Sandy prompted a big government love-in on the part of Democratic politicians and the media. But a few days out, people are cold, hungry and scared of looters; many believe that the authorities are doing a lousy job. Big government isn’t looking quite so efficient.

Just for the record, FEMA, the federal agency in charge of natural disaster relief, seems to me a perfectly legitimate government agency. The always iconoclastic Reason magazine, however, envisions a world without FEMA, a world in which citizens, even in such dire circumstances as the aftermath of a hurricane, do more for themselves:

If you wonder what life would be like without a particular government agency, it is not enough simply to subtract the agency from a picture of our current world. That would imply a rather disparaging view of the human race. If there were no FEMA, would people just sit around in the rubble for the rest of their lives? Or would they do something, learn from their experience, and take precautions to minimize damage in the future?

To think people would not or could not do these things unless enlightened politicians were there to help them is to misconstrue the nature of government. What exactly does it bring to the table? Wealth? No, wealth is produced by people in the marketplace. Whatever wealth government has was extracted from producers. Competence and ingenuity? No again. These are attributes of people who would be working in the private economy if they weren’t lured into government employment.

The only thing government has that no one else has is the legal power to use force against peaceful people—the power to tax, to regulate, and to grant special privileges. That’s it. Anything creative and useful for recovery from a disaster already exists in civil society. No bully is needed.

Ace blogger Rod Dreher has a good piece headlined “Sandy and Civil Society.” Dreher comments on people who are standing around in the wake of Sandy’s devastation, listlessly waiting for some government agency to help them.

If you come to depend on the state for everything, and forget how to do for yourselves, and let your relationships with your neighbors deteriorate (or fail to form them), you may find when disaster strikes that you are reduced to sitting there in the ruins waiting for someone from the government to drive through and tell you what to do.

Let me be clear: I’m not mocking this woman from New York, and you shouldn’t either. She’s facing devastation, a kind of devastation for which her culture has not prepared her. I only bring her response up as a cautionary tale.

While we are on the subject of Sandy and the active versus the passive citizenry, I do want to comment on one more aspect of the situation: Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to allow the National Guard into the borough of Brooklyn:

Mayor Bloomberg has snubbed Borough President Markowitz’s impassioned plea to bring the National Guard to Hurricane Sandy-scarred Brooklyn — arguing that approving the Beep’s request would be a waste of federal manpower and turn the borough into a police state.

“We don’t need it,” Mayor Bloomberg said on Wednesday during a press update on the city’s ongoing Hurricane Sandy cleanup. “The NYPD is the only people we want on the street with guns.”

Ace of Spades nails what is so wrong about this:

You know what's worse than highly-trained, highly-disciplined men with guns? Looters and criminials of opportunity, and citizens getting panicky about looters and criminals of opportunity.

The mayor's prohibition assumes a passive citizenry that should not even be allowed to defend itself.