What lessons should we have learned from last summer's deadly and destructive hurricanes? The primary lesson is that we shouldn't have much faith in a federal bureaucracy like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They amply demonstrated their incompetence, but what's our response? We'll give them more money and more authority. That's not smart.
The FEMA fiasco is discussed in several articles in the December 2005 issue of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty magazine, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, the nation's first free market think tank (fee.org). Hillsdale College professor of economics Robert Murphy points to some of FEMA's stupidity in response to Hurricane Katrina, which includes "delaying firefighters two days in Atlanta hotels to receive sexual-harassment training and watch videos on the history of FEMA while people were dying in New Orleans."
By contrast, private firms like Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Home Depot had trucks on the road immediately after the hurricane. Stores even gave away items like chain saws and boots for rescue workers, sheets and clothes for shelters, and water and ice for the public. Wal-Mart was so efficient that there was talk among some Louisiana officials of letting Wal-Mart take over FEMA's job and a suggestion that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott run FEMA. Freeman editor Sheldon Richman says the latter suggestion misses a very important point. Wal-Mart was effective because it was not a government agency. If Mr. Scott were in charge of FEMA, he wouldn't do much better than its former director, Michael Brown. Government cannot achieve the efficiencies of a business. Trying to get government to be as efficient as business is as hopeless as trying to teach cats to bark and dogs to meow.