In appalling but typical “never let a crisis go to waste” style, big government advocates and apologists aren’t even waiting for the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Houston to subside before attacking conservatives’ and libertarians’ small government principles. Suddenly, anything government does to address the catastrophe in Houston is “socialism,” and anyone who’s ever spoken a word against all-government, all-the-time is presumed to be a heartless “let ’em drown” anarchist.

We are to believe that, without government, Houston would be left to rot. We are to believe that, if urban planners and zoning regulators weren’t subordinated to individual property rights, the flooding would have not been so catastrophic. We are to believe that natural disasters bankrupt any belief that government should be small and limited.

It’s funny how that works. It’s funny, in a morbid sort of way, how people who want more government run on the assumption that when Bad Things happen, it’s only government that can fix them. It’s funny, in an insulting sort of way, how statists get it in their heads that those who do not want unlimited government want no government, as if it’s impossible to say that government should be around to do some things, but not everything.

It’s not funny, of course. It’s infuriating, not only because it’s condescending and belittling, but because it’s so obviously wrong. Wrong, from both a “without government, they’ll be left to rot” and a “only government can fix things” perspective.

Consider, first, the private-sector response. People from the area, and indeed from all over the country, have moved of their own volition towards the afflicted area to help. Notable, but certainly not alone, among these is the “Cajun Navy.” Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors switched their facilities over to canning water, expecting to deliver over 200,000 cans of drinking water to the area. Money is pouring into private charities, and businesses, local and national, are stepping up. This is nothing new. It’s what happens in America whenever a disaster occurs. People leap to action, with their money, their time and/or their effort. And, very often, they leap faster and more effectively than the government does. And, very often, the government actually gets in their way, because that’s what bureaucracies do. This is what makes the “no conservatives in flood zones” argument so risible.

The flip side is, of course, the government response. Can we overlook government’s past performances in response to natural disasters, and simply presume that, this time, they’ll get everything right? Moreso, can we simply say “government,” when in fact we have three different levels of government: local, state, and federal? In this conversation, which is about people using natural disasters as an excuse to defend Big Government and rip those who advocate for smaller government, the distinction is vital. Despite the popular narrative, the New Orleans-Katrina debacle was not simply “Bush’s fault.” Government at the state and local level, certainly more responsible than federal-level government for both preparation and recovery, dropped the ball epically there.

There is a fairly broad range of “how much government” limited government advocates support, and many do consider natural disaster relief to be a legitimate function. This shows the “no conservatives in flood zones” assertion for what it is: a child’s binary straw man argument. But, even those skeptical of government in this regard typically find fault on the front end of such crises, in the moral hazard created by big-government.

Considered broadly, localities consider their states to be safety nets in the event of calamity, and states consider the feds to be a safety net in the event of calamity. While all but the most hardened minarchists and anarchists will accept that some events warrant such expectations, they incentivize pols at the local and state levels not to be as prudent in long-term preparation, both infrastructure- and money-wise. This isn’t a binary yes-no situation, and politicians and public servants do pay attention to such matters (especially after an event occurs and the public demands it), but if politicians were angels and solons, we wouldn’t need checks and balances.

Considered specifically, contemplate as one example the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program takes the place of private-sector flood insurance offerings, and is a typical government program in that its attachment to fiscal reality is, relatively speaking, rather tenuous. It’s already $25B in debt, and it’s certain that Harvey’s going to balloon that number dramatically. One of the biggest issues with the NFIP is that it under-charges those who (re)build in flood zones, thus shifting the burden away from beneficiaries and onto taxpayers. Again – government-created moral hazard. In a free market, building homes and businesses in high-risk flood areas should come with a risk premium substantial enough to cover the risk, actuarially-speaking. While it is true that a debt-free home or business owner doesn’t have to buy flood insurance, new construction is invariably reliant on bank loans, and if the flood insurance that banks would require as a condition of lending were actuarially accurate, there’d be less development in high-risk areas, and thus less onus on taxpayers when bad events do occur. Government, in both its failures and its missteps, contributes to the level of damage incurred in such events.

It also seems that many leftists and socialism-apologists want places like Houston, whose rapid growth has been aided by a lighter government touch, which exists in a hated Red state, and which has incorrectly been deemed as Trump country, to be humbled in their resistance to Big Nanny Government. The venom pouring forth in social media, even as the disaster continues and as bodies are still being found, is sickening. Sadly, that’s the world we live in, where the impersonal nature of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms fosters such disgusting behavior.

But, even if we exclude these sub-humans, it still remains that there are many who see Harvey as another opportunity to rehabilitate the word “socialism.” Even as its latest failure – Venezuela – descends into anarchy and death, the people who against mountains of evidence still think that it’s a better way to govern engage in a combination of advocacy and blurring of both its history and its meaning. It’s becoming synonymous with “Big Government” when excuses to say “see, government is necessary” emerge, but it’s rules-lawyered away when people bring up big government failures and devastation.

Armchair philosophizing aside, it is a given that government at all levels will participate in recovery from Hurricane Harvey. It is also a given that there is and will continue to be an enormous outpouring of support from the private sector. To suggest the former is panacea and the latter is nonexistent, which is the gambit that the “no conservatives in flood zones” assholes are putting forth, is both flagrantly false and deeply insulting. If you’re one of these people, just stop. There’ll be plenty of time later on to figure out how best to prepare for the next weather-related disaster. Not everything is about you and your bankrupt philosophy.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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