University of Alabama historian David Beito and Troy State economist Daniel Smith (GMU ’11) explain, in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, that Tuscaloosa, AL’s top-down, central-plan-infused effort to rebuild following last-year’s tornadoes is working awfully poorly compared to Joplin, MO’s much-more market-friendly approach. Here are their closing three paragraphs:
Despite it all, Tuscaloosa officials are determined to stick to their plan. The final version of Tuscaloosa Forward is on track for approval by the City Council. The city is banking on defraying its costs through as-yet-unreceived funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal bodies. As Tuscaloosa Forward bluntly acknowledges, full implementation of the plan is impossible without “public subsidies to leverage private capital.”
Last year’s decentralized volunteer response seems to be entirely forgotten by city officialdom. As Mayor Maddox recently said: If Tuscaloosa “had a trained FEMA corps on the ground” when the tornado struck, “they could have taken over organizing the volunteers immediately.”
In an age of mounting deficits and limited federal attention spans, hoping for more subsidies from Washington, D.C. is a risky bet at best. Joplin’s safer wager is in the good sense and independently generated resources of those individuals and businesses most directly affected by nature’s fury.