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Government bureaucracies too big to be effective

Russians with no vodka! Can you imagine that? It’s true. Before we look at the whys, it’s important to understand just how important vodka is to the Russian people. According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, the average Russian pours down 9.1 liters of liquor, mostly vodka, per year while the average American consumption of spirits is 4.9 liters.

Production of vodka is being severely curtailed because the Russian government passed a new tax last year to help protect Russians from counterfeit vodka and then failed to make the tax stamps available to distillers. Apparently, somebody forgot to have the stamps printed.

Counterfeit vodka is no small matter since about 40,000 Russians die each year from drinking poor quality home brew vodka. So, the government’s heart was in the right place, but they failed on executing the plan.

Sound familiar? Are there any similarities between FEMA and the Russian government? Yes, in fact, there are.

Both are bloated bureaucracies whose ability to respond is seriously impaired. They stagger under their own weight. Mississippians have become experts on FEMA’s lack of responsiveness in time of emergency.

Accelerating the process

We’ve all seen the news stories and know the situation on the Coast. FEMA won’t bring in the trailers until the utilities can be connected. Utilities can’t be connected until the debris is removed. Debris removal is a slow and expensive process. So, while thousands of Mississippians are without housing this winter, thousands of FEMA trailers sit on a lot in Arkansas waiting for delivery.

One solution to speed things up would be for the governor to issue an executive order or the Legislature could pass a bill absolving construction companies of liability if they volunteer to move the debris. Such an order is known as a “Good Samaritan law” and we need it right now.

If not the governor, then the Legislature should act immediately to provide relief so that volunteer work can move forward. In the absence of a Good Samaritan order, construction companies can be liable for damage while they volunteer their manpower and equipment to help fellow Mississippians in critical need. Why has this not been done months ago? That’s what a lot of cold, wet folks down on the Coast want to know.

Katrina has taught us many valuable lessons and we will continue to learn more lessons for years to come. One lesson that jumps out is the quality of our governor’s leadership compared to the officials in neighboring Louisiana. Another is the effectiveness of the military in mobilizing rescue efforts compared with the federal agency charged with responding quickly in times of need. The most heartwarming lesson is the huge outpouring of money and volunteers that has rushed to our aid and continue on the job today. Americans do, in fact, care, and care deeply, about their neighbors.

Why is the military — National Guard and regular armed forces — so much more adept at responding in time of crisis? Simply put, that’s all they think about all day long. They drill and practice handling crisis situations and keep themselves ready to act on short notice. On the other hand, FEMA, now the stepchild of the Department of Homeland Security, practices how to look good in front of the camera and how to best disburse large chunks of money to both those in need and those who say they are, but really aren’t. Money is an important resource, for sure; however, if there’s no gasoline, food or ice available to buy, money is of little consolation.

Knew it all along

Katrina’s victims and Russian vodka aficionados are learning the truth that business has known for decades — government is just too big to be helpful.

Useless bureaucratic red tape is always the hallmark of big government. Interagency turf battles, wasted money and unnecessary taxpayer expense is what we get for allowing our governments to bloat. For a first-hand experience you need go no further than the nearest airport and expose yourself to all the security smoke and mirrors that inconveniences citizens, provides unnecessary jobs for thousands of government employees and couldn’t apprehend a sophisticated terrorist if their lives depended on it.

President Ronald Reagan had and Gov. Haley Barbour has the right idea — keep taxes low and starve the beast before it consumes us all.

Thought for the Moment

Hard work keeps the wrinkles out of the mind and spirit. — cosmetics executive Helena Rubinstein (1870-1960)

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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