Posts Tagged With: Frederic Bastiat

The Revenge of the Unseen

Many on the statist left are using Hurricane Sandy to prove why big government is necessary and to stick it to the crazy libertarian Mitt Romney.

This is an example of what the French classical-liberal Frederic Bastiat called the inability to perceive both “the seen and the unseen.”  That is, we can all see the actual destruction caused by the hurricane.  But what we can’t see is how a society that didn’t depend on centralized government for disaster relief–not to mention disaster mitigation or prevention–would function in the first place.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher, for instance, has a perceptive post about how government disaster relief degrades civil society–it fosters helplessness among neighbors, who rather than helping each other, just wait for the government to arrive.

“Seeing the unseen” doesn’t have the raw emotional power of pointing to burnt-out homes.  But if we want to think maturely about government power, we should ask ourselves how people would act if they weren’t constantly that the government is the proper responder to hurricanes.  What kinds of levees would private companies have built to prevent destruction from the sea?  What drainage technology would private companies use that municipalities have never contemplated?  What kind of insurance contracts would people enter into and what level of responsibility would they feel toward their own neighbors if they weren’t taught that only the government could save them?  What would a privatized FEMA actually look like?  Would it take the form of private companies throwing their clients into the sea, as the picture above suggests?  Or would a more rational business model look something like AAA, where clients pay monthly fees so that, if trouble actually arises, they have an entitlement to relief work?

Above all: is the destruction so bad in spite of government relief work, or is government preemption of the relief market a contributing factor to the extent of the destruction?

I don’t claim to know all of these answers for certain–no one can really predict how new markets will develop.  But those are the kinds questions we should be asking, rather than just looking at destroyed cities and then repeating bromides over “good government.”

 

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