Friday, September 02, 2005

Natural Disasters and the Minimal State

America is the greatest, undisputed power in the world but it seems that it is not able to adequately deal with the devastating results of the Hurricane Katerina. Many blame the current American President for lack of decisiveness in dealing with this situation but there is enough evidence to suggest that the very structural nature of the US system is weak in confrontation with such natural disasters. True enough, it is doubtful that any country in the world would be able to stand up to such a challenge in an adequate manner, however, several indicators suggest that, to an extent, the nature of the libertarian ethos of the United States to a large extent renders the state structurally weak in confrontation with such natural disasters. Natural disasters require decisive action on behalf of the state, societal solidarity just cannot do. Such situations require sometimes almost complete neglect of private property and entrenched understanding of individual liberty.

In the case of Katerina, the US Government proclaimed the state emergency, urged the population to evacuate the area of New Orleans but did nothing substantial to facilitate their retreat. One cannot escape the images on one hand of the middle class New Orleans leaving the city in their cars well before the Hurricane and on the other hand, poor, almost 100% African-American population that had nowhere to go, that remained in the city to the mercy of the scarcely efficient relief effort.

Would it be different in European states with a more entrenched culture of the extensive state? I believe so, at least the state would have much less to worry about in the case of forceful removal of the population from the areas threatened by natural disasters. Moreover, it would be much easier to spend and justify money employed for such an action. Once upon a time a close friend of mine, a convinced libertarian from the US, told me provocatively, referring to the penal code in most of the Continental European Countries imposing the Good Samaritan behavior on the citizens in cases of emergency where the life of others is under threat, and the absence of such legislation in the US, “no one needs to tell us Americans to help our neighbor”. Coming back to the case of state reaction in the case of natural disasters I wish to advance a provocative claim that a libertarian state lacks the culture and instruments able to deal with natural disasters in an adequate manner.

This is not to lead one to the logical conclusion that undemocratic totalitarian states deal perfectly with natural or other types of disasters (look at the reaction of the Soviet Union post and prior to the Chernobyl catastrophe). It is just to argue against the arrogant libertarian conviction that a minimal state is better than a more extensive one in absolute terms and that the invisible hand of the market has the propensity to mend everything. At the end of the day, if nothing else, the disaster caused by the Hurricane Katerina de-masked the nature and structural weakness of the American deeply socially and economically divided system. More extensive state does not necessarily react better in such situations but it has a positive effect on human solidarity, to express myself bluntly, people are more used to be forced to give to the others, in such states individual citizens do not need to write signs such as “Keep away or die”, and at the end of the day there are much less weapons around, so the state comparatively easier job of dealing with the vacuum of law and order.


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Anonymous said...

After reading your blog I have to say that as an American it is amazing to me that someone separated by an ocean can see more clearly what is going on in America than many of the American citizens. You bring up several good points, however, I must respectfully disagree with your thesis. It is not the fault of our form of government, it is the fault of the Bush administration.

In order to fully understand the dynamics of the American government at this point in history, one must look no further than the 2004 election results. Upon taking the time to read the House Committee Report regarding the irregularities in the Ohio polling districts, one can quickly see that George Bush was not elected by the people of America. Had the citizens had fair, uninhibited access to the polls Mr. Bush would be just another Texas oil man.

Further, the 2000 election was again plagued with problems. If you will recall, at that time it was Florida that won George Bush the election. After a laborious recount, it was declared that Mr. Bush won Florida, thus the election. However, again there was much speculation as to the accuracy of the recount. So, I submit to you that at this point in time, America has no more a democracy than Iraq does.