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.