Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Katrina, Irene, and Big Government

Hurricanes Katrina and Irene both hit the US around the same dates. In addition, six years, later, Katrina is the hurricane that most people remember and, of course, Irene was the most recent hurricane. Because of this, many people are comparing the damage from the two. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asks if we want a Katrina government or an Irene government? He is arguing that bigger government led to a better hurricane response.

Just how apt is this comparison? At its height, Katrina was a strong category 5 hurricane. It lost strength but was still a category 3 when it hit the Gulf coast. It went on to kill 1,464 deaths and cause $122 billion in damage. Irene peaked as a category 2 hurricane and was a category 1 when it hit the coast. By the time it hit New York it had been downgraded to tropical storm. It killed 40 (and counting) and caused something like $10 billion in damages. Unless Milbank thinks that the spending in Washington sucked the energy from Irene, larger government had little to do with comparative damage.

Milbank does have a point that improved weather forecasting kept Florida from being included in the evacuation order. From there he launches into a general defense of big government, missing a point or two.

Under President Obama and the Democratic Congress, government in general grew to the point that we, as a nation, cannot afford it. Cuts have to be made. Milbank can argue that cutting NOAA's budget for satellites will hurt future forecasts but he ignores the rejoinder - if we restore that money then what should we cut instead? (I suspect that his response would be that we should just tax the rich.)

The destruction of Katrina was not caused by President Bush and the lesser strength of Irene was not caused by President Obama. Using the difference between these events to justify big government is a stretch.

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