It's an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody some good. That apparently applies to hurricanes. A recent Washington headline was, "Lobbies Line Up for Relief Riches." Of course they do. This is no surprise to those in the District of Corruption, where the worst government failures invariably become the best excuses for handing out billions more to special interests.
In a remarkable 1972 book, "Redistribution to the Rich and the Poor," Kenneth Boulding and Martin Pfaff demonstrate that political power is often used "as an exploitive device leading to the transfer of income from the poor to the middle class, or from the middle class to the wealthy." In an equally insightful 1989 book, "To Promote the General Welfare," Richard Wagner explains that "the creation and operation of public programs is guided less by wishes and high motives than by interests and strong motives."
If we can keep our eyes wide open during strong political winds, the hurricanes might actually awaken more people to the sober realization that government "solutions" are most often obscenely overpriced, ineffective and corrupt.
This disaster, however, was so disastrous the government actually had to confess that federal policies were an obstacle to effective solutions. The White House therefore moved to suspend the Jones Act, allowing foreign tankers to move fuel to wherever it was needed. It also moved to suspend the Davis-Bacon Act, allowing contractors to repair damage regardless of whether or not they pay the highest prevailing union wages. And it moved to suspend tariffs on lumber and perhaps on sugar.
Relief from such foolish regulations and trade barriers will be good for the Gulf Coast and the country. This is helpful to the economy in emergencies for the same reason it would be helpful in ordinary times. So, let's get rid of the Jones Act, the Davis-Bacon Act, and tariffs on lumber and sugar. Such corrupt payoffs to interest groups raise the cost of production and the cost of living, making the rest of us poorer.
Another potentially refreshing breeze from hurricanes Katrina and Rita is that many legislators finally noticed that spending many more billions on one thing requires spending fewer billions on something else. Liberals want to slash military spending, while conservatives want to slash domestic spending. They're both right. But their reason is wrong. Cutting spending is essential, but it won't help if we just swap a few tons of pork in highway spending and homeland security for even more pork in the Gulf region.