In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we need to tell the truth: While the storm’s devastation was unavoidable, it was made worse by too little government.
We need to say it loud and clear, because here come the snake oil salesmen.
Twelve years ago this month they invaded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Republican leaders used historic flooding as an opening to help corporations and private investors profit from tragedy. Following a blueprint called “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices,” they hired private mercenary corporations, cut taxes, weakened labor laws and eventually privatized the city’s public housing and most of its public schools.
There’s no doubt they’re salivating right this second over yet another crisis.
But the very “solutions” they’re sure to propose—charter schools, suspending prevailing wage standards, lower corporate taxes, etc.—are derived from the very ideology that made Harvey more destructive that it should have been.
Years of unchecked development and sprawl made Houston more prone to flooding. Private developers have made fortunes off the city’s lack of zoning laws, paving over acres of pastureland that once helped soak up floodwaters.
Decades of underinvestment in public infrastructure put more lives at risk. Both of Houston’s two major levees were built in the 1940s and need serious repairs—one breached under the pressure of Harvey’s heavy rains and the other is at full capacity.
Across Southern Texas, many people couldn’t evacuate simply because they couldn’t afford to. “I had some problems getting out of town, a little broke and stuff, so I had to come home and, you know, tough it out,” said one resident of Rockport, Texas.
Chronic inaction on carbon emissions—lobbied for by the oil and gas industry—is rapidly changing our climate. While climate change triggered by carbon emissions didn’t cause Harvey, it likely made the storm stronger, more unpredictable, and quicker to intensify.
For years, the Texas legislature has refused to pass any legislation to prepare for the impacts of climate change as long as it contained any reference to climate change. Just two weeks ago, President Donald Trump repealed an Obama-era executive order that had required infrastructure projects using federal dollars to be resilient to the impacts of climate change, like flooding.
We are decades into an all-out assault on democratic control of government. From rural towns to big cities, crucial public resources like water, public schools, and transit have slowly been handed over to the private sector. Roads, bridges, levees, and water systems have deteriorated without funding. Public budgets have gotten tighter as corporate taxes have been cut. The government, they say, is “too big,” and the “free market,” no matter the costs to poor and working people, reigns supreme.
The solutions in the coming weeks and months cannot be more of the same. No, American Enterprise Institute, removing price-gouging laws in the wake of Harvey isn’t “letting the market work,” it’s evil and absurd. Enough is enough. The “free market” isn’t working.
America’s infrastructure needs direct federal funding with no strings attached that grease the wheels for privatization. Decisions about our communities need to be made by people, not private investors and developers. Those that make unimaginable wealth from a thriving economy need to pay more to keep it thriving, while those that profit from speeding up climate change need to pay more to clean up the mess.
The truth is, we need more democracy—government controlled by and for the people. Or Hurricane Harvey—and Hurricane Katrina, and Detroit, and Flint—will become the new normal.