The Blame Game

by Russ Roberts on September 8, 2005

in Charity

Whose fault is it?  Who’s to blame for the deaths?  In one of the angriest and most bizarre columns I’ve seen in a normal newspaper in a long time, Harold Meyerson lets off steam in the Washington Post (rr):

We’re not number one. We’re not even close.

By which measures, precisely, do we lead the world? Caring for our countrymen? You jest. A first-class physical infrastructure? Tell that to New Orleans. Throwing so much money at the rich that we’ve got nothing left over to promote the general welfare? Now you’re talking.

I wish I had time just to blog on this graf, but keep going:

As a matter of social policy, the catastrophic lack of response in New Orleans is exceptional only in its scale and immediacy. When it comes to caring for our fellow countrymen, we all know that America has never ranked very high. We are, of course, the only democracy in the developed world that doesn’t offer health care to its citizens as a matter of right.

This is a total non-sequitor, but let’s just stick with the facts, from a USA Today story, 9/25/2003.  The headline:

France heat wave death toll set at 14,802

Whoa.  France provides health care as a matter of right, doesn’t it?  Surely the French care about the poor and the elderly and the helpless, don’t they?

The bulk of the victims — many of them elderly — died during the height of the heat wave, which brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 degrees in a country where air conditioning is rare. Others apparently were greatly weakened during the peak temperatures but did not die until days later.

The new estimate comes a day after the French Parliament released a harshly worded report blaming the deaths on a complex health system, widespread failure among agencies and health
services to coordinate efforts, and chronically insufficient care for the elderly.

Sound familiar?  Sadly, too familiar.  But then again, I’m biased.  Meyerson blames my world view for the deaths in New Orleans.  His closing graf:

The world looks on in stunned amazement, unable to understand how a once great nation has grown so indifferent not just to its poor and its blacks but even to the most rudimentary self-preservation. Some of it is institutional racism, but the primary culprit is the economic libertarianism that the president still espouses whenever he sells his Social Security snake oil. It’s that libertarianism, more than anything else, that has transformed a great city into an immense morgue.

Who knew that the Prime Minister of France was an economic libertarian?

Lileks has some nice insights and lots of humor here on the issue of blame.

Oh, and it turns out part of the problem is that the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t spend its budget all that wisely.  Hit the link.  It’s the best reporting on the preparedness issue I’ve seen yet and it actually has a few facts.

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