Government & Natural Disasters

2011 August 31 01:00 PM

A friend of my shared a call-to-action from a progressive group angry that Eric Cantor wants “cuts to vital government programs” as part of providing hurricane relief:

It’s the role of government to respond to the needs of its people in the wake of disaster. Republicans like Eric Cantor need to get out of the way and let the federal government do its job – help the states aid those in immediate danger and as quickly as possible begin the essential work of repairing the damage done.

It’s the role of government to respond to the needs of its people in the wake of disaster.

I’ve always been a bit baffled by why its the government’s responsibility to step in after every so-called “disaster” and provide so much assistance.

Don’t get me wrong: if there is a serious threat to life, the government may have a role regardless of whether the situation was foreseeable or preventable. That might include providing evacuations, providing emergency supplies, or whatever else is needed to safeguard life.

But for something to be a disaster, doesn’t it have to include an element of being an accident or unforeseeable? Otherwise, it’s just negligence to prepare on the part of the victims. Hurricanes happen with extreme regularity in certain areas. People know this, especially those living in such areas. At some point, doesn’t this personal choice become tantamount to giving society the finger?

Again, sure, a government providing immediate relief in order to safeguard life can make a lot of sense. That part of the article is non-controversial except among those opposed to all government.

But providing money for rebuilding? Maybe that forces folks to stay in an area where they are prone to be victims? That is neither a good use of money, nor is it fair to the victims. How about the alternatives? Just to name one, how about giving folks assistance to leave the area permanently?

Same goes for a wide variety of other regular environmental issues, like the yearly flooding along the Mississippi or snow storms in New England.

The article also mentions tornadoes, which I find to be particularly problematic. That is a type of disaster where the effects can be mitigated through insurance (because a tornado doesn’t wipe out all the policy holders at once, the way a flood might, the risk can be distributed across the subscriber base). It seems to me that local governments can address the immediate effects, while homeowner’s insurance ought to cover the rest. How is there any role for the federal government at all when it comes to tornadoes?

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