James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Libertarian Priorities and Disaster Relief

This is in response to commenters Gavin and Kaza on the post Wrong Troops, Wrong Gulf, Wrong Time. (Read the entire article here.)

Gavin asks,

But I wonder what government could fully prepare for an event like we saw. I fear that a more Libertarian government would not want to get involved in the upgrading of the levies. There would be property rights issues involved let alone the “pork barrel” feel that the infrastructure improvement would have.
A more socialist government might do a better job at the infrastructure than any other type of government (Amsterdam comes to mind), but then other things are given up. Just as with the “war on terror” one must decide how much freedom is given up for security.
James, I do have another question for you. What is the Libertarian response to disaster relief? Is FEMA something that is important? Does the government have a responsibility to help its citizens when disaster strikes?

I agree that no government can “fully prepare for an event like we saw.” But it was, as widely reported, one of the three most likely major disasters America could face.

The problem, as I stated in another post, is the lack of a sense of ownership. Government doesn’t have any sense of ownership, thus no sense of responsibility. Every Fortune 500 corporation in America, every farm in the Midwest, every ag corp, every insurance company in the world, had a vested interest in keeping the levee strong enough against a Level 5 Hurricane - which Katrina wasn’t. Just as insurance companies charge higher insurance premiums for earthquake damage in San Francisco than in Chicago. When public works are privately owned, the owners suffer financially and people get fired when mistakes are made.

Governments, on the other hand, are more interested in controlling people’s lives than in managing land and infrastructure. Government claims that imposing democracy (actually, theocracy) in the Middle East, or ridding America of certain drugs, or cutting down class sizes in government-run schools, or doing yet another study concluding that Americans are too fat, is more important than protecting the largest port in America. It overlooks the mundane and takes things for granted in the pursuit of its ideological agenda.

A more libertarian government would reverse these priorities. While it would still be preferable to transfer as many public works to the private sector, to the extent that the government still owns it, the libertarian government would be more interested in maintaining it as a means of protecting America, rather than neglect it in the pursuit of utopian dreams.

As to the question of emergency relief, I don’t speak for libertarians, who have a wide range of opinions on many things. Speaking for myself, I think restoring order and providing food and temporary shelter is one that government could provide - provided it does not presume to manage or control (and therefore hamper) private relief efforts. If it "takes charge" of relief, it will be worse than useless.

But in any case, the lesson is that people should try as much as possible to not be in a position where they have to rely on government, or count on it even when it’s needed most.

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