Monday, September 26, 2005

Doing what is right about Katrinarita

The blogosphere is excited about pork. In a wonderful post at Beltway Blogroll there is a pretty good summary of blog opinion about the proposed levels of spending to respond to the hurricanes. Unsurprisingly, both the left and the right are concerned. Both are using the events to press things they would otherwise suggest. The left can use this as a chance to comment about the Administration's other priorities ("can't have guns and butter" is a phrase I still expect to see) while the right is urging some restraint in the political class.

In order to think about this issue one needs to divide the question. There are several things going on at once. Obviously, we need to take care of the immediate health and safety needs of the people in the wake of the storm. At the same time we need to think about rebuilding the destroyed buildings and infrastructure caused by the storm. Finally, we need to at least think about whether this period of time can also be used to restore the area to a better position. The first order of business should be to do some careful thinking about who should do what. Are all of these tasks the job of the entire nation or could some be best handled by state and local authorities or private activity? How much responsibility should the American people bear for restoring a city that was in almost continual decline over the last century?

The three questions (immediate health and safety, restoration and improvement) each have the opportunity for politicians to get in on rent seeking (on expanding what should be a normal response to something designed to aid the politician in other goals) - but as you move from the first to the third the potential for rent seeking increases exponentially. Part of the problem faced by New Orleans at this point is that past projects designed to rebuild or improve from prior storms have been used for pure pork. If some of the prior authorized funding for levee building was used on bike path construction should we as a nation be willing to supply more - at least without some substantial restraints? Can any political decision be protected against rent seeking?

Then there is the quasi political class and their ruminations. We've seen a lot of idle speculation by the proponents of global warming that these storms are a result of global warming. An MIT climatologist says there is not a causitive link. In Technology Review (the MIT Journal on Technology Topics that is absolutely first rate) that the link is not there. But as you would expect a scientist to do, his view on the linkages is nuanced. The article is at Technology Review (Subscription Required but you should get one if you are at all interested in technology issues!)

What was interesting about his comments was not what he said about the linkage but about how people used his data. At the end of the article there is the following quote -
"My experience is that most of the people who call me up, really want to know about the science, what do I really mean," says Emanuel. "Most people, if they have a political agenda, they are good at keeping it hidden."
But then there's the ever-growing commentariat, which answers to no one.
"The people who are politicizing it are doing it behind my back -- pundits writing on blogs or editorials whom I don't actually talk to," says Emanuel. "They don't want to know the truth. They want to use something somebody wrote to advance their agenda."

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