Romney Is Right About FEMA

Hurricane Sandy The Day After

Photo: AP

Superstorm Sandy isn’t even done doing its damage, and the knee-jerk punditry is already in full force.Many folks on the left, such as The New York Times editorial board, simply cannot imagine how anything but command-and-control national government can deal with big problems.

Nor can they imagine any other way of measuring government performance than by measuring inputs. If more money is being spent, then by definition government must doing more, doing better. Less money equals fewer services and less value.

Thus we get editorials like this one from The Grey Lady: “A Big Storm Requires Big Government.” Now I am not going to pretend to know exactly how the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be structured and funded, or how responsibilities should be divided between state and national government. But I not going to automatically assume that more funding and more top-down control is the best path, as the newspaper does. This bit of the NYT editorial really irks me:

Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

Let’s recall how one “profit-making” company did during Hurricane Katrina. From the study “Wal-Mart to the Rescue: Private Enterprise’s Response to Hurricane Katrina”:

Wal-Mart arrived in the New Orleans area long before FEMA and had the supplies that the community needed.

Phillip Capitano, mayor of the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, reported that, “the only lifeline in Kenner was the Wal-Mart stores.

In addition to what they sold as a result of quickly re-opening their stores, Wal-Mart also provided a large amount of free merchandise, including prescription drugs, to those in the worst-hit areas of the Gulf Coast.

And here is the author’s conclusion:

The tale of Hurricane Katrina as a massive failure of government at multiple levels is a widely accepted one, even among people normally not inclined to point the finger of blame at government. 

When placed next to FEMA’s failures, the largely untold but very clear story of Wal-Mart’s success illustrates the advantages the private sector has in managing the logistical challenge of resource allocation during a natural disaster

A political economy perspective on Wal-Mart’s heroic performance strongly challenges the belief that with more will, resources, or expertise, government could ever respond effectively to a major disaster…

The New York Times — and the pundits trotting out this editorial to damage the Romney campaign — are doing just what the study warned against, ignoring the other half of the story.

They don’t even consider how markets or decentralization can improve performance. It is the same story with Medicare. They have a model — as old fashioned and obsolete as it is — and they’re sticking with it. Forward?

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