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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 30, 2012 at 10:45 AM

The ‘on your own’ delusion

Nothing like a major natural disaster to bring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama together. The alpha-blunt Republican and Mitt Romney supporter said on Good Morning America, “I have to say, the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them.” A little more than a week ago, Christie was deriding the president for “blindly walking around the White House without a clue.” As the New York Times reports, “On Tuesday morning, he was effusive about Mr. Obama’s administration, calling the storm response ‘wonderful,’ ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding.’ “

Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no Ayn Rand law-of-the-jungle types caught in a calamity so big that it can only be solved by a “We Society,” not a “Me Society.” Hurricane Sandy has caused perhaps $20 billion in damage in the Northeast, including knocking out power to 14 million, bringing an unprecedented storm surge that flooded the New York subway and for a second day shutting down the world financial center.

Help and rebuilding will come from a federal government that alone can muster the power of a continental nation’s emergency resources. It will come from state, county and municipal governments. And from the insurance industry, public and private utilities, private-sector and public railroads, airlines. And non-profits. And from across the private sector as it rushes to both meet customer needs and get profits flowing again. And from individuals: neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors helping strangers. This is the complex web of obligation and mutuality found in the real world, not in libertarian books and blogs or the worship of a theoretical “free market” that, unhindered by government, meets all needs (or tough luck).

This reality isn’t at odds with Americans’ historic love of autonomy and self-reliance. At our best, we endeavor together. At our best, we always have. More than seven decades after the New Deal, Americans are still the hardest-working people in the world. Private, public and non-profit sectors work together. There is no final economic answer that trumps every other good (the Founders certainly didn’t think so; republican virtue was high on their list, channeling self-interest to feed the common good was, too). And, yes, there’s a legitimate argument about the size of government (including corporate welfare, the military and national security state). But it will have to account for the populous, urbanized, highly-complex society we have become — and the disruptions ahead from climate change.

The We Society, if we recognize it and preserve it, will be there for us if, God forbid, the sum of all fears should strike Seattle. For now, we are there for the Northeast.

And Don’t Miss: Amazon is a black hole threatening to devour corporate America || Slate

Today’s Econ Haiku:

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His future after MF?

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