|Hurricane Irene off the coast of Florida|
"We Survived Hurricane Frances". That was the title of my journal (posted HERE), cataloging our experience in my pre-blogger days. It was 2004 and it was the first hurricane of substance in our Florida experience. I sent my journal to friends and colleagues by email until the power went out. Some thought it was hysterical. Others were unmoved.
As for us, we were scared. Frances was a Category 2 storm bearing down on us. It made landfall 20 miles from our house.
We had plans to leave on vacation that week but stayed to make sure my parents were okay. We moved them into our house because we knew it would be safer. You see, our house was built after 1992’s Hurricane Andrew and theirs wasn’t. Homes built to the post-Andrew standard could easily withstand the winds of Frances.
I was thinking of this as I received messages, read Facebook postings and watched news footage of Hurricane Irene’s destruction this past week. Folks in the northeast – particularly those of the inland communities – simply weren’t ready for what happened.
Amid this news, I listened to Larry Kudlow interview with Texas Congressman and presidential candidate, Ron Paul. Rep. Paul is as pure a libertarian as any politician I know of. If you have never studied the philosophy of libertarianism or read the works of its patron saint, Emmanuel Kant, you need only follow Paul’s presidential campaign to learn about it.
In the considered opinion of Rep. Paul, people make conscious choices about where they live – either implicitly or explicitly assuming the associated risks. If you want to live on the beach in Florida or in a flood plain along a river bank, you should not expect the rest of the taxpayers to insure your risk when the private market won’t.
|Main St. in Prattsville, post-Irene|
Tell that to the citizens of Prattsville, NY. Hurricane Irene completely destroyed every building on Main Street. It is highly unlikely that the city will survive without financial assistance from outside sources. Did the good people of Prattsville make a conscious choice to assume the risk of this outcome? Some might have; but, I doubt it. Most news reports featured long time or lifelong residents. Whether they had considered the risk or hadn’t, should we, as taxpayers, bail them out of their trouble? That is the philosophical question posed by the current debate about funding FEMA in Washington.
Libertarians, like Ron Paul, would say no. John Rawls, a political philosopher of the 20th Century, offers a different approach. In “A Theory of Justice” (1971), he theorizes that if citizens were to write a social contract expressing principles to which the majority agrees, we would not be a libertarian society. But, there is a twist to Rawls’ approach. He asks that we assume we all start from an equal position. No one has an economic, social or educational advantage. He reasoned that from this position, most people would choose a more risk averse course. Rawls concludes that we would agree on a social contract that guarantees basic liberties (speech, religion, etc.) and economic justice. He believed we would choose a system where the most well off would insure the basic needs of the least well off members of society.
Hah! Tell that to Ron Paul and his followers.
Anyone who buys my house (and, here’s hoping somebody will someday), will pay for the security of Florida’s building standards. We weren’t sweating Hurricane Irene when it was aimed at Florida. We knew we could withstand the storm. (Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t looking forward to it either.) That additional cost is built into our social contract with the state and its homebuilders. And, I haven’t heard anyone complain about it. In a purely libertarian state, we would all be left to negotiate the degree of hurricane proof-ness with our builder.
So, what is Congress up to while the folks in Prattsville are contemplating their future? Well, the Republicans are not willing to de-fang FEMA – not after the spectacle of Katrina undermined President Bush’s credibility. But, they are willing to trade additional funding for FEMA for funds now going to liberal programs they don’t like, such as subsidies to the alternative energy industry.
Sounds like business as usual.
There are various approaches to government (including the utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill which I won’t go into here). They have their intellectual roots in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries and form the basis of the current debate about how we should govern ourselves.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle believed that the principles by which society should be governed should be the result of reasoned debate among the elite. The core of his logic was that reasonable, intelligent people should decide what virtues it should honor and reward and what should be punished. This should be a fluid and ongoing process, Aristotle would say.
Isn’t that what our legislatures are supposed to do?
This is just one example of the unreasonable lack of reason being applied to the nation’s problems. I wouldn’t expect the Congress to debate Kant vs. Rawls. But, shouldn’t they be having a reasoned debate as opposed to posturing, conniving and threatening.
Meanwhile the Bully Pulpit – used so effectively by the last two presidents, Bush and Clinton – seems to have been ceded to the last two Speakers of the House, Boehner and Pelosi.
It makes you wonder….
WHO WILL LEAD?