Saturday, September 10, 2005

Functioning Government

David Brooks in NYT writes (The Best-Laid Plan…) that the government is almost inherently incapable of pulling of security planning for it’s citizens. One can see that Joe Klein’s essay in Time is igniting rounds of reaction (I read another one by Clive Crook in National Journal). But David misses the point in his article. Here are the counter arguments, related to each other, to what he talks.

1. First his implied argument that the government cannot effectively executes it’s plan. That is simply not true. There are so many examples where the government works in the crisis situation. Last year there was kind of flue epidemic, Fed did pull off in the end by telling people that those who do not need can stay away. CDC routinely works to address various epidemics. The real issue is ‘functioning government’ is like breathing. You realize you have problem only when you have difficulty. American government is not much less competent than any other governments around the world. So by that logic, it has performed many such rescues in the past and surely has potential like other governments to execute better in future.

2. Next, let me accept that I am Liberal. What we want is not necessarily a big government. We want a ‘functioning’ government. Just because President Bush’s Administration is ‘execution’ challenged does not mean that all American Governments have been incapable of pulling rescues. Watching how President Bush has bungled over years about his foreign policy and many other initiatives; one can safely argue that poor execution is the problem with this administration; not with the government concept in general.

3. Example of a functioning government – last year Florida faced at least 3 major hurricanes. Jeb Bush did excellent job in all these incidents to get prepared and apply solid recovery efforts in all three cases. It is a classic example of a working or functioning government. I would love to hate Republicans, but Jeb Bush’s government is functioning and is solid on execution. It does not matter whether you are conservative or liberal to make your administration or government working.

4. Indian governments are notorious for their non-functioning (Union Carbide Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1987?). But here is the often repeated statistics: 18 inches of rain fell in New Orleans in a day, 37 in Mumbai. Mumbai has 24 times the population of New Orleans. In 48 hours, 37 died in Mumbai and a hundred in New Orleans. In 12 hours the Indian Army and Navy were in Mumbai; it took 48 hours in America.

So performance in a particular instance should not be immediately extrapolated to polemical arguments about ‘small or big governments’. People are expecting about a government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people which works’. In a democracy that is a fair expectation. The shock of Katrina is, it did not happen.

Beyond the specifics of this article, there is another smell coming – the unholy urge of conservatives to start arguing the case for smaller government even in the face of Death. As it is wrong for Liberals to argue that the Iraq war resulted in unavailability of forces in early hours of Katrina relief efforts (what Charles Krauthammer called ‘liberal witches brew – Iraq, Tax Cuts and Global Warming’); it is wrong for conservatives to start misusing early failures of all 3 levels of governments to make governments smaller. The right response is to make governments work. We do not want balanced columnists like Brooks to tip over and become polarized. This country is unnecessarily divided into Blue and Red for too long and it is costing her lot. We need Purple in the middle.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA
September 11, 2005.

1 comment:

jgm said...

Good points. I blogged something along the same lines--more focused on the idea of making government work--I still haven't finished the entire idea (it's at if you're at all interested). We really need to have some sort of grass roots movement that avoids the extremes of either party--both of which failed in Katrina.