In the wake of megastorm Sandy, former one-term governor of Massachusetts and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has avoided answering reporters asking about his statement in June 2011 that the responsibilities of Federal Emergency Management Agency should be handed over to the states -- or, better yet, privatized.
The media, of course, is trying to make Romney look bad just as millions of storm-traumatized Americans are turning to the federal government for help. But instead of implicitly criticizing Romney, the media and those disaster refugees huddled on high-school gym floors should be praising his bold vision.
Instead of focusing on the downsides of a catastrophe affecting 60 million Americans, Romney has the courage to see the bright side: It can be a profit center! Gov. Romney has promised to balance the budget, and replacing the tax-dollar-sucking, $7 billion FEMA program with a money-making private-sector corporation would not just trim two-tenths of 1 percent from the federal budget, it would make some wealthy investors even wealthier! Win-win!
Like his proposals to cut taxes for overburdened hedge-fund managers, eliminate the deficit, increase defense spending and create umpty-million jobs, Romney, ever the canny businessman, has wisely kept secret the details of how he would privatize FEMA. That leaves it to us to speculate on how he would make “FEMACorp.” a money- maker. We can make a few guesses, based on his experience at successful job creation in China.
1. Romney and his vice-presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan, support vouchers as a replacement for all kinds of formerly public services. These gift certificates not only could replace health care and public schools, but could be used by disaster victims in exchange for food, blankets, tents and other emergency needs. Instead of big government deciding that newly homeless families need tents, or babies need infant formula, families could make their own decisions, based on their priorities. It’s the American way -- free choice! You could choose to have your emergency medications, or choose to have food; a tarp to keep the rain off, or a cot to sleep in; potable water or MREs. Eventually, a whole new exchange market for the gift certificates would spring up, giving Americans additional training in the wonders of the free market.
2. This opens the door to all sorts of new profit-generating opportunities. FEMACorp. could partner with Walmart or other big box retailers to provide commodities directly to the victims at the shelters. Get those vouchers ready -- FEMACorp. vodka would be a huge seller!
3. Instead of paying exorbitant costs for overtime for all those thousands of police, firefighter and health-care first responders, FEMACorp. could outsource those jobs to far more affordable employees in the developing world. True, there would be logistical difficulties in having Chinese or Bangladeshi contract workers provide services to, say, earthquake victims in Southern California, but we’re a can-do country that has overcome these difficulties before.
4. FEMACorp., if it follows similar privatizing success stories, would receive generous federal support in return for providing (theoretically, at least) certain services. It would extract its profits from the difference between that federal paycheck and the actual costs. Imagine the incentive for thrifty ingenuity! We could start by replacing those huge blue FEMA blankets -- virtually a symbol of wasteful socialist government spending -- with far more portable and versatile FEMACorp. washcloths; tents with plastic ponchos; bottled water with buckets that collect nature’s bountiful harvest of rainwater. We are limited only by our imagination. Consider the billions in profits generated by Halliburton and other contractors in the Iraq War. Sure, the lamestream media focused on a few military men and women who were electrocuted in the pre-fab base showers, but the war made billions in profits for forward-thinking corporations, their management and shareholders. Win-win!
Perhaps the best argument for privatizing disaster services is the collateral benefits it would have for unfairly maligned multinational job-creators, who, as the governor has pointed out, are people, too, and therefore have feelings that can be hurt. Coal and oil companies have suffered from bad PR because using their products spews carbon into the air and make such storms as Sandy ever more likely and powerful. (As if Exxon-Mobil or Peabody Coal controlled the laws of physics.) Thousands of “gloomy Gus” scientists around the world mope that human-created, catastrophic climate change is going to create ever more death and misery.
But instead of seeing drought, floods, super-storms and other disasters as something to avoid, making them opportunities for profit will re-create these ever-more-frequent occurrences as fuel for Wall Street rallies. Instead of condemning smokestacks at America’s coal-fired energy plants, we’ll see them for what they are: the generators of free market opportunities at home and abroad. Gov. Romney has promised innovation and an end to Big Government. Replacing dependence-inducing handouts to survivors of national catastrophes with the benevolent graces of the free market is a great place to start.