January 21, 2009

A Creeping Emergency

Justin Katz

It's a few days old — which in Internet time is a matter of months — but Mark Steyn's column on the mission creep of FEMA is worth a read if you haven't gotten to it, yet:

The proposition that a new federal administration is itself a federal emergency is almost too perfect an emblem of American government in the 21st century. FEMA was created in the 1970s initially to coordinate the emergency response to catastrophic events such as a nuclear attack. But there weren't a lot of those even in the Carter years, so, as is the way with bureaucracies, FEMA just growed like Topsy. In his first year in office, Bill Clinton declared a then-record-setting 58 federal emergencies. By the end of the Nineties, Mother Nature was finding it hard to come up with a meteorological phenomenon that didn't qualify as a federal emergency: Heavy rain in the Midwest? Call FEMA! Light snow in Vermont? FEMA! Fifty-seven under cloudy skies in California? Let those FEMA trailers roll!

The Cato Institute's James Bovard was struck by the plight of Vernon, Conn., a town ravaged in the winter of 1995-96 by, er, slightly more snow than they'd expected. So FEMA sent them a check for $40,023. Vernon had 30,000 people, and its town snow-removal costs that winter were $258,000. "That's just $8.60 per person," Bovard pointed out, "less than a 12-year-old charges to shovel out a driveway after a good snowfall."

So why did they need "federal emergency" aid? Because the town had only budgeted $104,516, and so claimed to be "overwhelmed" by the additional costs. They could have asked the good burghers of Vernon to chip in an extra five bucks apiece. But why bother when FEMA's so eager to give you a warm bath in the federal love nectar? The town government wised up pretty quickly. The next winter, they set the snow-removal budget at just $69,383.

Everything inches toward the federal government, it seems, because power has a sort of gravity. (Next will be the international level.) Eventually, though, you end up with an uncontrollable mass in which citizens can only suffer.

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Good. There's hope for you yet. You support taxation on the local level to deal with snow removal. Add to that fire and police protection. Refusal to do those things results in some other responsible entity having to use its resources to handle the resulting situations. The refusal to meet one's responsibilities not only stupidly puts oneself in danger but contributes to danger for others.

Posted by: Phil at January 22, 2009 7:41 AM

Justin cares so much about what he has written here that he does not bother to answer the only response it generated. Oh well. Too busy hobnobbing at trendy downcity drinking establishments and playing with expensive communication devices.

Posted by: Phil at January 24, 2009 11:18 AM

I'm sorry, Phil, am I not paying you enough attention?

I'm not sure what sort of response you're expecting. I've never claimed to be a back-to-nature libertarian, so it's somewhat ridiculous of you to suggest that acknowledgement that there are appropriate roles for and services from various levels of government is a new milestone for me. The lines are the matters for debate.

As for my socializing, be the trendiness of McFadden's what it may, I can only attest that they serve a decent glass of water.

And as for my gadgets, we're talking less than $1,000 for my entire arsenal (expenses spread over several years), and the tools are pretty much a necessity for what I'm trying to accomplish. I don't have access to a computer during the work day, and providing on-scene commentary is one of the more exciting capabilities of blogs.

(Not to mention that I wouldn't be responding to you right now if I didn't have them.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 24, 2009 12:19 PM


Thanks for the response.
I'm generationally cluless about these new communication devices . It seems that people your age accept the fast pace of technology much more readily than those of us who are older. Keep up the live blogging.

Posted by: Phil at January 25, 2009 8:33 AM
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