Question for Gov. Romney

What’s the “small-government” approach to the Frankenstorm?

Since you believe that corporations, nonprofits, and the states – in that order – are all more efficient than the federal government, do you believe that the National Weather Service should stop tracking Sandy and that FEMA should keep stay out of the relief effort?

If not, why not?

Update My apologies to Gov. Romney for asking a question he had already answered. Yes, he thinks that the federal government should not help victims of national disasters: that it’s “immoral” to do so on borrowed money.

KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.

Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.

Do you think that any reporter will have the nerve to ask Romney, right now, whether he thinks that the victims of Sandy should be left to the mercies of the private sector, that “it makes no sense” for the federal government to offer them relief? Or ask Chris Christie whether he’d really prefer to have FEMA just butt out?

Neither do I. But a fella can dream, can’t he?

Obviously this isn’t an issue for Obama to raise now. He needs to stand back and let FEMA do its work, with maybe a single TV appearance to update the country on the situation and encourage donations of money and goods where needed.

But once the storm is past and the relief effort underway in, for example, coastal Virginia – say, about this coming Friday – he might want to mention that Mitt Romney opposed storm relief, just as he opposed the auto bailout.

Footnote Yes, it’s true. I’m in Charlottesville, where we’re expecting high winds, power outages, and flooding – UVa just cancelled classes for tomorrow, with the storm not even due to arrive until evening – and I’m much more concerned about the election than I am about the details of the relief effort. Hurricane Mitt is a Cat-6 storm that would last four or eight years. Storm relief efforts are urgent; winning the election is important.

Oh, and I know it’s rude to mention it, but one of the predicted impacts of global warming is increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Like this one.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

37 thoughts on “Question for Gov. Romney”

  1. I probably wouldn’t agree with Romney on this; however, I can certainly imagine a reasonable answer to your question…

    First, he said “productive,” not “efficient.” Second, the question is patently unfair. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to change management models in the midst of a crisis.

    There could, however, be legitimate arguments for models that get the government out of managing weather forecasting and disaster relief supply. If there was no National Weather Service, there would be a need for business and consumers to have accurate weather projections, and a for-profit or non-profit model would certainly fill the void. If there was no FEMA, non-profits like The Red Cross would be there to help, and certainly some for-profit enterprises to supply materials, contracted for by states, localities, or non-profit groups.

    Yes, it would be valid (and important) to have a discussion on which model would work better (and what the definition of “better” is), but it’s certainly a potentially viable option for consideration.

    1. I think that weather forecasting presents the classical free rider problem from basic econimics which illustrates the nature of a public good. Just as the armed forces cannot defend the neighborhood across town without defending mine, the national weather service cannot warn my neighbors without warning me when a hurricane approaches.

    2. “And a non-profit or for-profit model would certainly fill the void”.

      Tautological. Please provide more details about how and why this would happen, without resorting to “it would” statements.

      1. Simple. Look at mapping. No government agency provides mapping information, but there is a global need for people to find out how to get to their destinations, and so various companies not only took the amazing expense of mapping out the entire country, but even providing additional benefits like tracking traffic, etc., and there is a market for this with smartphones, etc.

        With weather, if there was no national weather service, every newspaper and television weather report would be willing to pay for accurate weather information, rather than have none, because their viewers/readers would demand it. Airlines would also pay for this information, along with farm bureaus and others.. Competing companies might spring up and the one with the best technology for better predictions would gain the largest market share.

        Sure, you can provide it for “free” using taxpayer funding, but that’s not the only model.

        1. = = = Simple. Look at mapping. No government agency provides mapping information, = = =

          Other than the US Geological Survey, the US Navy, the US Army, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of the Interior, numerous state and county government agencies including but not limited to state geological surveys and parks departments, the US Post Office, the US Dept of Transportation (for roads and rails, apart from the FAA already mentioned), the 57 federal and state highway departments, county and city highway departments, and community-owned electric utilities from your local co-op up to Bonneville Power Administration, you’re right: “no government agency provides mapping information”.

          Where the heck do you think the data in your Garmin, Mapquest, and Google Maps _originated_?!?

          Cranky

          1. Yes, I know: over the last 5 years Google has really improved what they started with (of course, so has Open Street Map which doesn’t have a profit motive). Without detailed USGS and highway maps to program their little Google Mapping Cars with in the first place they would have gotten exactly as far as the nearest cliff.

            Cranky

          2. But aside from the Aqueducts, Sanitation, and Public order, what have the Romans ever done for us?

  2. Wal-Mart, and I suppose other retailers, has done market research on what people need and want most after a weather disaster and stock up accordingly. Hopefully, they’ll have enough space for that much beer and Pop-Tarts®.

      1. Handy for those who can get in their cars, drive to WalMart over reasonably clear streets, get what they need, and drive home with their supplies. Also if enough WalMart workers can get there to handle the crowds.

        Not so handy if WalMart runs out, streets are blocked, you lack a car, need shelter, need to be rescued from a damaged home, need medical attention, and so on (others welcome to add items).

  3. Not only do the existing private weather services rely on NWS data, but meteorologists and climatologists I’ve spoken to have told me you’re more likely to get an accurate forecast from the NWS, which doesn’t have the same incentives to sensationalize weather events that the private services have.

  4. Yes, let’s whittle the power and assets of we, the people, down to bare bones, and hand all the rest of it to Wall Street. That’ll be REALLY great for the 99%.

  5. Yes, let’s whittle the power and assets of we, the people, down to bare bones, and hand all the rest of it to government. That’ll be REALLY great for the 99%.

    1. I disagree. I think we need to keep the 99% prosperous, and that we need to have a strong government of we, the people, to keep absolute power out of the hands of a few super-rich jerks.

      1. I disagree. I think we need to keep the 99% prosperous, and that we need to have a strong private sector of we, the people, to keep absolute power out of the hands of a few politicians and bureaucrats.

  6. “Do you think that any reporter will have the nerve to ask Romney, right now, whether he thinks that the victims of Sandy should be left to the mercies of the private sector, that “it makes no sense” for the federal government to offer them relief? ”

    If only there were some third way, some level of government between the private sector and the federal government. Just blue skying here, but we could break the country up into these districts, and let the ones where hurricanes hit prepare for and handle hurricanes, let the ones further north deal with harsh winter storms, let the ones on the west coast deal with earthquakes… Crazy talk, I know, but we could give it a try.

    I think the phrase I quoted above is very revealing. Mark, you don’t really believe “states” exist, do you? Oh, if somebody asks you about them, you’re aware on some level that there are such things. But then, something like this comes along, and you don’t really believe there’s anybody to handle problems except the federal government, and the private sector. The thought of solving something on the state, let alone local level, just doesn’t occur to you.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve observed this. For a lot of liberals, if you don’t do something at the level of the federal government, you’re not doing it At. All. You don’t really believe in states, they have no role in your vision of governance.

    1. Brett, here’s an excerpt from the Romney quote. I’ve bolded the part that’s especially relevant.

      “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.

    2. The point in having a single federal agency is to pool experience and resources.
      The west coast has to worry about earthquakes . . . except the rare cases when they occur elsewhere in the country. It would be good to have experience and training for that contingency. Same for hurricanes. We do not need to have two parallel sets of hurricane infrastructure, one for the northeast, one for the southeast.

      The main problem is that the weather does not honor any lines we draw on the map. “The map is not the territory.”

      ps – see flooding on rivers that flow down through many states. Emergency measures in one state, eg releasing water from dams, breaching levies intentionally, etc. can have effects positive and negative downstream. Who gets to make those sorts of decisions? It’s federal.

      1. Also, disasters that differ in nature have some common relief needs. Get food and water and medical supplies in. Provide temporary shelter. Get the injured to hospitals. Restore power and communications, etc. All that requires resources. It makes no sense to have fifty little pools of resources sitting around waiting to be used once a year or less. Better to have some set of trained personnel, readily avialable equipment and supplies, and so on, that can be directed where needed, anywhere in the country. It’s cheaper and likely more effective – unless you put Brownie in charge – than lots of local or state agencies for whom disaster preparedness is a secondary concern.

    3. Brett,

      To answer your question more broadly, let’s suppose that a certain amount of regionalization of disaster preparation makes sense. To some degree it probably does. Why on earth do you think that the best way to do that, or even a sensible way, is to handle it on a state level?

      As MobiusKlein says, disasters are not respecters of state lines. To divide the responsibilities along arbitrary political boundaries makes no sense.

  7. = = = If only there were some third way, some level of government between the private sector and the federal government. Just blue skying here, but we could break the country up into these districts, and let the ones where hurricanes hit prepare for and handle hurricanes, let the ones further north deal with harsh winter storms, let the ones on the west coast deal with earthquakes… Crazy talk, I know, but we could give it a try. = = =

    The Quebec ice storm of 1998 required the assistance of disaster recovery teams and electric utility crews from as far away as Hawaii. The next big LA earthquake may strain the world’s disaster recovery resources. But yeah, let’s leave Alabama to recover on its own from the next big hurricane.

    Cranky

  8. Look, you can make a sophisticated argument for some kind of national disaster relief for extraordinary disasters. But the “gotcha” Mark wanted posed to a former Governor was pathetic. All Romney had to do to defuse it was say, “When I was governor of a state, one of my responsibilities was dealing with local disasters. Now I’m running for President of the entire country, not governor of a state. Dealing with local disasters is somebody else’s job, I’ll have enough on my plate dealing with things that effect the entire country. Look, we’re 16 trillion in debt. This is no time for the federal government to go looking for things to do that somebody else already is responsible for.”

    You only think that question Mark posed makes a good “gotcha” if you’ve got this cognitive hole concerning states. If you think states exist, have their own set of responsibilities, and the federal government is responsible for other things, it’s not a gotcha at all.

  9. Look, you can make a sophisticated argument for some kind of national disaster relief for extraordinary disasters. But the “gotcha” Mark wanted posed to a former Governor was pathetic. All Romney had to do to defuse it was say, “When I was governor of a state, one of my responsibilities was dealing with local disasters. Now I’m running for President of the entire country, not governor of a state. Dealing with local disasters is somebody else’s job, I’ll have enough on my plate dealing with things that effect the entire country. Look, we’re 16 trillion in debt. This is no time for the federal government to go looking for things to do that somebody else already is responsible for.”

    You only think that question Mark posed makes a good “gotcha” if you’ve got this cognitive hole concerning states. If you think states exist, have their own set of responsibilities, and the federal government is responsible for other things, it’s not a gotcha at all.

    1. And you can be damn sure that while governor he would have called the feds if he needed it. Now as a presidential candidate he wants to tell the governors, “sorry, you’re on your own now”.

  10. Does this look like a “local disaster” to you? Do you think it might have some effect on the whole country when four of the largest cities in the country, which includes the centers of government, finance and media, not to mention, you know millions and millions of people, are shut down and could face billions of dollars in storm damage?

    BTW I don’t know if you know this but New York City alone contains more human beings than the entirety of Alabama.

    1. Yes, actually, this does look like a local disaster to me. It’s happening on the coast. Strike that, on part of one of the coasts. Is the entire country being hit by a hurricane? No. Across the vast expanse of the nation, most people won’t be effected at all, the majority of those effected will see some normal rain.

      This is precisely a local matter. It is precisely not what the federal government exists to deal with.

      1. So an attack on just one Territory by bombers from Japan was a local matter, no need to gather the full power of the combined US of A to defend us and our interests? /swift.

        Of course not.

        Why should it be so different when the threat is from Mama Nature? And I’m sure the bulk of the response will be local. However there is still regional coordination. Since inland states may not get hit as hard, they can share their surfeit of responder with other areas with a deficit.

        And this happens under a Federal umbrella.

        ps – storm’s diameter is?
        Count the states bordering the coast on this picture: http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2280
        10 or 11 (counting dc).
        When 20% of the states are subject to a weather emergency, it is safe for any non-libertarian to call it a FEDERAL issue.

      2. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, plus Pennsylvania and West Virginia having blizzards at higher elevations. Local? In what sense is a storm 2000 miles wide local?

  11. I don’t think that it would be wrong at all for Obama to put up a commercial at this point in the northeastern swing states that R-money would do away with the federal responsibility in disaster relief. God knows that republicans have no shame and the argument is definitely a true one. Come on O……let him have it with both barrels!

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