9/09/2005

The Reconstruction of New Orleans, Part II - The Builders

The principal problem with politics is not politicians, but issues.
Government is like going to a supermarket. If you see an offer that sounds like good value on a 'Buy One, Get One Free' basis, you should be aware that the offer is just a marketing ploy - the cost of producing the free item and bringing it to the market is borne by increasing the prices of other goods. If the supermarket does not make a profit on every item it sells, it goes out of business. You are not getting something for nothing and, delving deep into the cliche-bank, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Therefore, to use the words 'value' and 'offer' under such circumstances is usually meaningless.
Government works much the same way. If a politician commits to 'improving reading standards', then the additional resources required in order to achieve that commitment must come from a large but necessarily finite pot. Costs have to be cut elsewhere.
Sometimes the consequences of cost-cutting can be catastrophic, such as those caused by the Department of Homeland Security's apparent diversion of resources away from the urgent work of levee repair in Louisiana to the war in Iraq. Everything is presentation - the cost of 'global benevolent hegemony' might just have been the loss of New Orleans.
I hope that whoever made that trade-off hopes their decision was worth it.
It is the failure of the public to recognise that political life is not a series of isolated issues but an organic whole, with every 'issue' having an impact upon every other, that enables politicians to get away with most of the stuff they get away with. A very good example of a politician getting away with something very bad happened yesterday.
George W. Bush has done absolutely nothing to secure America's borders from an invasion of illegal immigrants who are driving down wages, displacing Americans from the workforce of their own country and placing massive stress on public services, the provision of which are guaranteed by the government's power to confiscate wealth through taxation. Illegal immigraton is contrary to the rule of law - the illegal immigrant decides they want all the benefits of living in a society, but to do so unconstrained by regard for its traditions. On September 8, George W. Bush rolled out the red carpet for every wannabe illegal in the Americas.
According to CNN, Bush,
"issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to take such action under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi"(hat tip - Daily Kos)
On Wednesday, the spirit of the free market moved the fevered mind of John Stossel into an almost rapturuous ecstasy when describing where the labour required to rebuild the city would come from. He wrote,
"If this were a totalitarian country, the government might just order a bunch of tradesmen to go to New Orleans. But in a free society, those tradesmen must be persuaded to leave their homes and families, leave their employers and customers, and drive from say, Wisconsin, to take work in New Orleans. If they can't make more money in Louisiana than Wisconsin, why would they make the trip?

Some may be motivated by a desire to be heroic, but we can't expect enough heroes to fill the need, week after week; most will travel there for the same reason most Americans go to work: to make money. Any tradesman who treks to a disaster area must get higher pay than he would get in his hometown, or he won't do the trek. Limit him to what his New Orleans colleagues charged before the storm, and even a would-be hero may say, "the heck with it."
The President's announcement doesn't offer much incentive to the carpenters of Wisconsin and Vermont to pick up their tools and head south, if they're likely to be working on a Federal contract. So where are the builders who will actually take these below wage jobs going to come from?
They're not going to be from the USA, that's for sure. And the natural disaster that Hurricane Katrina visited on the Gulf Coast will be nothing in comparison to the demographic disaster which will be a consequence of yesterday's green-light.

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