Essay: Emergency Response

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Hurricane Katrina

Natural disasters often occur unexpectedly and without warning. These disasters, as a result, create massive amounts of casualties and financial hardships on the communities affected. Disasters such the tsunami impacting Japan in 2012, or the 2013 earthquake in Chile, are a testament of the devastating power natural forces have on daily human activities. Hurricane Katrina is no different in this regard. This disaster was particular troublesome as it impacted the entire state of Louisiana. In addition, the disaster provided an unfortunate reminder as to the overall shortcomings of state policy in regards to emergency response. Individuals, irrespective of socio-economic status were forced to live in condition not consistent with their previous standards of living. As a result, both political and public sentiment regarding emergency response and the role of government were vastly altered.

Elitism is a belief in the overall concept of superiority. Elitism is unique in that followers believe some people or things are inherently superior to others and deserve preeminence, preferential treatment, or higher rewards because of their superiority. This is regards to political sentiment and action is paramount to overall policy decisions. Politicians, in regards to policy implementation may elect to support those that are prominent in society at the expense of the general public (Jenkins, 2000). Legislation can be enacted that benefits the elite, economically. For example, benefits such as tax reform and disaster relief preferences could be implemented that benefit only those who are elite. This is particularly troublesome as the elite often command the largest amount of financial and political resources to enact legislation that benefits them solely (Domhoff, 1990).

Elitism and its subsequent response can be particularly devastating in regards to inequality in the developed world. When left unchecked, elitism actions can diminish or erode the middle class and the power that is derived from their sheer numbers. Further, elitism activism can create a large disparity in regards to wealth accumulation and creation. These actions could have adverse consequences for both policy implementation and the overall response to disaster relief efforts such as Hurricane Katrina. Currently, the top 1% of individuals in the world holds roughly 39% of the world's wealth. When analyzing further, the upper 1% of Americans are now taking in nearly 25% of the nation's income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1% control 40%. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12% and 33% respectively, indicating that the top 1% continue to become wealthier. The middle class however, have seen their incomes stagnate. The median household income, adjusted for inflation has remained the same for the past 20 decades.

Elitism, when taken to extremes, can exacerbate these numbers, creating a society that has a concentration of wealth only with a select few individuals. These individuals in turn create more policy, that is skewed to their own core constituents, ultimately harming society overall. In regards to disaster response, elitist motives may alienate the middle and lower class to help only those that are connected with the elite class. Aspects such as emergency response, medical treatment, food, supplies and so forth, may first go to the elite, with the remained going to the medial class. In addition, growing inequality is the precursor to shrinking opportunity. In regards to policy response, fewer individuals within the middle class will have the ability or opportunity to implement policy change to benefit their constituency. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets, our people, in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality such as the preferential tax treatment for special interests that was mentioned earlier undermine the efficiency of the economy. The elite often justify this notion with a concept called "marginal-productivity theory." This theory purports and associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the elite. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin.

A disadvantage of elitism is that it isolates an entire society and discourages collaboration. Political parties and socioeconomic status is used as a means to discriminate rather than collaborate. It also discourages economic growth as it stifles innovation as the benefits for doing so only go to those who are in a particular socio-economic class (Jenkins, 2000). In extreme circumstances, revolts and civil unrest can arise as those who are not considered "elite" attempt to achieve economic equality. Distrust also arises in regards to policy implementation as disparate parties attempt to thwart the others efforts as oppose to making legislation benefit society as a whole (Hartmann, 2007).

Further, the notion of rational choice theory as it relates to emergency response is particularly interesting. The rational choice theory postulates that individuals will act according to their own cost, benefit analysis. Under the theory, when faced with a particular proposition, individuals will inevitably calculate the likely costs and benefits of any action before deciding what to do. Individuals are motivated by their personal wants and goals and are driven by personal desires. Since it is not possible for individuals to attain all of the various things that they want, they must make choices related to both their goals and the means for attaining those goals. Individuals must anticipate the outcomes of alternative courses of action and calculate which action will be best for them. In the end, rational individuals choose the course of action that is likely to give them the greatest satisfaction (Hindmoor, 2006).

As these relates to Hurricane Katrina, individuals were acting in their own self-interest (Boin, 2006). Policy makers in particular, may enact policy designed to only benefit their own constituents. As mentioned before, the state overall is very diverse. As such, each segment of the population has its own particular interests. Under the rational choice theory, leaders of these groups rather than looking at the best possible solution for society instead elected to look for the best policy solution for themselves. For instance, members of Congress want to be re-elected and act accordingly. Under rational choice theory, these member of congress will act in a manner provides the most benefit for re-election. As such, the overall policy solutions enacted under this theory would presumable be more self serving. Examples of this occurred, with earmarked policy language during and after Katrina, designed to help particular voters, rather than society overall. In addition, laws are enacted based primarily on party affiliation. Again, under rational choice theory, this serves the best interest of the group, who ultimately would like to get re-elected. As such emergecny response legislation was heavily delayed due to political affiliations. In the case of hurricane Katrina, no political party wanted to take blame for the lackluster mitigation efforts, however, both political parties wanted to take credit for providing the solution. This was motivated primarily by their desire to get re-elected (Drennan, 2007). If the population viewed them negatively, due to the lackluster disaster response efforts, the likelihood of re-election is slim. Politicians aligned with their respective groups, with political bickering ensuing. This resulted in still further, lack of response to the population that desperately needed it.

Rational choice arguments are more useful where the stakes are relatively high and the number of players relatively low. Such is the case with state senators with each state only allocated two seats in congress. When done correctly, rational choice theory can be particularly beneficial for society in a number of ways. First, through cost benefit analysis, Louisiana can enact policies that provide the largest amount of good for the smallest possible cost. This ultimately frees much needed funds to be allocated to other endeavors or simply saved altogether. In regards to emergency response, hurricane Katrina cost the state $10.1 Billion in terms… [END OF PREVIEW]

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