The Department of Leaflets

by Mark Steyn

Hurricane Sandy has passed, the President has hung up his Air Force One bomber jacket, but Roger Kimball is still on the receiving end of “Federal Emergency Management”:

Yesterday I spoke to, let’s see, eight, maybe nine different FEMA agents. Each one was there to help. Each was polite, sympathetic. Oodles of sympathy. Almost all had a form for me to fill out, a web site to visit. Each of the long, long line of people who came to see these agents went away with forms to fill out, web sites to visit…

All the agents were huddled in a suite of offices down a long corridor inside Town Hall. There was the Cerberus outside the sanctum sanctorum that made sure you had “registered with FEMA.” That done, he provided you with a routing slip that detailed the services you might be eligible for. Then you sat for an hour or two, as if you were a patient at an NHS facility in Britain, or an Obamacare facility in America in the near future. You then talked to one nice person after the next. There was this form, and that form, and a web site you could visit, and handbook you could read. At one stop I was given, for free!, a longish pamphlet explaining what I could do to make my property less liable to flood damage: “Mitigation Ideas For Reducing Flood Loss” it said on its cover. After a flood, it told me, a house needs to be dried out and cleaned. “Move things you want to save to a safe dry place.” Noted. “The longer they sit in water, the more damaged they become.” I was glad to know that.

But even butt-numbing statements of the obvious are not actionable without jumping through the hoops of the permit process. If anything, Roger’s Kafka reference understates the issue. Kafka would surely have been impressed by the twin ambitions of the modern empathetic state: the need to set up hyper-regulatory bodies preventing you from doing anything yourself, while simultaneously endowing lavish pseudo-agencies to hand out leaflets listing a 1-800 number you can dial to order more leaflets. The compliance of the citizenry with these intrusions is sad.