Liberal Goo-Goos vs. Left-Libertarians
You put in power a conservative movement whose attitude toward government was expressed as: "To get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
You voted for President Bush, who approvingly quoted Reagan's phrase, "The most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
Well, they weakened the government, and the government is not there to help.
So get your jaw off the floor.
You cashed your tax rebate check, didn't you? You got what you voted for.
And what's happening in New Orleans is exactly what you voted for.
So any criticism of government as such makes you a fellow traveler with Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist. In the words of good ol' Tail-Gunner Joe, if it walks like a duck....
That post reminds me of a lot of crap I saw immediately after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, with op-ed pieces using the heroism of emergency responders to "prove" that the "anti-government" ideology was nonsense. Some time not long after the OKC bombing, I was listening to a call-in segment on C-SPAN. One caller quoted the Tenth Amendment and made a fairly mainstream statement (the kind you'd hear from Bob Dole) to the effect that the federal government should limit itself to its delegated powers. The next caller sounded on the verge of tears, breathing heavily and her voice shaking: "I'm just so upset, I can hardly talk. That last caller sounded almost like one of those... those militia people!"
Also via Schlosberg, this op-ed piece by John Tierney in the NYT, comparing the successful history of private fire insurance as an organizer of fire safety (as opposed to the federal flood insurance fiasco).
Why is New Orleans in so much worse shape today than New York City was after the attacks on Sept. 11?
The short answer is that New York was attacked by fire, not water. But then why are urbanites so much better prepared to cope with fire than with flooding? Mostly because they learned to fight fire without any help from the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
For most of history, fire was far more feared than flooding. Cities repeatedly burned to the ground. Those catastrophes occurred sporadically enough that politicians must have been tempted to skimp on fire protection - like levee maintenance, it was a long-term investment against a calamity that probably wouldn't occur before they left office.
But urbanites learned to protect themselves through two innovations Benjamin Franklin introduced to America. He started a fire department in Philadelphia, as well as its first fire insurance company. Other cities followed, often with the firefighters organized by insurance companies with a vested interest in encouraging public safety.
Their customers had a vested interest, too, because they had to pay higher premiums if they lived in homes or neighborhoods that were prone to fire....
But as we've learned this week, few people seem to care passionately about maintaining levees or preparing for a predictable flood. They've left that to Washington, which promised to hold back the waters and absolved coastal dwellers from worrying about hurricanes.
Starting in the 1960's, the federal government took over the business of insuring against floods. It offered subsidized insurance to people in flood-prone areas, encouraging seaside homes that never would have been built otherwise. Even at bargain rates, most people went without flood insurance - only about a third of the homes in New Orleans carried it.
Believe it or not, working people have been associating, time out of mind, for purposes of voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. For example, see the classic work on the theme: Kropotkin's Mutual Aid. Or read the sections in E.P. Thompson on sick benefit societies, fraternal lodges, penny schools, and the like, in The Making of the English Working Class. There are a lot of excellent monographs by Bob James on the history of fraternal societies as both mutual aid associations and embryonic labor unions, at Takver's Radical Tradition site. There's also a good essay by Tim Evans at the Libertarian Alliance: "Socialism Without the State"
Such organizations were crowded out by the 20th century welfare state, when the New Class decided that health, education and welfare were the proper domain of "qualified professionals," and that working class self-organization of anything was an embarassing atavism. Colin Ward's Social Policy: an Anarchist Response (Freedom Press 1996) is an excellent starting point for understanding "the welfare road we failed to take." But it's quoted extensively, along with a lot of other good stuff, in these sections of the Anarchist FAQ: "J.5.15 What attitude do anarchists take to the welfare state?" and "J.5.16 Are there any historical examples of collective self-help?" David Beito's From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State is another excellent history of the change.
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