Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Orleans, Part One

Last week I was down in New Orleans visiting family for the first time since hurricane Katrina hit the area. It was definitely a mess, but I saw a lot of people cleaning up and rebuilding. I will share some stories and pictures later this week, but I wanted to address a question I was asked regarding my political philosophy.

A friend asked me whether or not my political beliefs were challenged after seeing the utter devastation and the obvious need of those who lost everything. Now, if it isn't obvious already, I am a staunch libertarian (bordering on anarcho-capitalist), and believe that government has no business providing charity of any kind. I think Grover Cleveland's words say it best
I can find no warrant for such an appropriation [federal aid to drought-stricken Texas farmers] in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit...The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune...Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthen the bond of a common brotherhood.
No politician today would have the nerve to say such a thing. Instead, we get a gaggle of rogues who stumble over themselves in a race to place blame on each other and to siphon funds from the public trough.

So, have my beliefs been challenged? In a word, no. In fact, the question is predicated on, what I consider to be, a false assumption: that only government can provide solutions to such problems. (The person who asked me this question is a libertarian himself, so I don't think this is what he believes. I have, however, been asked similar questions by non-libertarians).

Read this story about how $1.4 billion dollars was wasted on fraudulent charges and tell me that government is the most efficient provider of relief funds. This isn't some anomaly either - we constantly hear about fraud in programs like Medicaid, Social Security, Defense Department appropriations, etc. Why would we think that allowing the government to provide billions in disaster relief would be run any better?

We also have to look at the moral hazard that occurs when government becomes the primary supplier of charity. In the passage above, Grover Cleveland talks about the "expectation of paternal care" that is encouraged when Federal aid is so easily dispersed. We should want to "strengthen the bond of a common brotherhood" with the application of private, personal charity, not sit back and assume that some monolithic entity will know what is best for the vast numbers who have lost everything.

Visiting New Orleans has done nothing to change my philosophy. In fact, after listening to personal stories and watching the local news, I am more convinced that the heavy, bumbling hand of government is the bane of civilized society.

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