After the Twister


David Beito describes the post-tornado relief efforts in his part of Alabama, where churches and local radio stations have played key roles in a spontaneous, decentralized process:

The outpouring of volunteers and donations is not only inspiring and effective but extremely decentralized. The two local talk radio stations (joined by a few other stations) are on the air from 8:00 to 8:00 to serve as an informal clearing house for relief efforts. The station which started this effort has only three employees (who were normally not on air) and it has preempted the normal programming.

Typically, someone calls in to the host and express a need for a particular area or group. Ten minutes later they call back to say ten people showed up on their doorstep. Those coordinating relief often specify that they are short on particular goods and have too many of others thus allowing givers to tailor the donations. The broadcasts has informed me of several opportunities to be of help. You can listen in, and look at the talk radio facebook, here.

Although most of the relief effort starts with individuals who weigh in on their own, churches are playing a key role in coordinating it.

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  1. Same thing happened in Nashville after the floods, and it was great to see. Churches and volunteer orgs stepped up in a major way and rapidly mitigated the damage done.

    It was funny, albeit sad, to see the mayor grandstanding a few days later after most of the work had been done, trying to salvage whatever credit he could.

    1. I second that. I spent the first day helping a friend dig out what remained of her house, and the second we went to go volunteer in a neighborhood but were turned away because there were too many volunteers. Hard to believe but that’s what happened. I dropped off some water bottles and left. They had piles of relief supplies all up and down the street.

      The Nashville floods were devastating in terms of damage that those outside of Nashville did not really understand nor notice. But this is called “The Volunteer State” for a reason, and frankly we were much better off WITHOUT any help from a federal level.

  2. “played central roles in a spontaneous, decentralized process:”


    1. “played central roles in a spontaneous, decentralized process:”


      Arrg. Bad word choice. I better fix that.

      1. It was a centralized decentralization!

      2. It’s an important reminder about the distinction between “centralized” (which a small number of broadcasting clearinghouses certainly are, in addition to being key) and “top-down”, which they are not.

  3. I went on a recon mission into the heart of the destruction. Check out my Twitter to receive your orders in the fight against Motherfucking Nature.!/CHARLIESHEEN

  4. “I dropped off some water bottles and left.”

    Shouldn’t you have sold them at the market rate, in order to distribute them effectively? I mean, seriously, giving stuff away is bad, right?

    1. Sometimes. Taking stuff that isn’t given freely is more likely to be bad.

    2. I mean, seriously, giving stuff away is bad, right?

      No, actually charity is an axiom of libertarianism since you are voluntarily assisting others knowing it will help rebuild your community in to a more prosperous area.

      1. We’re just not allowed to redistribute resources using the most efficient methods.

        Cheering on private charity means you don’t actually believe all the things you say you believe about markets being efficient allocators of resources–you just are anti-government.

        1. Right! Fixing the problem yourself is bad, m’kay?

          Don’t these people know enough to sit around and wait for the government to show up and fix everything for them? Ungrateful bastards.

          Where the heck is Ray Nagin when you need him?

          1. Some of us believe in having community safety nets that come with the guarantee of government rather than the whim of people who believe in imaginary friends in the sky.

            1. Explain to me the difference between blind faith in an all-powerful being in, say, Valhalla, and blind faith in an all-powerful being in, say, Washington.

              1. There is not a single human being who believes in the latter?

                1. Did you miss the ’08 election?

            2. Yep. We all got to watch a bunch of people who firmly believe in those government safety net guarantees sitting around in the filth at the Superdome while their government minders assured them that help was on the way “any minute now”. I think a large chunk of them are still waiting (and pissed!).

              And surely you wouldn’t argue that only people who follow religion would help one another voluntarily?

              1. If private charity were enough to take care of needs of people in a natural disaster area, we wouldn’t need government assistance. For that matter, if markets provided a decent standard of living for all people by themselves, we wouldn’t need safety nets. It’s not a socialist conspiracy, it’s human beings addressing real needs with their brains. Which is not what libertarians do when they assume private action is enough to deliver a decent civilization.

                1. “If private charity were enough to take care of needs of people in a natural disaster area, we wouldn’t need government assistance.”

                  I believe that was one of the points of the article.

                2. If over-reliance on government safety nets wasn’t a problem, there wouldn’t have been all those people waiting around at the Superdome. And there wouldn’t still be all those empty wards in New Orleans. Absent government help there is a good chance that all of those people would have stayed and helped with the rebuilding.

                  There’s something strange in the psychology of the collective. It can lead to great acts of altruism or unfathomable acts of apathy (like stepping over a dead homeless guy on the sidewalk on the way to work).

                  I remember a story from the National Geographic about the construction of a huge dam in Bangladesh designed to protect against storm surges. Instead of waiting around for construction bids and some all-powerful outsiders, they got the entire community together and hundreds of thousands of people ran out during the neap tide and built the initial flood control dike. But that was about 30 years ago, before we learned that we couldn’t rely on each other.

                  You see the same thing in various communities here. Some places everyone turns out to help fill sandbags and reinforce the dikes. Other places they sit and wait for the government to send the corps of engineers in. I wonder what would have happened in New Orleans if 100,000 people had spontaneously shown up at that failing floodwall, instead of a single backhoe and a couple of dump trucks. Could they have stopped the flood through sheer volume of hands? Maybe not… but it would have made a better story for the city than “4 lonely workers battle the flood”.

                  The seed of the same desire for community is present in the socialist mindset and in the “guns and bibles” crowd. The difference is in the perception of how best to build that community and which “unintended consequences” are going to be ignored.

        2. Anti-coercion, bub.

        3. We’re just not allowed to redistribute resources using the most efficient coercive methods.

          No, you’re not.

          1. So I’m not allowed a military?

            1. Don’t ask.

              1. Don’t tell.

        4. “We’re just not allowed to redistribute resources using the most efficient methods.”

          You mean government bureacracy?

        5. The way you frame arguments is amazing Tony, I never tire of watching you constantly try and pound square peg through a round hole.

          Let’s start with your premise-

          We’re just not allowed to redistribute resources using the most efficient methods.

          You mean YOU and your liberal ilk are not allowed to take away at threat of arrest that which belongs to one to give to another.

          Aside from the fact that this is clearly the LEAST inefficient means of distributing resources-as the stories from Alabama and Tennessee are revealing- you then go on to add another fallacy on top of the first one with this-

          Cheering on private charity means you don’t actually believe all the things you say you believe about markets being efficient allocators of resources–you just are anti-government.

          There is absolutely ZERO comparison between government compulsion to give to others and a free market. None. Zilch. I will not accept your premise that I am simply “anti-government” I will argue that the forced government compulsion has proven to be a very inefficient means of allocating resources. Indeed, the dreadful history of the 20th century is in large part a history of the terrible results of these collectivist endeavors. Even today in the 21st we have more examples of how the free market handles disaster areas better than government assistance. Last night I watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Haiti episode, and what was clear is that aid from NGO’s is more of the problem than the solution. The solution is already happening there, by the way, and it’s a result of Haitians creating markets for themselves so they can rebuild on their own. (The artwork galleries were simply overwhelming, that episode is a must watch if you like No Reservations).

          Tony, not only are you wrong about the empirical evidence in front of you, but you don’t even know how wrong you are.

        6. Jesus Christ, Tony, what the fuck are you talking about? You’ve been around here long enough that you know damn well that you are totally full of crap. Libertarianism really has little to do with belief that the market is the most efficient way to distribute resources. It just happens to be a fact.

          In any case, the free market is just people doing what they want to with their own stuff. There is no rule that giving the stuff away for free violates.

          1. Exactly, Zeb. Libertarianism is simply freedom.

        7. “We’re just not allowed to redistribute resources using the most efficient methods.”

          When people talk about market efficiency, they mean something similar to “maximal utility”, not merely the amount of management overhead required. Central planning can be more efficient than capitalism in terms of labor dedicated to making decisions about capital, but if those decisions are substantially dumber or more corrupt, it’s still a net loss for society.

          Even when it comes to altruism, government is less effective than the non-coercive sector.

    3. Did someone beat you in the head with a hammer when you were a child? And if not, why?

      1. Apparently he managed stupidity on his own.

        Good for him.

    4. The only libertarian principle to be applied here is that people get to do whatever they want to with their own stuff. Libertarianism is not a prescriptive political philosophy, i.e. not Objectivism. But you knew that.

  5. The two local talk radio stations (joined by a few other stations) are on the air from 8:00 to 8:00 to serve as an informal clearing house for relief efforts.

    And who is permitting the radio wave use for those stations? That’s right; the GOVERNMENT.

    1. Without the government’s 1st Amendment those non-state-established Churches wouldn’t exist.

  6. We are often a tremendously generous and giving people. Despite government, not because of it.

    1. Well put.

      Situations like this reaffirm my belief that libertarian philosophy is a realistic alternative to traditional political remedies.

  7. I’m about 5 miles from the path of one of the storms through Jefferson County – and the spontaneous volunteerism and decentralized execution is massive in the area. People aren’t waiting for someone to tell them what to do, they’re just finding things that need to be done, and are doing them. The signs/fingerprints of government ‘direction’ of the vast bulk of what I’ve seen has been quite in the background, and not the driving/controlling force. Coordinating, and helping versus hindering, somewhat. But time will tell

    1. It might also be pointed out that a huge number of people had already self-mobilized and were already at work on the disaster before the man dropped in for his look-see and words of comfort. Who went right back to what they were doing, if they’d even paused, or noticed his presence at all in the first place.

      1. I believe the joke going around is that Saban told Obama how to find OBL…

    2. I’m from Birmingham and have dozens of friends who go to the University of Alabama. The radio stations aren’t the only way they’re spreading information. I see hundreds of Facebook statuses a day about where help is needed. With school mostly cancelled, many of the students are staying in town to help with the clean up. The same is occurring in Pleasant Grove and Cullman. Many of my friends in Birmingham are offering housing to displaced students in Tuscaloosa.

  8. We had the same thing in Huntsville. I’m convinced that’s why things are getting back up and running so quickly despite the massive level of damage…

  9. When a natural disaster strikes, there is a small window for self-reliance to take root before the state intervenes to foster dependence with its handouts. More natural disasters are the silver lining in the cloud of impending state bankrupcy.

  10. Who’s spoofing Edward today?

    1. It almost seems like a new Max who doesn’t know about the old one.

    2. Methinks there’s more than one Edward, and the new one has no idea about the pile he’s stepped in byusin that handle.

  11. I’m not so sure that the conclusion is that individuals are better at handling disasters than governments but that churches are the solution to crisis intervention

    1. I think the difference is how much the citizens feel they own the community. In Tuscaloosa, there is very much a feeling that the community is owned by those who live there – especially considering the football culture and the university there.

      If there is a community in which the people don’t feel like they have much control over the government/administration, I can see how they could feel as though they don’t own the community and rebuilding it would be slower after a disaster.

      Also, there’s a tendency for large population centers to become increasingly faceless. Small towns such as Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove, Huntsville, and even Birmingham have much different dynamic than New Orleans, Chicago, or New York.

    2. ..did you write an article about it??

    3. Churches already have a community of members who are ready to volunteer to help those in need.

  12. A similar thing happened in Houston after Hurricane Ike. All the big radio stations were broadcasting which stores at which addresses had things like batteries and, most importantly, ice, since almost the entire city was without power in the middle of September.

  13. I’m really proud of the way we’ve all pulled together here in AL.

  14. When that storm passed through here in the North Piedmont part of NC, a tornado hovered over my house for several minutes. It looked like dreadlocks being swung around in slow motion. Unfortunately, I was too fascinated by it to get the camera.

    1. Wow. I really want to see something like that. I think I too would be too fascinated to be scared or take my eyes off of it.

  15. The only government help I got while living in an uninhabitable house after Hurricane Andrew was a fucking shotgun pointed at my head in my own fucking front yard because I was “willfully disobeying a lawful curfew order”.

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