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October 2012

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The 3 Myths of Disaster Shysters

Written by , Posted in Economics & the Economy, Energy and the Environment, Liberty & Limited Government

It’s that time of year again – when a major natural disaster is dominating the news cycle, and every economic, scientific and political snake oil salesman or huckster comes out of the woodwork to peddle their magical wares. Here are three myths with which the disaster opportunists are trying to swindle you:

1) There’s an economic silver lining to all this destruction because it will spur economic activity. This one isn’t so much trying to sell you anything as it is cheer you up, but its widespread acceptance nevertheless can have devastating policy consequences – like passage of foolish economic “stimulus” bills. This myth is basically just Bastiat’s broken window fallacy:

Paul Krugman is rather infamous for his love of destruction as economic catalyst, crediting as he does the destruction of WWII for ending the Great Depression and having noted the economic good that could come from the 9/11 attacks. And then there’s his belief that what the economy really needs to get turned around is an alien invasion. Krugman is utterly fixated on what is seen – such as the making of bombs or the rebuilding of homes – while he ignores what is unseen – like everything not built so that resources can be used instead to fight little green men.

Krugman is not the only one to fall for this myth. Commentators are quick to highlight the expected economic gains from Hurricane Sandy, with some only concerned that Sandy won’t cause enough destruction, and that hurricanes like it don’t happen regularly enough, to really get the economy rolling.

For a more in depth critique at the flawed logic behind this persistent myth, check out this excellent column by Tim Worstall.

2) Hurricane Sandy (or whatever the disaster de jour may be) proves that Global Warming is real! In the minds of some, anything that happens today must be more severe than anything that came before, if for no other reason than that it affects them. That sort of narcissism is almost certainly behind the blathering of Meghan McCain, who thinks the wandering of a mere Category 1 hurricane into her northern enclave is proof positive that Republicans are Neanderthal deniers.

This interpretation was also given the official blessing of Al Gore, the high priest of Global Warming hysterics:

The images of Sandy’s flooding brought back memories of a similar–albeit smaller scale– event in Nashville just two years ago. There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis—which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality.

While the storm that drenched Nashville was not a tropical cyclone like Hurricane Sandy, both storms were strengthened by the climate crisis.

…Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis.

Every major weather event these days is proffered as anecdotal proof of global warming (or “climate change”). But anecdotes are not evidence, and major storms are nothing new. In fact, global hurricane frequency is trending down, and as Patrick Michaels points out, we’re setting records for the longest drought of Cat 3+ hurricanes hitting shore:

It’s been 2,535 days since the last Category 3 storm, Wilma in 2005, hit the beach. That’s the longest period—by far—in the record that goes back to 1900.

But don’t expect any of these facts to stop the reflexive blaming of global warming for all natural disasters.

3) Only Big Government can save us from chaos and natural destruction. Any time destruction lurks, statists can be counted on to furiously construct strawmen for public whipping to placate the frightened masses. The most ridiculous example comes, naturally, from the ever dependable shills of big government at the New York Times, which editorializes that “A Big Storm Requires Big Government,” before going on to outline a list of government functions that comprise probably less than a percent of the federal budget. Good job, New York Times, I’m now convinced that we need a massive welfare state, pointless “green energy” loans, wasteful stimulus bills and a cumbersome and counter productive regulatory structure, all because of a Category 1 hurricane. Well done.

Reason appropriately takes them to task, noting that not only has big government failed, and miserably so, at disaster response in the past, but it actually stood in the way of private action. That’s right, big government – being the angry and jealous God that it is – actively prevented help from other sources during Katrina:

Even as they fumbled their own responses to the disaster, government officials found time to block private relief efforts. The Salvation Army was initially forbidden to send boats to rescue refugees sheltered in one of its facilities, one of the group’s officials told the press. It seems the private relief organization’s efforts didn’t fit the government’s schedule. Likewise, the American Red Cross said. Days after the storm hit, “The state Homeland Security Department had requested — and continues to request — that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane.”

Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish president, put it best when he told interviewers, “Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today.”

But in the eyes of some, any failure of government is just proof that it needs more money (success, meanwhile, is proof that it needs more money), and so we get hand wringing over potential, hypothetical or imagined FEMA cuts from the same people who blamed FEMA for everything wrong that happened during Katrina.

The Reason post also notes, as I have here in the past, that there are in fact alternative and better sources of disaster response. This is not to say that government has no role or purpose, as the statist strawman would imply, but that it might be better to only leave government in charge of monitoring, analyzing and disseminating information, while bringing in those who know what they are doing and have actual experience to handle the logistics of rapidly moving goods and services into devastated communities.

Whatever their miracle cure of choice, consumers should cast a wary eye on those who see disaster coming and can only think to lick their chops at the opportunity to advance their agenda.