Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tuscaloosa just needs to "believe in government"

In the aftermath of natural disasters, the standard Paul Krugman line is that only government can fix the problems, and that if one just "believes in government" with all one's heart, soul, and mind, then things will go well. After Katrina, Krugman claimed that the reason that FEMA's response to the disaster in New Orleans
...wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?
Or, as Krugman wrote in that same column, had the Bushies allegedly loved government, then FEMA would have had a magnificent response and no doubt everything in the Gulf post-Katrina would have recovered more quickly. (In other words, Krugman actually wants us to believe that federal government agents given near-absolute authority in New Orleans somehow eschewed their power and decided to pursue an ideological line of "limited government." Yeah, we run into those kinds of government agents all the time, agents who are deathly afraid of abusing their powers.

In other words, according to Krugman, the powerful, top-down government approach that is fashioned by bureaucrats who believe in what they are doing and directed by Liberal Democrats provides the best response to disaster. Well, we have a laboratory in the aftermath of tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Joplin Missouri, and the results definitely are contra-Krugman.

David T. Beito and Daniel J. Smith have looked not only at the speed of post-tornado recovery in those two cities, but also the governmental action behind it. Tuscaloosa is using the tornado to engage in top-down government planning, and also is waiting for more FEMA money. (And everyone knows that since Barack Obama loves government, FEMA will be Johnny-on-the-spot.)

Joplin, on the other hand, is cutting back zoning enforcement and permitting businesses to rebuild, which definitely is an anti-Krugman approach and most likely would earn the Great Man's contempt. So how are things going? Beito and Smith write:
In Joplin, eight of 10 affected businesses have reopened, according to the city's Chamber of Commerce, while less than half in Tuscaloosa have even applied for building permits, according to city data we reviewed. Walgreens revived its Joplin store in what it calls a "record-setting" three months. In Tuscaloosa, a destroyed CVS still festers, undemolished. Large swaths of Tuscaloosa's main commercial thoroughfares remain vacant lots, and several destroyed businesses have decided to reopen elsewhere, in neighboring Northport.

The reason for Joplin's successes and Tuscaloosa's shortcomings? In Tuscaloosa, officials sought to remake the urban landscape top-down, imposing a redevelopment plan on businesses. Joplin took a bottom-up approach, allowing businesses to take the lead in recovery.
 Keep in mind that while much of Alabama tends to vote Republican, Tuscaloosa is a university town that is full of political liberals and, as such, believers in government planning. The planners also are spouting the politically-correct language and ideals. Write the authors:
The Alabama city's recovery plan, "Tuscaloosa Forward," is indeed state-of-the-art urban planning—and that's the crux of the problem. It sets out to "courageously create a showpiece" of "unique neighborhoods that are healthy, safe, accessible, connected, and sustainable," all anchored by "village centers" for shopping (in a local economy that struggles to sustain current shopping centers). Another goal is to "preserve neighborhood character" from a "disproportionate ratio of renters to owners." The plan never mentions protecting property rights.
Joplin, on the other hand, features an:
official plan (that) not only makes property rights a priority but clocks in at only 21 pages, compared with Tuscaloosa's 128. Joplin's plan also relied heavily on input from businesses (including through a Citizen's Advisory Recovery Team) instead of Tuscaloosa's reliance on outside consulting firms. "We need to say to our businesses, community, and to our citizens, 'If you guys want to rebuild your houses, we'll do everything we can to make it happen,'" said Joplin City Council member William Scearce in an interview.
Now, if one only read the columns of Paul Krugman, one would think that Joplin's recovery would be lagging and Tuscaloosa would be booming. Yet, all of the things that leftists like Krugman claim are needed to make an economy recover, don't seem to be working very well:
Instead of encouraging businesses to rebuild as quickly as possible, Tuscaloosa enforced restrictive zoning rules and building codes that raised costs—prohibitively, in some cases. John Carney, owner of Express Oil Change, which was annihilated by the storm, estimates that the city's delays and regulation will cost him nearly $100,000. And trying to follow the rules often yielded mountains of red tape, as the city rejected businesses' proposals one after another.

"It's just been a hodgepodge," says Mr. Carney. "We've gotten so many mixed signals from the get go. The plans have been ever-changing." Boulevard Salon owner Tommy Metrock, one of the few business owners to rebuild on Tuscaloosa's main thoroughfare, McFarland Boulevard, says the restrictions created "chaos" as people put their livelihoods on hold while the city planned.

There is one other possibility, however. Perhaps that the influence of other Republicans in Alabama has been such that the city planners in Tuscaloosa simply don't believe ENOUGH in government to work magic. I'm sure that Krugman would come up with a similar explanation, or maybe he will write a column to say that businesses have turned Joplin into a hellhole and government, by accidentally creating "wide-open spaces" in Tuscaloosa, has turned the city into paradise. Stay tuned.


Mike M said...

I know of one group of volunteers (made up of private citizens and first responders) locally that put together a team with manpower, supplies and emergency equipment and headed to New Orleans after the storm. They were held outside the city for 4 days until they could receive proper “training” from the FEMA. Because we can’t possibly know how to hand food out, water, blankets and clear debris without the Feds telling us how.

You cited “John Carney, owner of Express Oil Change, which was annihilated by the storm, estimates that the city's delays and regulation will cost him nearly $100,000.” Now imagine that type of regulation by Fed, State and Local government, day in and day out, in normal ongoing business operations and you better understand my earlier posts about the angst of the entrepreneurial class in this country.

Woody said...

I have family in Tuscaloosa who suffered damage from the tornado, and their adjacent shopping district was leveled. During a visit a year after the tornado, I asked what was taking so long to rebuild.

They pointed out that some businesses threw up buildings that were not asthetically acceptable (horrors!), so the city put the brakes on permits and is creating a grand plan for urban renewal, parks, and green spaces.

A nation's president might call this disaster area a "shovel-ready" project, but no shovels are moving given the bureaucracy.

I can say this with all confidence...if the tornado had leveled the football stadium, a new one would have been started so fast it would have made heads spin in Joplin.

Anonymous said...

You are conflating two things here - disaster response and post-disaster recovery.

I wonder what a private sector disaster response would look like. I also wonder why you focused so intently only on one aspect of post-disaster recovery - zoning permits.

Anonymous said...

I think the Katrina related ideas of liberal minded individuals like Krugman are not accurately representes here. The idea isn't that if you BELIEVE in government all things good will flow. The point about Bush was that his disdain for government led him to appoint incompetent people, i.e. if government is good for nothing anyway, it doesn't matter if Brownie is the FEMA director.

The point is that people who have faith in government will LIKELY appoint more qualified people to government positions rather than political loyalists, and qualified people are more likely to create better outcomes, in public or private life.

William L. Anderson said...

This is hilarious. First, the idea that all it takes is the appointment of a True Believer to make the system work is a joke, if one understands how the political system works in the first place.

It is one thing for a person who cannot think for himself to say such things, but quite another for a Ph.D. economist who has won all of the high honors. An economist is supposed to have some understanding of human nature and not worship the State as though it were a god.

Second, I don't think that FEMA people acted like people who hated government. Instead, they acted EXACTLY like those who believed that government should do everything. It was FEMA that turned away provisions from Wal-Mart and other groups, and it was FEMA that insisted that volunteers have training in sexual harassment prevention.

Believe me, that is pure government at work. By the way, FEMA was not as active in the other Gulf regions and volunteers were able to work more freely and the area was able to recover more quickly. Today, New Orleans still is mired in the kind of bureaucracy that Krugman worships, and the recovery reflects the bureaucratic mess.

And don't say Krugman does not worship bureaucracy. Government can operate ONLY via bureaucracy, unless people are speaking of dictatorship. So, either Krugman has to worship bureaucracy or he has to worship dictatorship. There are no other choices when it comes to government. (And please don't say that there is the third choice of "democracy." Democracy always moves into dictatorship or bureaucracy.)

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, Henry Hazlitt performed a line-by-line dissection of Keynes's fallacies.

Today, Dr. Anderson does the same to Paul.

In short, keep it coming!!!

Anonymous said...

"The point about Bush was that his disdain for government"

Bush disdained government, WHAT? How on Earth can any human with even the lowest of observation skills even possibly believe that?

The man gave FDR a run for his money in expanding government as much as humanly possible within a supposed federalist system. Do the plethora of facts about everything from the debt, to inflation, massive bureaucracies, to wars, bailouts, etc., really need to be re-stated just so others can stop from even trying to come up with a farce as incredible as "Bush's disdain for government"? I'm not even sure delusion would be the adequate description for someone who might want to try and make that point.

macroman said...

Prof Anderson maybe [Krugman] will write a column to say that businesses have turned Joplin into a hellhole and government, by accidentally creating "wide-open spaces" in Tuscaloosa, has turned the city into paradise. Stay tuned.

Criticizing Krugman for what he hasn't written but you think he might? I will stay tuned. And if he never writes this column you will ... what?

macroman said...

Anonymous. Just so we can understand what you are saying, can you rank the following Presidents on a spectrum of disdain/love for government.

Obama, GWB, Clinton, GHB, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, JFK?


Anonymous said...

I am a business owner in New Orleans French Quarter. Half the commercial spaces on my side of the block have been vacant for years. The zoning restrictions and red tape are strangling recovery. Before I opened my business I went to the zoning director to ask if my business would be allowed at the desired location and he said yes. After investing a boatload of money we went back to apply for permits and he rejected the request! Only after I showed him the letter he had signed months ealier saying it would be allowed did he reverse the decision and allow us to open! The zoning code here is madness, even the city administrators don't have a clue!