Yglesias, like many of his like-minded compatriots, presents these arguments as though they were all-or-nothing propositions. This is strange, inasmuch as they pretty clearly recognize the merits of such inquiry when coming from their own side: There are many people who believe that we spend far too much money on national security (I am among them), but only the most gap-toothed among us equate asking uncomfortable questions about military-spending priorities with abandoning national security categorically. Sometimes it makes sense to ask whether the federal government should be doing this at all. Very often it makes sense to ask, as one expects a Romney administration would, whether the federal government is going about this the right way.

On the narrow question of FEMA, the answer is probably no. Like many otherwise worthwhile federal endeavors, including those that happen inside that famous five-sided building in Washington, FEMA has managed over the years to waste truly shocking amounts of money, e.g. spending $416,000 per capita to temporarily house people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, spending nearly $1 billion on manufactured homes that FEMA’s own regulations rendered unusable in many situations, etc. We all remember those $2,000 debit cardsthat were handed out like Christmas candy. In much the same way that some conservatives are more skeptical about foreign military actions when there is a Democratic president, liberals are better at recognizing government waste when there is a Republican president.