Friday, September 16, 2005

COOPERATORES VERITATIS on The Katrina Disaster and The Catholic Social Principle of Subsidiarity

Greg Mockeridge of COOPERATORES VERITATIS case studies the misapplication--and outright abrogation--of subsidiarity in the Katrina aftermath. He offers this analysis:
In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II stated:

"Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (#48)"

The chaotic situation in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of the practical importance of the principle of subsidiarity, which is an integral part of Catholic social teaching. Unfortunately, its a perfect example of what happens when that age-old, tried and true principle is not only ignored, but rebuffed outright. This makes an already disastrous situation...well...more disastrous.

Not only did the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana not have a coherent evacuation plan, but even failed to follow the deficient plan they had in place. By now, I'm sure everyone has seen the photos of the submerged buses. Mayor Nagin claims that he was unable to find people willing to drive those buses to get those people out of way of the storm. Please excuse me for saying that I find that awfully hard to believe. In actuality, it would have been pretty easy if you had just done as Rush Limabaugh pointed out:

"What if you said, mayor, what if the said to the drivers whose job it is to drive the buses, 'Look, this will get you out of here, too. If you're driving the bus, you will succeed in evacuating. And we'll even let you bring your family. If you don't have a car, we'll let you bring your family, put your family on the bus as you're evacuating those who need help to get out, and we will kill two birds with one stone. We'll save you and your family and the school bus and the people who are being transported out.' "

Sounds pretty simple to me. But when a "community of a lower order" is paralyzed by an inordinate dependence on a "community of a higher order," such simple solutions that would have saved many lives evade the grasp of the civil authorities who have the grave responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizenry.
He also addresses the failure of Governor Blanco and the Federal government's initial emergency response. In short, NOLA's lack of preparedness demonstrated how little those authorities took subsidiarity. By not full exercising the powers proper to their communities, they complicated the relief effort of the Federal government, as Mr. Mockeridge explains:
Now, there is no question that the federal government dropped the ball on their end and the President has personally accepted responsibility and begun to make some needed personnel changes in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, such lack of efficiency is what we are to expect from a distant bureaucracy that has either been given too much responsibility in local affairs or has usurped it.

If the principle of subsidiarity was actually taken seriously by the city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, they would have been better able to make use of whatever federal assistance was needed--which it probably was needed in this case. Florida governor Jeb Bush (himself no stranger to dealing with natural disasters, having dealt with four hurricanes within a short time span last year), put it this way:"If we weren't prepared, and we didn't do our part, no amount of work by FEMA could overcome the lack of preparation,".
I'm not as willing as he is to give the Feds a pass, even though NOLA clearly dropped the ball first. While Governor Bush's testimony sounds convincing, it's not convincing enough. After 9/11, the United States clearly needed a more organized and effective response to possible threats to our national security from terrorist attacks or natural disaster. This was the Department of Homeland Security's first national crisis since it's formation. It utterly failed. FEMA, which had successfully intervened in hurricane-struck areas before, collapsed beneath the admittedly herculean task of rescuing a drowning NO from its own shattered levies. Would anyone be willing to give DHS or FEMA a pass if terrorists had bombed those levies? Bottom line: the Federal government was not ready for primetime when necessity demands such preparedness.

Subsidiarity calls for higher order communities to intervene and assist when lower order communities can't solve their problems on their own. Someone has to step up even if the local and state authorities are too busy playing keystone. No one did. That should alarm all Americans, people of good will everywhere and those that take subsidiarity seriously. Shrugging one's shoulders while saying, "what can one expect of such a bloated and inefficient bureacracy?" is not an answer. We all pay far too much in taxes as it is to tolerate an institution that's supposed to secure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. There's no room for rationalizing away the Federal government's early incompetance.

Other than the responsibility of the Federal government, I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Mockeridge's perspective. Mayors and governors that don't take subsidiarity seriously don't take their responsibilities to their citizens seriously. New Orleans and Louisiana's citizens paid the price for their lack of appreciation for this crucial principle. May no more have to do the same!