and reapply ourselves in the area of energy development, we have to make a serious assessment, and a completely different set of choices regarding our futures in terms of safety, security, and survivability. That choice is not the direction that Mr. Romney would like to take us.