I went to the minute clinic at Target the other day for a flu shot.
After I got the shot, I was astounded to see a nurse walk into the room with a bag and a tube.
And then a doctor, at the head of a small surgery team (anaesthesiologist and a couple of nurses) pushing a surgery cart, all scrubbed in and ready to go.
And after that, another small team of doctors and nurses carrying an Eskimo cooler.
And finally buxom Swedish woman in low-cut set of white scrubs and white short shorts.
“Um, what?” I started speaking. “All of this for a flu shot?”
“Oh, heavens no”, said the nurse as she tossed the syringe in a passing child’s backpack. “Carrie”, she said, pointing to the nurse with the bag and the tube “is here to give you a colonoscopy. And Jeff and his team”, she said, pointing to the surgical crew and their gear as they nodded and smiled under their surgical masks” are here to remove your appendix. And Dr. Stavronakis’ team”, she said, pointing at the people with the cooler, who waved back, “are here to transplant you a new liver. And Inge is here to give you a massage”. Inge grinned.
“Er…”, I started, “that’s great – but I’m just here for a flu shot. I don’t need a colonocopy – not just yet – my appendix and liver are both fine, knock wood, and as to the massage – well…”
“So you believe people don’t need colonocopies, appendectomies, liver transplants and massage?”
“Sure – people do. Just not me, at this particular visit, knock wood”. I looked at Inge, who was starting to pout a bit. “Well, except for…”
The nurse glared at me sternly. “Don’t you believe in medicine?”
“Well, sure, but if it’s medicine I don’t need, why do it?”
The nurse sighed an exaggeraged sigh. “Oh, whatever. That’ll be $400,000”.
“What? All I got was a flu shot! You charged me for a colonocopy, an appendectomy, a liver transplant and a massage!”
“Oh, shoot. I’ll fix that. But…are you sure? Because medicine is pretty important…”
There are some reasons we have government. Defending the country, making and enforcing laws (preferably just the ones we need, although that cow left the barn eighty years ago), enforce contracts – nobody really argues about those.
And there are some other functions that all but the most Libertarian among us can tolerate; I think the Centers for Disease Control is a good investment. While Libertarian cases for privatizing infrastructure are tempting, it’s just a matter of fact that they have been mostly government endeavors – and as such, less useless than most others. And most people agree that government, in general, should provide some level of support for some social safety net – especially for people in temporary, dire need.
And there is no more temporary, more dire need than an epic natural disaster, one that strains private resources (even those not already overstrained by supporting big government) and mangles infrastructure in a wide area. Most people agree that the government, in some form, has a place in dealing with huge disasters – coordinating and supporting relief after the fact, and helping with the planning to prevent them by facilitating public and private efforts to mitigate disasters before the fact (see also: virtually every levee, dijk and storm-surge mitigation system ever built).
But there are those – like the (fictional, thank merciful heavens) nurse in my example above and the New York Times (which isn’t fictional – not yet), who believe that you can’t just stop with the government you really, rationally need; it’s all or nothing. To them, Government is a Cable TV subscription; you want FEMA, the Interstate Highway System and the Navy? You gotta also take dairy price supports, multigenerational subsidy of poverty, bloated bureaucracy, trillions in entitlement spending, vast federal intervention in credit and property markets – a fiscal colonocopy, to run with my example, and no, muscle relaxants are not covered under Obamacare.
The lefty chanting point-bots have been chattering like busy little meerkats over Romney’s remarks about FEMA, as if hypothesizing on principle that a huge, inefficient bureacracy might not yield the best disaster-relief bang for the taxpayers’ buck is the same as stating as a matter of policy that the bureaucracy should be shut down in mid-disaster. It is a fact that FEMA is a huge, costly bureaucracy with a long history of wastefulness and ineffectiveness, home of one waste scandal after another going back to the Carter years (although the left only observes it when Republicans are in office); to make matters worse, it’s been folded into a bigger, even more wasteful and less-effective bureaucracy, the “Department of Homeland Security”.
Apparently if I point out that both bureaucracies – which I support with my tax dollars – are bloated, inefficient and have wide swathes of corruption, I should expect not to ask for help if there is a disaster.
And apparently I’m not supposed to ask “rather than have a permanent sub-cabinet-level bureaucracy with tens of thousands of employees to plan for emergencies that states and individuals are, or should be, planning for, why not simply create regional preparedness forums for state, private and federal groups and resources, and appoint a “Disaster Czar” with proven executive disaster management experience to facilitate the coordination of state, private and federal resources on an ad hoc basis?”, because that’s unpatriotic.
I ask “why can’t we just have the government we need?” – and the only real answer seems to be “because we just don’t do it that way anymore”.
And “This won’t hurt a bit”.