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Randville, Rawlsburg and New Orleans

By       Message Ernest Partridge       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Since there is no such entity as "the public " since the public is merely a number of individuals any claimed or implied conflict of the "public interest " with private interests means that the interests of some men must be sacrificed to the interests of and wishes of others.

Ayn Rand

A society is a cooperative venture for mutual advantage... Social cooperation makes possible a better life for all than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts.

John Rawls

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In his second debate with Al Gore, candidate George Bush said "I think you can spend your money more wisely than the federal government can. "

You think? Ask the survivors of the New Orleans Super Dome and convention center.

Who is better equipped to prepare for natural disasters and, when they strike, to deal with them? Individual citizens acting on their own, or government agencies acting in behalf of the community at large acting professionally, with expert information, and with clear command and coordination?

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Again, for your answer, consider New Orleans.

It comes down to this simple question: Is there such a thing as a "public interest " distinct and apart from a simple summation of private interests? The libertarians and the regressive right say that there is not. Progressives say that there is a public interest, and both history and common sense bear this out. In a free society, the appropriate protector and administrator of this public interest is a government of, by, and for the people. Our founding documents affirm this explicitly.

The regressive right (falsely called "conservatives ") tells us otherwise. Thus we are now experiencing the bitter consequences of Ronald Reagan 's 1981 inauguration pronouncement: "government is not the solution, government is the problem. " The Reagan administration and the two subsequent Bush administrations have crippled and dismantled government agencies almost the point at which, as Grover Norquist puts it, government can be "drowned in a bathtub. " And so today it is the unprepared and unprotected city of New Orleans that is drowning in the filthy flood waters left by Hurricane Katrina.

Two years ago, with the Katrina catastrophe just one of many grim possibilities, I published a parable about two communities, about to be hit by a flood. Given the dreadful events of last week, it bears repeating.

Imagine that two communities are situated on opposite sides of a great river. On the right bank (appropriately) is "Randville, " populated by libertarians rugged individualists who are contemptuous of "collective " activity and who assume full personal responsibility for their personal safety, welfare and property. On the left bank is "Rawlsburg, " comprised of individuals who, while covetous of their personal rights, fully acknowledge the existence of public interests. They are therefore aware of the desirability of acting collectively, in the words of the Preamble to the US Constitution, "to insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general Welfare."

News arrives that a great flood is approaching from upstream. The citizens of Randville immediately get to work piling sandbags around their individual homes. Across the river brigades of Rawlsburg citizens are working together to build a levee around the town.

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One of the towns survives the flood, while the other is devastated. Need I identify which is which?

Consider another case: this one is not fanciful it is quite real.

In April, 2003, California Governor Gray Davis requested $430 million in federal funds to reduce the fire hazard in the southern California forests. The request was ignored until, October 24, George Bush rejected it. A few hours later, "the Old Fire " broke out in the San Bernardino mountains, followed by several more fires, eventually consuming three quarter of a million acres and 3577 homes, and causing 22 fatalities.

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Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The (more...)

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