Natural Disasters and the Case for Big Government

The New York Times declares "a big storm requires big government," and my liberal neighbors agree.

I expect that by the time you read this, President Obama will have been re-elected. Get ready for four more years of Big Bloated Government.

Hurricane Sandy didn't help.

The New York Times declared "a big storm requires big government," and my liberal neighbors agreed.

My science-challenged mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the storm makes it imperative that America do something about climate change. He said this even though hurricanes have not increased and little evidence exists that man has much effect on climate. With Obama's re-election, we now will spend billions more on "green" strategies. But the Earth won't notice.

Other politicians say Sandy proves we need a powerful federal emergency management agency. So I invited the man who should be president, Rep. Ron Paul, to come on my show to give a sensible perspective.

Paul said, "We handled floods and disasters for 204 years before we had FEMA, and states and volunteers and local communities did quite well."

Paul's congressional district is on the Gulf Coast, so he knows what he's talking about.

"What we should have is real insurance," he said.

Real insurance means private companies make bets about floods with their own money. But America has little of that.

I know this first-hand. I built a beach house because government encouraged me to take the risk. Private insurance companies wouldn't insure most of us who built on the edges of oceans, and those that did charged high prices. "Too high," said Congress, "so government must insure everyone!" They said they'd price it so taxpayers wouldn't lose—but as usual, they were wrong. Even before Sandy, federal flood insurance was $18 billion in the red.

And worse, cheap insurance encouraged more people to build on the beach. This is an absurd subsidy that should immediately be abolished.

But I fear I won't have much success convincing people. In "No, They Can't: Why Government Fails—But Individuals Succeed," I explain how instinct leads us to assume that experts in Washington have the best tools to manage big risks. Most Americans believe that. Even Fox News anchors told me that "flood insurance is a role for the federal government!"

Viewers were angrier. One civil comment: "Libertarian is good on paper, but not in real life. Why would the Govt. turns its back when its people suffer?"

Because government causes suffering.

As Paul put it, "Rich people get insurance subsidized by poor people, build on beaches.... Their houses get washed away, and poor people pay to rebuild.... It's a reason we're totally bankrupt."

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  • The Hammer||

    I wonder how the people of New York and New Jersey are feeling about FEMA right now?

  • JD the elder||

    Mixed feelings, as always. Some people are thinking, "Thank God for FEMA!" Others are thinking, "Those useless FEMA bastards."

    The best answer to people who are horrified by the idea of doing away with FEMA is something I probably read right here: Do you think FEMA magics up wealth out of nowhere? No, they get it by taking it away from taxpayers or other programs. Do you think FEMA magics up brainpower and know-how out of nowhere? No, they employ people who would be doing much the same thing anywhere else.

  • DJF||

    FEMA does not rescue people, it mostly hands out checks. You might get some help from local cops or firefighters but in situations where you need rescue you better be prepared to do it yourself or have some helpful relatives or neighbors.

    And don’t expect the military to do it, they are not really set up for it.

  • $park¥||

    Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to government.

  • R C Dean||

    All roads lead to big government.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    But reducing the scope of FEMA's responsibility is just like rounding people up and putting them into death camps!

  • Anomalous||

    But isn't FEMA run by Top Men?

  • $park¥||

    Yes, but not the right Top Men.

  • plschwartz||

    First, I think you should certainly know that though FEMA is relatively new, Federal help in disasters is not. See FEMA in Wikipedia.
    Second, the worst FEMA activity was of course in Katrina. But this was under an administration which was both inept and disdainful of government. So it dysfunction what a surprise. But of course we can match it's dysfunctionality with BP.
    And what about the behavior of the insurance companies which refused to honor their policies.
    I am afraid you confuse Libertarianism with Ayn Rand capitalism. Tome Libertarianism needs a highly developed sense of personable responsibility. I doubt that your ultimate boss Mr.Murdoch fits that category.

  • Juice||

    I know this first-hand. I built a beach house because government encouraged me to take the risk.

    You just couldn't help it. That evil government forced you to take money from taxpayers who are poorer than you. Seriously? That's your argument?

  • AnonoBot||

    When someone offers you another person's money, no strings attached, you're a fool if you turn it down.

  • AnonoBot||

    Whenever I hear FEMA I automatically think of that big bone in my leg.

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