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Robin Lionheart

"But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government."
-- Alan Wolfe, "Why Conervatives Can't Govern"

Robin Lionheart

Wolfe also cites FEMA to support his thesis:

True to a long tradition of disinterested public management, Clinton, in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, appointed James Lee Witt to head FEMA. Witt refocused FEMA away from civil-defense efforts to increasingly predictable national disasters, fought for greater federal funding, achieved cabinet status for his agency, and worked closely with state and local officials. For all the efforts by Republicans to attack their enemies, no one has ever put a dent in Witt's reputation. Government under him was as good as government gets.

Upon assuming office, George W. Bush turned to former Texas campaign aide Joe Allbaugh to run FEMA and then shifted it into the new Department of Homeland Security (whose creation he had opposed). Allbaugh, and his hand-picked successor Michael Brown, like so many Bush appointees, were afflicted with what we might call "learned incompetence." They did not fail merely out of ignorance and inexperience. Their ineptness, rather, was active rather than passive, the end result of a deliberate determination to prove that the federal government simply should not be in the business of disaster management. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," Allbaugh had testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in May, 2001. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level." There was the conservative dilemma in a nutshell: a man put in charge of a mission in which he did not believe.

Long before Katrina destroyed New Orleans, Allbaugh and Brown were busy destroying FEMA: privatizing many of the agency's programs, shifting attention away from disaster management, and shedding no tears as scores of agency staff left in dismay. Human beings cannot prevent natural disasters, but they can prevent man-made ones. Not the Bush administration. Its ideological hostility toward government all but guaranteed that the physical damage inflicted by a hurricane would be exacerbated by the human damage caused by incompetence.

Paul Crowley

The big devil's advocate question, of course, is why all those big social projects -- roads, sewers, parks, fire departments, public health, law enforcement, etc. -- can't be handled privately, by business or charity?

Because of the free rider problem - in most cases you can't extend these benefits only to those who will pay for them, so you have to just provide them and make people pay, and that's what Government is.

There's also the point that in the case of a benefit like sewage, I want it to be mandatory because it's in my interests that my neighbour have it.

Robin Lionheart
Because of the free rider problem - in most cases you can't extend these benefits only to those who will pay for them

Not just the free rider problem, but because of lack of sanitation, disease control, law enforcement, and fire prevention are public menaces.

Though Libertarians may hate it, we cannot give them the option of opting out of paying for and receiving fire department service, because fires spread!

David Harmon

I can't add much here, except Amen! (And the last two years have only underlined your points.)

Blue Nine

The irony is that the "vote for me because government is bad" crowd are people who would be horrified at the idea of hippies or "elitist professors" running corporations. Or an atheist running a church.

William the Coroner

The problem isn't just government, it is that some functions of government is the only game in town. Only the State Department can issue passports. Only the DMV can issue drivers liscences. The Post Office got markedly better when UPS and FedEx gave them a run for their money. Competition is a marked way to improve things. That and increasing the consequences for failure. The bank bailout, IMHO, should never have occurred. If it HAD to have occured, the people who fucked up should have been taken out, stood up against the wall, and shot.

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