Natural disasters and state assistance. Does the government have a role in helping people whose homes have been destroyed or severly damaged in a natural disaster? I was reminded of this issue by a 6.5 earthquake that hit this last weekend just twenty miles from where I live, knocking over bookshelves and CD racks. As natural disasters go, this one was very minor—hardly even worth troubling about. But it could easily have been much worse. Forty miles to the south three massive plates come together, creating tensions that could spill over into moster quakes. Twenty years ago the area generated a 7.0 quake; yet it is fully capable of generating quakes comparable to the Anchorage and Indian Ocean quakes.
The destructive capacity of nature is immense. Whether it's earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, these events can devestate entire communities. Yet oddly, Rand and her disciples have very little to say about these "Black Swan" events (to borrow Nassim Taleb's terminology). One could imagine Rand criticizing the mere mention of them as evincing a "malevolent" sense of life. After all, they don't happen all that often: so why dwell on them?
Although they are not an everyday occurence (at least in any given locality), nonetheless they do happen; and most people have a fairly strong conviction that the government has a role in assisting the victims of catastrophic natural disasters. Claiming the state has no role is a hard sell. Why should the state do nothing? It is precisely in a catastrophic disaster that collective action governed by strong leadership becomes advantageous. To oppose such action appears to be mere obstinacy, with neither wisdom nor good sense in support of it.
It is here that Rand's principle-centric approach gets her into trouble. Principles, for Rand, are invioble "absolutes." Only an individual suffering from an "anti-conceptual mentality" would approve of violating a principle. Yet this view of things presupposes an orderly, linear, "logical" universe; it assumes that the non-linear, the disorderly, the non-logical either doesn't exist or is "non-essential." Such assumptions, however, go against facts that confront us in everyday life and in history. As Nassim Taleb reminds us, "the world is more nonlinear than we think, [or] than scientists [and Rand] would like to think.... Linear relationships are truly the exception; we only focus on them in classrooms and textbooks because they are easier to understand." Principles that work fine under ordinary circumstances often break down under exceptional circumstances. Hence wisdom counsels flexibility. When confronted by a rare, extremely impactful event, the individual may need to improvise. Obstinacy on behalf of one's principles, far from being a mark of intelligence and "rationality," merely demonstrates an inability to adapt to new circumstances.
How well did Nassim Taleb do in the financial markets again with his "Black Swan" philosophy of investing?
I'm sure the book did much, much better.
The question to ask is: if I have to pay ( as a citizen paying tax ) for the impact on people for such a disaster, why would I stop there ?
Why not pay for a lone burned house ( of someone without any insurance ? ).
«Claiming the state has no role is a hard sell. Why should the state do nothing? It is precisely in a catastrophic disaster that collective action governed by strong leadership becomes advantageous.»
Why should the state do something ?
Why do collective action has to be initiated and lead by gouvernement ? Many organism fill that hole in country where gouvernement don't.
And I'm not shure that Rand would have opposed that initial emergency action be paid by gouvernement ( such as army deployed )
That linear/non-linear cut looks to me like a subjective one...
While saying that in the face of a so called «non-linear» event, individual has to improvise you are using this argumentation as a call for gouvernement action...
«When confronted by a rare, extremely impactful event, the individual may need to improvise. Obstinacy on behalf of one's principles, far from being a mark of intelligence and "rationality," merely demonstrates an inability to adapt to new circumstances.»
That would be true only if we assume that the event «crash» the principle...
As usual, Rand writes herself a get-out-of-jail free clause to her supposedly inviolable principles. That is, emergencies are somehow "metaphysically" exceptional, so Objectivist principles no longer apply. It's literally "anything goes". So there's no reason why you couldn't have any kind of government intervention during an emergency.
"The Ethics of Emergencies" as an essay actually encapsulates in a nutshell a great deal of what's wrong with Rand in general - the inane psychologising, the double-talk, the nullifying clauses, the bamboozlepalooza arguments, and best of all, a rare clearcut statement that allows us to draw some obvious conclusions about her ethical recommendations.
I started a line-by-line analysis of this essay a while back, I've been meaning to get back to it.
Francois: "Why should the state do something [in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster]?"
Because that's what the over-whelming majority of people want. Doesn't that count for anything? Individuals who have lost their homes in a natural disaster prefer not to be entirely dependent on private charity, which cannot always be counted upon.
"The question to ask is: if I have to pay ( as a citizen paying tax ) for the impact on people for such a disaster, why would I stop there ?"
So we let people starve and go homeless because we are afraid they are going to extend the principle beyond natural disasters? The problem is: they already have extended the principle. You're not going to get them to stop extending it by persuading them to inflexible follow your principle of "laissez-faire," because hardly anyone thinks that principle makes sense in every circumstance. The argument is never a simple black-and-white issue between total government interference on one side and laissez-faire on the other. It's about figuring out when a government role is necessary and when it isn't.
"Why not pay for a lone burned house ( of someone without any insurance?"
Because fire damage can be rationally insured by the market, since the risks involved are calculable. Natural disasters are often incalcuable and cannot be rationally insured: when the market tries to rationalize them, it either over prices them or under prices them. If it over prices them, most people can't afford the insurance; if it under-prices them, it won't be able to meet it's obligations once a disaster strikes.
I recall that the ARI said something snide about the US military helping people during The Tsunami, which they backtracked on.
It doesn't look they have commented on Haiti.
Government is not charity
Not Yours to Give Speech before the House of Representatives by David (Davy) Crockett
“We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.
We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”
the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means.
“‘If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give at all; and as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity.
“‘Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this country as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week’s pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.
“‘The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from necessity of giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.
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