Katrina offers lessons

By Rob Schofield

Here are a few of the most obvious initial lessons from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

* Government is not the enemy.

For at least the past quarter of a century, Americans have been propagandized into an increasingly widespread belief that government, and the taxation that sustains it, is the enemy of a free and thriving society.

This is a lie. It is precisely when government loses the capacity to meet the needs of the citizens, as has happened in New Orleans, that free society collapses.

* We must renew our commitment to long-term public investments like disaster preparedness.

If we are to avoid future disasters like New Orleans, Americans must rediscover their once common commitment to the future — to the idea that, by sacrificing today, they will make the lives of all citizens, including their children and grandchildren, better later on.

* Protecting and coexisting with the natural environmental is essential.

Not only are undisturbed lands — wetlands, undeveloped forests — among our best shields against natural disaster, but some areas, including many barrier islands, simply do not lend themselves to long-term human habitation.

* A fossil fuel economy is not tenable in the long run.

America’s insatiable addiction to petroleum has rendered its economy vulnerable to production interruptions like the current one, while at the same time fueling global climate change, complete with rising oceans and increased storm severity.

* The war on poverty must be renewed.

If ever a single event in American history served to make absolutely clear how close to the edge of disaster millions of impoverished people subsist, Hurricane Katrina is it.

Absent dramatic action to correct for the unfairness and inadequacies of our market economy and to improve the fairness and adequacy of our tax systems, millions of Americans will spend the 21st century experiencing living conditions not significantly different from those endured in the third world.

* We’re all in this together.

Ultimately, the American experiment will not succeed if the nation is merely a geographic collection of 280 million free agents devoted primarily to self-interest.

Only through a renewed commitment to collective, long-term solutions can we build a healthy and sustainable society.

In the days following the Gulf Coast catastrophe, it is essential that Americans rediscover this fact if we are to do more than simply clean up the mess.

Rob Schofield is policy director of the North Carolina Justice Center in Raleigh.

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