Yesterday, the Cato Institute’s Jim Harper said, “I’m embarrassed to think that bad weather is something the government prepares for and responds to. Pull up your pants, Americans.” He then doubled-down, quipping sarcastically, “I’ve outraged some by suggesting that Americans themselves are well equipped to handle storms.” I thought this was an odd line of complaint, noting that while clearly the federal government is only doing a small minority of the work of hurricane preparedness, it sure is helpful to everyone else that, for example, the National Weather Service keeps track of storms. The response was, I think, revealing:
In some people’s heads, the existence of public functions is presumptively illegitimate. When people point out that many of these functions are, in fact, useful, they sometimes push back by noting that were the federal government forbidden from monitoring hurricanes, it’s not as if the hurricanes would go unmonitored. This is true. Maybe the Gulf Coast states who are most often afflicted by hurricanes would form a consortium to do the monitoring and there would be constant disputes between the members about what constitutes a fair share of the budget to contribute. States further up the northeastern coast that are only rarely afflicted would try to free ride. Hurricanes asides, instead of having a single National Weather Service tracking the weather, maybe we’d have three or four private firms all reproducing each others’ data and selling it to clients. We’d have systematically higher costs and maybe (?) a slightly higher quality product.
Alternatively, we could do the sane thing and be glad we have a well-functioning federal agency that performs this function. It’s possible that had we never created federal undertakings in this sphere all would be well. But we did, and — like many other federal functions — it seems to work quite well and be useful to people, to municipalities, to states, etc. So why complain?