Paul Romer of Stanford is credited with having said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” However cynical this idea may seem it is very evident that people use the fears and challenges of others for their political gain all the time. Nazi Germany came to power out of the “crisis” of the great depression, Mussolini similarly prospered in the “crisis” of post World War I Italy. These may be extreme examples but a more commonplace one came in the New York Times dated July 20, 2008.
“America is in the midst of its worst energy crisis in years … President Bush is well on his way to being remembered as the leader who wasted not one but two crises: 9/11 and 4/11. The average price of gasoline in the U.S. last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, was $4.11. After 9/11, Mr. Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping. After gasoline prices hit $4.11 last week, he had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on clean energy. Instead, he told us to go drilling.”
When I found this article I was shocked, here author Thomas L. Friedman, is actually arguing Bush needed to tie energy policy to 9/11 to profit off of the disaster that occurred. Because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
Max McKeown, is good to remind us, “a crisis is not the same as a disaster (although a disaster may prompt a crisis). It is as a ‘crucial or decisive point or situation’ or a ‘turning point’. Such turning points force a choice between inertia and innovation.” He is right; a disaster is less useful politically as it does not put people in a position of choosing anything other than to feel sorry for the people effected by the damage. But a crisis can be used to get people to choose to do something that they would not do under normal circumstances.
Consider the words of beleaguered US Senator Robert Bennett (R-Ut), in defense of his voting for the first bailout package. He is quoted as saying he doesn’t regret his vote,
“Because we were facing a very genuine crisis. And I would not want my career to be marked with shirking my responsibility to prevent the crisis from happening“
Sen Bennett appears to be an example of one who seems to justify a vote he would not have otherwise made. It may be no wonder Sen Bennett finds his position in trouble.
With all this talk of crisis it is interesting that massive flooding in Tennessee until recently was receiving less media coverage than the gulf cost oil, or the Greek national debt.
Patten Faqua offered this very interesting opinion about why Tennessee has been left out.
“Does it really matter? Eventually, it will…as I mentioned, there are billions of dollars in damage. It seems bizarre that no one seems to be aware that we just experienced what is quite possibly the costliest non-hurricane disaster in American history. The funds to rebuild will have to come from somewhere, which is why people need to know. It’s hard to believe that we will receive much relief if there isn’t a perception that we need it. But let’s look at the other side of the coin for a moment. A large part of the reason that we are being ignored is because of who we are. Think about that for just a second. Did you hear about looting? Did you hear about crime sprees? No…you didn’t. You heard about people pulling their neighbors off of rooftops. You saw a group of people trying to move two horses to higher ground. … Our biggest warning was, “Don’t play in the floodwater.” When you think about it…that speaks a lot for our city. A large portion of why we were being ignored was that we weren’t doing anything to draw attention to ourselves. We were handling it on our own.”
Rhonda Robinson took this idea one step further when she said of Nashville, “But what kind of story is that? The Left loves victims. Victims they can use, that is. Preferably, victims that depended on the government, but the system failed. Therefore, a call for more, bigger, and better government is the topic of choice in a disaster situation of any proportion”
I return to my original statement – A crisis is a terrible thing to waste and in fact they are not being wasted now. The oil spill is already being sold as a sign of the need of more regulation on drilling. The financial crisis is being used to create popularity for more financial controls. A crisis does not justify poor choices, it does not make old standards obsolete. Like Nashville we can just help are neighbors and take care of ourselves.