The recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China have led to terrible suffering. I know that many people are doing everything they can to help the people who have been hurt. My comment is that it is clear that there were significant governmental failures in both cases. In Myanmar the government appears to be actively preventing people outside Myanmar from providing aid. In China the government appears to have failed to ensure that schools for poorer children were safe.
We had a similar governmental failure in the U.S., of course, in our response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In that case the U.S. government failed to support an orderly evacuation, failed to defend against predictable storm surges, and failed to rescue people after significant parts of the city flooded.
Natural disaster prevention and response is one of the key roles of government. We can’t protect ourselves individually against extreme situations, so we form a government to do it collectively. When the government fails in that task, it has failed in one of its most vital areas.
Viewed in that light, it is shocking that there has been no accountability in the Bush administration for the Katrina disaster. I think there is one clear lesson there: if you elect somebody who does not believe in government, you will get bad government when it matters. Of course a certain degree of delayed accountability was imposed in the 2006 elections, and more may come in the 2008 elections.
I think we can safely predict that there will also be no accountability for what happened in Myanmar. Dictators do not have to answer to the people.
It will be quite interesting to see what happens in China. The Chinese government is authoritarian, but Chinese history shows us that Chinese governments must be at least somewhat responsive to the people. Will they retrench, will they offer some minor sacrifices, or will they provide some real accountability? We’ll see over the next few months.