September 20, 2005

#192: lane management

P. Krugman


Tragedy in Black and White (09/19/05) is another mindless, factless, “Bushbasher” of a column by Paul Krugman and it’s starting to look to us as if he’s just “mailing them in” these days. The recycled skreed they contain isn’t worth specific comment.

However, we did take note of a NY Times quote by the black mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, which goes to the heart of the federal/state/local government coordination issues that should be dominating the discussion of the Katrina disaster relief performance.

Noting that Admiral Allen had urged residents not to return, the mayor said: "The admiral's a good man. I respect him. But when he starts talking to the citizens of New Orleans, that's kind of out of his lane. There's only one mayor of New Orleans and I'm it."
“Out of his lane”? Think about that! Here's a mayor who has just had his unevacuated town washed away, who has spent the last two weeks blaming everyone else for his own mistakes, who decided to repopulate the city despite contaminated water and lack of power and who rescinded that strange move only after President Bush pointed out to him that another hurricane was headed toward his area. And he’s worried about who's getting in his lane?

Well, as a matter of fact, we are supposed to have “lanes” in our federal system and “lane management” is essential for that system of shared responsibility is to work. Unfortunately, in Louisiana it did not work, because, as Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco have convincingly demonstrated, the lane system is not idiot proof. No president is going to sit by and take the blame for the actions or inactions clueless local yokels. So, just as the Department of Homeland Security and the National Intelligence directorate represented large consolidations of federal power in the wake of 9/11, we suspect that Katrina will result in more “lane mergers” and the federal government will end up with the authority to override local governments in national emergencies. As regrettable as this may be, the likes of Nagin and Blanco make it inevitable. Our hope is that the new authority will be a narrow as possible.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Posted by John Weidner at September 20, 2005 3:25 PM
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