Be prepared: what ‘no government’ means for the American way of life

21 Nov 2011
Christina Tey writes:
The far right of the US political system offers reduction of government interference as part of their campaign platform. ‘No government’ means lower taxation, freedom of the individual to pursue their own meaning of the American dream. Government regulation must have no part in the American way of life.
Millions of voters have already propelled the likes of Perry and Bachmann into state governorships on this professed ideology of minimal government, believing the emotional rhetoric that no government is good government, that personal freedoms are paramount. These presidential hopefuls now want to take this concept into the White House and run the country on the same basis, promising to cut essential services to the bone in pursuit of that concept of freedom.

But what does that freedom really mean? When Hurricane Ike hit Houston, Texas three years ago it took energy provider CenterPoint Energy ten days to restore power to 75% of its 2.15 million affected customers.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have power and running water to our homes take those services for granted. We expect any outage or breakdown to be rectified within a few days, even though the frequency of weather catastrophes that can cause such incidents is increasing. This year the USA has endured 10 weather catastrophes, including Hurricane Irene and five tornadoes.

Delays in restoring power in the aftermath of hurricanes in the USA routinely cause outbursts of public anger and frustration. But there was a greater source of anger for those whose lights went out in Texas; CenterPoint Energy recovered the multi-million dollar cost of restoring power from its customers.

Academics at the Sam Houston State University in Texas have analysed events in the wake of Hurricane Ike, and in a paper published in the British Journal of Sociology in September wrote: “The short-term profitability imperative shifted reconstruction costs to consumers, and prevented efforts to upgrade the electric power infrastructure to prepare for future disasters.” US sociologist Craig Calhoun sums up such a scenario succinctly. He calls it: “the privatization of risk”.

Private-sector business is driven by a simple profit motive and the short-term requirement to provide a return for investors and shareholders. It will do whatever it needs to in order to turn a profit. The business approach is the same, whether you are marketing beans or utilities, healthcare or other emergency services.

Texas voters were offered the short term gain of lower utility bills, which they saw as ‘good governance’, part of the emotional leaning towards fiscal independence. They superimposed the ideology of frontier mentality on twenty first century reality by disconnecting the state power grid from the rest of the country. They could not ‘secede’ from the Union, but disconnecting from the national grid was the next best thing.

Few noticed that their leader, George W Bush (notoriously anti-everything concerning ecology and climate change) had built his retirement ranch in the state completely off grid, self sufficient in energy and water. Those who follow the ‘no government’ course had better make sure they are just as resilient as their former president.

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