Saturday, February 16, 2013

Everyone's Salvation--Government

In a 15 February column in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Western Kentucky University professor Aaron Hughey made the point that only government is able to provide needed assistance in handling natural disasters, at least the ones that can’t be handled locally. There’s no argument with this but there are barriers beyond which even the government can’t go in trying to handle Nature.

Hughey mentioned that a surge-barrier system around Manhattan could cost up to $22 billion but said it could be done. Of course it could be done, but would it be more cost-effective to simply clean up the mess every hundred years or so, as is the ongoing effort triggered by Hurricane Sandy, a century-dated storm, though FEMA seems to have been almost totally AWOL. And if Manhattan is to have a surge-barrier system, shouldn’t there be one on Long Island, Staten Island, the New Jersey coast and, indeed, the entire coast, Maine to Florida and around the Gulf since hurricanes hit them regularly, washing away the beaches, waterfront houses, etc.?

Regarding the attempt to repair constantly, why shouldn’t the president appoint a czar to draw up an executive order mandating no help for anyone insisting on living in a flood plain? That would do away with any entity ever having to pay for setting things right, just using plain common sense. The fact that the guy in Peoria must pick up the tab to help the guy who unnecessarily insists on staying in harm’s way is unseemly.

The estimate is that Katrina cost the U.S. government $110 billion…and New Orleans is still there, much if not most of it remaining in ruined condition. Common sense would have insisted on moving the residents and letting much if not most of the city, already then under many feet of water, go. Example: The whole town of Valmeyer, Illinois, was moved after a 1993 flood, with the U.S. paying 75% of the cost of moving or buying and state and local governments picking up the rest. No more floods…ever.

Standing within levees and canals about eight feet below sea level and gradually sinking, with Lake Pontchartrain posed above it behind a questionable dam, most of New Orleans presents an untenable problem, one that could probably have been more cost-efficiently erased by just relocating the population. But that’s too sensible for government, which has no problem with doing away with an aircraft carrier costing $22 billion to construct.

The thrust of Hughey’s column, however, was less about disasters per se and more about the undue emphasis placed in this country on self-reliance and an implied insensitivity by citizens for others. The disaster angle was meant to show that folks need government to take care of them—the Obama syndrome. Hughey said that not everything should be about generating a profit. Of course not! The generous government does not create a profit, except for the profits contrived by crooked politicians.

Hughey asked: “Did the free market abolish slavery…desegregate our schools…secure the vote for women…pay for my mother's cancer treatment (over a half-million dollars) during the last two years of her life?” The implied answer is NO. The actual answer is YES. The tax money used for these great things was derived from someone making a tax-paying profit and establishing tax-paying jobs.

As a practical matter, the only economic system ever to exist in this country is the free-market system. As the country built the greatest economic engine in history, there has never been a communist system or a socialist system, though the country is headed toward socialism now.

Soon, government will control healthcare completely, an individual’s most sensitive area, the difference between life and death. Once a society slips under governmental control, incentive disappears (that evil profit motive) as everyone approaches the level of the lowest common denominator. Account the differences in people, there never has been and will never be a so-called “level playing field” without it being superficially mandated, everyone operating on the same level of mediocrity.

As earthquakes and other catastrophes occur throughout the world, a knowledgeable person will see that in no nation is there even a fraction of relief of that which obtains in this country, both public and PRIVATE. But staring down nature and trying to effect some sort of risk-free environment is like spitting in the wind…silly, regardless of sensitivities.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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