Hurricane Harvey illustrates the need for government

Posted on August 30, 2017

Anti-government extremists now control both our federal government and most states. In general, they believe in a Ronald Reagan quote—taken completely out of context—that “government is the problem.”

And yet, Hurricane Harvey illustrates that government is, quite often, the solution.

It is not that government is the solution to everything. Whatever lies that conservatives see on Fox News or read on Breitbart, progressives believe in limited government. But we understand the situations where governments should lend a hand.

One of these is when people can’t reasonably protect themselves, so governments act to provide security. (Read about the distinctions between freedom, opportunity and security in Voicing Our Values.)

Security is the oldest reason for establishing a government, to protect residents from domestic criminals and foreign invaders. But the concept of security is both more complicated and more nuanced than that. There are three general situations where governments should protect the security of individual residents.

FIRST, we need governments to secure our personal safety and health. I think even conservatives would agree that we need firefighters, traffic lights and sewer systems, and that we need rules—enforced by governments—to ensure that our water is pure, our air is breathable, and our food and drugs are safe.

When we consider Hurricane Harvey, it’s obvious that individual residents can’t provide themselves with the security they require. Even the state can’t reasonably do it in the wake of the storm without federal assistance (as evidenced by the Texas members of Congress who voted against emergency aid for Hurricane Sandy but are now pleading for federal help).

SECOND, we need governments to perform a fiduciary duty to protect relatively helpless individuals such as the elderly, children, the disabled, and the mentally ill. Again, I think even conservatives would agree. And common sense dictates that the weaker the individual, the greater the government protection required.

So this is another reason for government action in the wake of Harvey—to ensure the safety and health of the relatively helpless, which in this case includes able-bodied adults who were made temporarily or permanently homeless by the storm.

THIRD, we need governments to protect our common future as a city, state or nation. Future generations can’t speak for themselves so governments have to safeguard them. That’s a key reason why we build and maintain infrastructure, use zoning powers, and protect the environment.

Part of government’s response to Harvey must be to think of and act for our children and grandchildren. Again, even conservatives might now understand that Houston needs to change its “Wild West” zoning policies in order to mitigate the effects of future devastating storms. Or they might even be willing to accept that man-made climate change worsened the storm and, for our own future security, we need to address that problem.

In short, none of us have security without government.