Experts say that the first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the crucial window during which prompt action can save many lives. Yet action after Katrina was anything but prompt. Newsweek reports that a "strange paralysis" set in among Bush administration officials, who debated lines of authority while thousands died.Krugman nails it here. When you're hostile to the very idea of government and public bureaucracies, you're going to be inept at employing them, and you're going to select people (like Michael Brown) to run them; people whose qualifications have nothing to do with being able to run said bureaucracy and everything to do with politics.
What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action - and he didn't deliver.
But the federal government's lethal ineptitude 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?
Why not? Politics are self-evidently important to politicians. if bureaucracy doesn't matter, hiring Brown was a very rational calculation.
Of course, Krugman doesn't get into the class issues here-he's still a neo-classical economist at the end of the day-but they're very much real, and they aren't going away.