If You Don’t Believe Government Can Do Anything, Don’t Expect It To

In the previous post, I discussed “predictable outcomes” when it comes to regulatory weakness or lax enforcement in creating man-made disasters.  I said they were due to political ideology or short-term economic concerns.  There’s another type of disaster which can happen, when problems from a natural event end up being magnified into a man-made one.  These stem from political ideology.   Recently, a polar vortex moved south, and created winter storm  conditions in the South.  The result?  Atlanta, Georgia became a parking lot.  It wasn’t the only area in the South affected,  Birmingham, Alabama had similar issues.

A day after up to 3 inches of snow in parts of Georgia caused horrific gridlock on ice-covered streets — particularly in metropolitan Atlanta where thousands were trapped on the roads overnight — several major thoroughfares remained a mess due to lingering accidents and other problems.

In neighboring Alabama, there was a similar scene playing out. “There are still four or five areas on our interstates that are still treacherous. The traffic is still proceeding very slowly, but we are making progress,” Gov. Robert Bentley said.

Aside from Northerners indulging in some schadenfreude over the Southerners’  problems with what they would consider “no big deal,”  what was remarkable was the disjointed, and inept response by various governmental entities:

Wednesday night, Reed defended his storm response, noting government officials “have a shared responsibility.”

“But, I want to state clearly, I don’t have jurisdiction to clear interstate highways in the city of Atlanta,” he said. “I’m responsible for the streets that are in the city of Atlanta. And, as of today — one day into a severe weather event — we got our streets cleaned. We kept our hospitals open. We kept our people safe, and the city of Atlanta is running again.”

Mainly, they first tried to blame the weather services for not predicting it (they did), then slough off responsibility for X onto someone else.  All through the various government agencies, state and local.  Calling it, as some did, a “once in a lifetime event” overlooks that Atlanta went through another snowstorm … three years ago.   But, there’s a reason why this happened, and it’s not strictly due to incompetence.

This is the result of a consistent, long-term political ideology that stresses “small government, low taxes,” which results in … lots of small governments,

“Exaggerated individualism” is a pretty good description of the Southern approach to politics—especially in Georgia, which has more counties than any state in the country except Texas. “Atlanta” is actually a 10-county metropolitan region which is home to more than 4 million people and 68 separate municipalities. In some places, such an amalgamation might make people think about consolidating services. Not in Atlanta: In Fulton County alone, home to most of the city proper, three suburban municipalities have formed their own governments just since 2005 in an effort to distance themselves from the urban problems of their big-city neighbor, and there’s a growing push among residents of the affluent northern end of the county to form a whole new county, as if Georgia doesn’t already have enough of those.

and an aversion to taxes,

Exhibit A here is the failure in 2012 of a massive $7.2 billion transportation initiative, which would have paid for sorely needed regional highway improvements and funneled $600 million into the Atlanta Beltline, an innovative proposal to link neighborhoods in the city by light rail, using 22 miles of abandoned cargo lines left over from Atlanta’s heyday as a railroad hub. To which the voters of the metropolitan Atlanta area said: Hell, no.

along with pushing a mantra “personal responsibility.”  You can see it in the comment sections on those news stories, where various comments remark that people should have “taken responsibility” to keep their children home from school or stayed home from work if they were concerned about the weather.  I’m sure that employers and school districts wouldn’t have bought that excuse if the snow storm hadn’t arrived.

Several years ago, in a management book, I saw a statement:  When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.  That’s what’s happened here.  Take a look at the government structures, and the underlying philosophies.  Many “small governments,” each with their own “turf,” limited powers, a belief that government shouldn’t do many things, and an unwillingness to tax to build what might be considered “obvious” improvements.   Consistent with conservative ideology, and  ignoring the big picture.  It’s when something happens – like a snowstorm, that those same things cause utter chaos.  It’s predictable, and it’ll happen again.  Maybe not a snowstorm, but some other disaster will happen, and they’ll once again be faced with a paralysis of the public infrastructure while government entities busily proclaim “not my problem” or “put the blame on this other person (agency).”

What’s also predictable?  People in those areas will complain about the lack of government action and competence.  They shouldn’t, because for the past several decades, that’s what they’ve been voting for!   Yes, they’ve been reliably voting for small government, low taxes, and saying that personal responsibility is paramount.   In other words, they don’t believe that government can do anything, and they’ve made sure that it can’t.  The only surprise?  That they expected it to.  They shouldn’t have.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “If You Don’t Believe Government Can Do Anything, Don’t Expect It To

  1. “Many “small governments,” each with their own “turf,” limited powers, a belief that government shouldn’t do many things, and an unwillingness to tax to build what might be considered “obvious” improvements.”

    Phillip Pilkington wrote a great article here expressing this same sentiment.

    ” … the libertarian paradigm is ridiculous. It rests on the idea that people exist as atoms in a world where each atom has no effects on other atoms except through completely free contractual arrangements. As a starting premise for a political philosophy this should be ridiculous to anyone who is not completely mentally insulated from the world around them. What such fantasies then generate is the obverse nonsense that any form of paternalism by the state is basically as bad as a forced labour camp or something similar.”

    • Good read, and quite right. :-) Over the years I’ve noticed that quite a few “ideal political systems” are more “ideal” when they’re theoretical, or only applied on the very small scale. :roll:

      • “Over the years I’ve noticed that quite a few “ideal political systems” are more “ideal” when they’re theoretical, or only applied on the very small scale”

        Thanks to the internet, any one nut job with an idea can develop a small following and if they are really clever, it may get the attention of the MSM, who no longer seem to bother to do any in-depth investigation of the subject matter anymore :-(

  2. Not much of what a libertarian spouts holds up to scrutiny. And people have such a limited ability to see that their vote affects their lives.

    • IMHO, libertarianism is a form of sociopathy. The idea that we are all somehow “independent agents,” along with seeing themselves as such isn’t matched by objective reality.

      Very few people tend to think that their votes affect their lives, and they should, particularly when it comes to local or regional offices. They’re often short-sighted when it comes to what they think they want now, as opposed to what is necessary. It’s the sort of thing where they’ll scream demanding gas taxes (which pay for road construction and maintenance) be cut, then scream because the roads … aren’t built or maintained. :roll:

      • wileywitch

        Libertarianism has no place for children— it’s completely antisocial.

        I think the feds need to tell mayors and governors that they need to get on the ball, raise taxes, and learn what they need to learn to handle disastrous weather conditions that they’re not accustomed to. In spite of the “global” in global warming, the effects are local. These state, municipal, and county pols need to know that “Uncle Sugar” isn’t going to to come rescue everyone after every wrecking storm.

        It’s time to talk about state and local responsibilities. Those who don’t want to pay taxes can just deal with the consequences on their own, and see where that gets them. We’re long past the point that we can afford to indulge in denial and ideological codswallop.

        • I don’t necessarily think the federal government should tell them these things, since many of these issues have always been considered “local or state.” I don’t expect the federal government to plow the roads or run the water & sewer systems. What incidents like the Atlanta snowstorm showed to me is that the philosophy of “low taxes, (very) small government(s)” can get to an extreme where it is counter-productive. For example, here in the Northeast, it’s not just that we’re used to having snow, we’re also aware that we need to have a government capability to remove it and defined areas of responsibility. Oh, and that we’re going to have taxes to pay for it. We also have defined “who makes the call” and “who’s in charge” plans, up to and including the governor. When you don’t believe in government capabilities to begin with, and don’t give it resources to handle capabilities it should have you end up with … massive parking lots instead of highways.

  3. Cappadonna

    To Paraphrase the Rapper Mos Def, the government isn’t a giant coming down from the village to visit the town people. If we’re screwed up, the government is screwed up.

    My sister was complaining about the snow storm in ATL. Other than trolling my big sis, the other matter is exactly what you’re talking about – people buying the Ayn Rand/Koch Bros BS about small government than whining when they need the fed or the state do something. Then, instead of realize that we handicapped the government to do anything, we simply see it as confirmation and bias and double down on our right wing ‘starving the beast’.

    • The other aspect is that by fragmenting the responsibility – i.e.; “small governments” – you end up with “nobody is responsible.” I’ve lived in the southern states, and I’m well aware that there’s no way they’re prepared for a winter storm. I can even see how it’s somewhat justified, although as some of us pointed out to them, we don’t have dedicated snowplows and salting trucks. We just hook them onto existing trucks that get used year-round. ;-) But what incidents like this show is that anything which has a serious impact, particularly on traffic, they’re unable to deal with. If a tornado cut some of the roads off, or a tropical storm blew through, they’d be in just as bad a shape.