Disaster Relief Without The State

January 11th, 2014   Submitted by Foo Quuxman

CrisisSomeone asserted to me that the state was necessary for disaster relief. At the time I didn’t give much of an answer because I was dumbfounded at the assertion, and it would have taken a while to explain. I am going to use Florida hurricanes as an example. Feel free to replace it with your preferred danger: earthquakes, tornadoes, sharks, tsunamis, whatever. Here is my response.

Risks and Costs:

If you live on the coast of Florida, you are taking the risk of having your house flattened by a hurricane. This is news to very few people. However, in an anarchist society you alone will bear the costs of that decision. There is no state or federal government to come bail you out when the next hurricane traipses up the beach (There are parallels to this in many other things as well, self defense comes to mind). This exerts a pressure for people to move to safer areas where insurance costs are lower (or if they don’t have insurance; the risk of losing everything), thereby reducing the number of people hurt by the disaster, as well as reducing the total cost of recovery and rebuilding.

But how do we deal with the disaster when it does arrive? First, without a government to siphon off wealth at every opportunity, general wealth will be much higher. Among other things this means that relief supplies will be far cheaper in real terms, what may only be able to purchase 200 gallons of bottled water under the current system could easily buy 400-800 gallons in a market not struggling under the weight of parasites.

This means that humanitarian organizations and individuals who wish to donate money, goods, or time will be capable of doing far more good than they can under the current system. It also means that people in the disaster need fewer resources to purchase goods from outside the disaster area and have them shipped in.

Controlling Prices: We control what we must, because we can.

When a disaster occurs one of the first things the state does is freeze prices to prevent the horrors of “price gouging”. The reasoning for this (if you are generous enough to call it reasoning) goes something along these lines: Greedy businessmen will increase the prices to the highest that the traffic will bear, forcing people who desperately need stuff to pay through the nose for it.

Well, that is technically true, however it glosses over all the reasons why it would happen that way. Why will the traffic suddenly bear so much higher prices than it did before? It happens for one multi-faceted reason. People suddenly demand far more stuff, while at the same time the normal methods of supply are disrupted.

The results are simple, and easily predictable from the law of supply and demand. Prices shoot up causing demand to reduce until an equilibrium is reached. This reduction in demand occurs first in the most frivolous and extraneous demands. At the same time these price signals incentivize people outside the disaster area to rush to get supplies in as soon as possible.

This also applies to insurance companies which will (and currently do) pour into the area to pay advances on their customers’ policies. Why? Because people want the insurance money fast. This exerts a competitive pressure on the insurance companies to not lag behind their competitors, lest they lose not only the immediate customers but also others who hear about how the company botched the payments.

This system is self correcting. There is no need to wait for Bureaucrat #26242 to decide whether it’s really an emergency, or when an emergency has ended. By not existing the bureaucrat is unable to make the wrong decision, which is fine because he was not needed to make that decision anyway.

Mandatory Evacuations: Because if we don’t control it, Nyarlathotep will come and eat us.

When a disaster becomes bad enough, or is projected to be bad enough, the government will issue an evacuation order. This is rooted in (surprise) military situations. The basic form is: “We can’t hold this territory anymore, so we are pulling out. Protect the people (tax base) by pulling them out too.”

So, why does the state have this “right” of evacuation? Half of the reason is that it can become incredibly expensive and dangerous to effect a rescue, and so the state won’t do it after a certain point. That doesn’t answer why someone can be arrested for refusing an evacuation order. For that we have the other half of the reason. The state claims the right to protect the person from their own choices when those choices could lead to the loss of taxes, usually under the euphemism “the public welfare”.

In an anarchist society there is no state to bail you out of your choices. If you wait till the last possible minute to leave, you will bear the costs of that decision yourself, either by taking the damage or paying a steep premium to be rescued. Except, in this case you can pay to have your pets rescued as well, instead of the state ordering you to leave them behind, even if there is plenty of time to get them.

Then there are the problems that you get when Bureaucrat #26242 declares a state of emergency that applies to everyone. You get things like the Fukushima evacuation zone, where it was doubtful that any evacuation was necessary, but they evacuated people who could bear major doses of radiation without any meaningful harm (if you are already sterile being extra sterile isn’t a problem). The death toll from the evacuation is now higher than the disaster itself.

I am left with a puzzling question for the statists, “How can a statist society handle disaster relief?”


12 Responses to “Disaster Relief Without The State”

  1. Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

    Great point about the price mechanism. I always knew that prices go up in a crisis for completely predictable economic reasons, but it never occurred to me that price increases would motivate outsiders to risk rushing in with supplies. So in fact the profit motive alone contains a mechanism of crisis relief.

    My only critic would be that it’s likely not true that you alone will bear the costs of the decision to live in a crisis zone. Sure you won’t have a state to bail you out, but you will certainly have the good will of many voluntary actors to call upon. The recent example was Fr33Aid’s response to the tsunami in the Philippians, which was absolutely Stateless disaster relief, thanks to Bitcoin, and a volunteer on the ground.

    • DaveNo Gravatar says:

      Voluntary relief may be there, it may not – that is a risk someone can choose to take.
      The biggest downside with state relief, mentioned here, is that people make stupid decisions when they think FEMA will come and save them. Very few would build on the coast and flood plains without bailouts.

  2. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    One must also not forget that a lot of these disasters happen because of terrible neglect by the state. Dykes, levees, etc. are often built too low, with poor materials, neglected, etc.

    A few million dollars in better infrastructure can prevent billions of dollars of damage and lives lost. But the state would rather spend that money kidnapping pot smokers.

  3. Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

    And before anyone comes in spewing false cries of plagiarism let it be known that this article *is* based on Thomas Sowell’s book Basic Economics. Which I highly recommend reading.

  4. Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

    A German friend sent me this, it provides a practical demonstration of what I talked about in this article:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/a-german-lesson-in-f lood-relief-efficiency/article12846224/

  5. PeterNo Gravatar says:

    Sometimes certain services that normally cost money will be come free. I live in Canada in the province of New Brunswick and we recently had an ice storm that knocked out electricity to 25% of NB Power customers and some had no power for 11 or 12 days (something that never would have been allowed to happen to a private company that didn’t rely on the State to cover their butts anyway…) in one area a hotel opened their doors FREE of charge to people without power. Although this example is less severe than a hurricane (although people still needed to find somewhere to go for shelter in many cases as some people had no heat) it’s hard to predict what will happen without the State providing disaster relief. Remember that it’s often private organizations that do a lot of the relief even with the state involved. The state just slows things down. They also cause a lot of extra problems through mandatory evacuations.

  6. djancakNo Gravatar says:

    Hi. Statist here. “How can a statist society handle disaster relief?”
    Anyone who believes it makes sense to continuously bail-out reckless behavior is an idiot. Being statist doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. Though most statists, as most people in general, are idiots.
    My policy is this: have a bail-out system that tapers over time to nothing at all. Give people the initial benefit of the doubt. As public awareness of the problem grows, the excuses they could give to continue their behavior shrinks. Of course, most people would probably vote to just perpetually receive bail-outs, as most people are idiots. So unfortunately my statist policy is left with no option but to torture and kill them in FEMA camps.

    • ASHLEYNo Gravatar says:

      Seriously? What the fuck is with all the misanthropy?

      >Being statist doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. Though most statists, as most people in general, are idiots.

      Wow, and you’re this godly non-human standing above all these ants.

      misanthrope plebeian

      • djancakNo Gravatar says:

        Yes, I am godly non-human standing above most of these ants. I’d consider you to be more of a cockroach, though.

  7. AlanNo Gravatar says:

    When Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida in August 1993, Governor Chiles flew over and said “the town of Homestead is no more”, pretty much accurately, and declared an emergency. Warnings were issued against illegal “price-gouging”.

    Meantime, the local county emergency coordinator got the bright solution of going to the press crying and “Where is the Cavalry” (in a tone that said “Where they hell is the damn cavalry?!”)

    Of course President G. H. W. Bush foresaw Raul Emmanuel’s future, and not to let any crisis go to waste, demanded an invitation from the governor to send in the literal cavalry. (A subsequent federal law has made the invitation unnecessary now.)

    So the governor issued the invitation. But they found a group of young Christian missionaries that had been there on the very FIRST DAY after the hurricane cleared, with water, food, blankets. Bush got a picture.

    So the military was there, but a co-worker had to take turns with her husband sitting on what was left with a shotgun, along with all the neighbors.

    In New Orleans, it was *government* that *prevented* floods of material being bused in by Baptist churches across the country from getting in, and the the police mostly either fled with families or went door to door confiscating arms from everybody good and bad, leaving the good defenseless against the bad.

    Government should get out of the way and let Christians do what they do best, when they follow the teaching of Jesus Christ and his love working through them, like the Good Samaritan…

  8. AlanNo Gravatar says:

    I forgot to mention that government was absolutely paralyzed for at least two weeks until a government technocrat finally “did something”. She demanded action from bigger governments than her own by asking the question.

    The ones that were organized enough to bring relief (National Guard was mostly missing I think) was the military. They still had control at Homestead Air Force Base but they split after Hurricane Andrew.

    Better not to expect the Roman Caesar or the Pharoah to provide relief for the oppressed or the poor. It even takes some God-fearing Joseph to give them warning and to protect them from their own pagan prognosticators.