Monday, September 12, 2005

What do we know?

The Katrina news and commentary keep piling up but some are worth repeating. This morning's WSJ (page B1, cannot link for non-subscibers) reports that: "At Wal-Mart, Emergency Plan Has Big Payoff ... The Federal Emergency Management Agency can learn some things from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. On Wednesday, Aug. 24, when Katrina was reclassified to a storm from a tropical depression, Jason Jackson, the retailer's director of business continuity, started camping out in Wal-Mart's emergency command center. By Friday, when the hurricane touched down in Florida, he had been joined by 50 Wal-Mart managers and support personnel, ranging from trucking experts to loss-prevention specialists. On Sunday, before the storm made landfall on the Gulf Coast, Mr. Jackson ordered Wal-Mart warehouses to deliver a variety of emergency supplies, from generators to dry ice to bottled water, to designated staging areas so that company stores would be able to reopen quickly if disaster struck ..."

Yesterday's NY Times David Brooks piece is a nice complement. "The Best-Laid Plan: Too Bad It Flopped" looks at pre-Katrina planning, which Brooks finds to be impressive -- but reiterates the plain fact that there is only so much that government can do. Even well-meaning and competent officials (not to speak of the other) will not perform up to the level of a Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile in the LA Times, Niall Ferguson ("The Economic Hurricane") raises the sceptre that Katrina will plunge the U.S. (and the world?) into economic recession. No one knows and Murphy's Law can always kick in. Nevertheless, all doomsayers ought to carefully consider the Wal-Mart example -- as well as (drum roll) the perennially evoked and nevertheless widely neglected Econ 101.