Does the government create more harm than good when it intervenes?
College Libertarians president Ryan Juliano ’06 posed this question to an audience of Cornell faculty and students as he introduced David Boaz, the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian public policy research foundation.
“David Boaz really embodies the limited government movement,” Juliano said. His introduction served as the preface to Boaz’s talk on “The Cost of Big Government: Katrina, Rita, and Bush’s Spending Spree,” held last night in McGraw Hall.
Boaz, the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, began his speech with an evaluation of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. His overwhelming theme was that the government “failed to plan” for the devastating effects of Katrina, adding by comparison that they spent $50 million on homeland security without planning for domestic emergencies.
Boaz claimed that the federal government ignored years of warnings about a possible natural disaster of Katrina’s magnitude. He cited articles in both The Houston Chronicle and The New Orleans Times-Picayune about potential hurricane damages to New Orleans as dismissed by a government too focused on securing a post-Sept. 11 America.
Continuing his evaluation of the federal government’s failures following Hurricane Katrina, Boaz turned his focus onto FEMA. His main point was that FEMA’s determination to coordinate the emergency response in New Orleans led to offers of help from private companies such as Wal-Mart and Amtrak being rejected.
“Even the Red Cross was kept out of New Orleans,” Boaz said. He presented FEMA’s attempts to coordinate relief efforts as blocking major private aid in the wake of what he referred to as “the most anticipated natural disaster in history.”
Individual private donations following Hurricane Katrina totaled $2.7 billion – a figure that Boaz used to suggest that private aid was more efficient post-Katrina than that provided by the federal government.
Boaz then shifted his focus to the spending habits of the Bush administration. Calling Bush’s spending “irresponsible,” he called attention to the $62 billion granted immediately by Congress to New Orleans and the $200 billion plan Bush has proposed for additional aid. He also cited the government’s lack of a precise plan for spending the money, blaming “too many levels of bureaucracy” for confusion and a lack of focused spending.
“The incentives are all wrong,” said Boaz on government spending plans. This tied in to an earlier point in which he said that welfare was creating a class of people too dependent on the government. He predicted a future shift towards the private sector in terms of spending on projects like rebuilding, but noted that despite former President Clinton’s promises that “the era of big government is over,” the present-day Bush administration’s reach and fiscal policy are rapidly expanding.
The reality of Bush’s expanding federal government led to a call for an alternative to big government, tying into Boaz’s advocacy of libertarianism. He referred to not only the failures of the current Republican administration but also the failure of the Democratic Party to initiate action against irresponsible spending.
In pointing out the flaws of both parties, Boaz highlighted his desire for an alternative to the “red state, blue state” mentality. He added that the solution was “not necessarily libertarianism, but limited government and fiscal conservatism.”
When asked by an audience member if there was hope for an “outsider” to break into the current established two-party system, Boaz said that in the past presidential election he had “held out hopes” for Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. Boaz concluded his talk with predictions for the country’s future that included more choices for retirement plans and a less federalized education system.
The lecture was co-sponsored by the College Libertarians, the Cornell Federalist Society, the government department, and the policy analysis and management department, the C.U. Program Board and the Student Activities Finance Commission.
Archived article by Christine Ryu
Sun Staff Writer