Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Having a Secure Backup

Our parents and grandparents told us it was smart to have extra put by for a rainy day, but what happens when the rainy day fund in the coffee can under the floorboards is washed away with the house? What happens when your neighbors are too busy rescuing themselves to help you? We've learned from experience that institutional reserves are more practical than letting everyone fend for themselves. We need government, because the government is us.

When flood or drought or an earthquake strikes, it's good to live in a big country. (Joe Conason has a very good piece about this at A nation needs to plan for disasters that are more than local. Republicans are busy looking for redundancies to eliminate, but redundancy is an essential part of planning and planning is a key role of government. In a crisis big government is better than small. Extra is better than not enough. The Republicans are mocking the government response to Hurricane Irene, but it's better to be there early with sufficient force than too late with too little as happened to the previous administration with a previous hurricane.

Redundancy isn't the enemy of efficiency; it's crucial to maintaining efficiency in a crisis. Redundancy is a key part of emergency planning at the government level. It's been part of planning by governments of both parties, until the Republicans began thinking small.

There's a rationale for the Republicans' slimming obsession: disaster is an excellent profit opportunity for corporations that Republicans represent. War, disaster, famine, pestilence, epidemic, any or all the horses of the apocalypse will make opportunists very very rich if government is as small as Republicans would like it to be. But it will cost us.

It's called "Disaster Capitalism" and government preparedness is just what they don't want. Naomi Klein wrote about it in her book Shock Doctrine.

Here's a strange glimpse at the far extreme. Apparently the concept of personal redundancy is pretty important among the survivalist folks who demand less sufficiency in government. These podcasters preach the redundancy of two homes, for instance, which is nice for them. But consider this: when millions of people stockpile extra food, extra supplies and hide cash under the mattress, what does it do to the broader economy? What happens to those who can't afford to stash a year's worth away (or five years' worth)?

During the Great Depression this kind of behavior was called "Hoarding". Apart from how self-centered it is, hoarding causes shortages among those who aren't hoarding, who can't afford to or think it's wrong. Hoarding cash depresses the economy. (The corporations sitting on trillions in unspent government bailout money are the prime culprits here.)

There is a vital pragmatism to redundancy at the national level. It's been understood by most modern presidents. Roads and bridges to carry traffic if one or more are damaged, redundant lines of communication, backup power supply lines and backup power capacity. Securing these are the most important role of government, but the "cost cutters" eye sufficiency and backups as "waste" and "excessive". The way George W. Bush considered the revenue surplus he inherited from Clinton as free money he could throw away. Which is why we are experiencing shortages now. We could be more prepared and better equipped, but the Republicans want us to be less so. Why? Because it might make their clients rich.

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