Monday, March 27, 2006

"Pushing cars after Katrina": the ease of depending on government

"The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else." - Frédéric Bastiat, 1848.

"Pushing cars after Katrina." - Perry Eidelbus, 2006. (I'll explain this at the end. Star Trek reference.)

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has demonstrated the tremendous ease of dependency on government...because other people pay for it. It's been several decades since Americans really got accustomed to losing part of their right to property, in the name of helping others: FDR's New Deal sparked the real growth of paternalist government, necessarily meaning that people no longer have the right to keep their earnings, because big government would tax them heavily and give to others. We are not willing, but we have become accustomed to it.

For background, these are my previous entries regarding the rebuilding. Compared to what New Orleans is doing to the federal government, the billions that Saddam skimmed from Oil-for-Food is small potatoes. When there are so many individual recipients, it's easy for them to take advantage, and hard for the rest of us to notice just how much must be taken from the rest of us:

The finest government other people's money will buy
The finest government other people's money will buy, part II
The finest city other people's money will buy
Ray Nagin, New Orleans' non-racist racist

Some of you may have read about Donna Fenton, who was profiled a few weeks ago in the New York Times. It's a typical Times "human interest" sob story: someone is trying to rebuild her life, and it's a Times article, meaning she's doing it via other people's coerced money. Then the woman had the nerve to complain that there wasn't enough money and that it wasn't coming fast enough! How about her loan application to the Small Business Administration, when she had just barely arrived in New York "with a change of clothes and a tapped-out bank account"? What was her business plan, or was she looking to spend the money on herself? I see in the picture that she sports a leather jacket in excellent condition, she appears more than well-fed, and she's "shopping." You'd think that since she's not being given money to live like a king, she'd exercise some discretion in spending. But no, she's not shopping for food: look closely, and it's some sort of knick-knack store. With such fiscal discipline, the woman ought to run for Congress!

Then in the sixth paragraph is a small mention of her "job that pays about as well as the one she held managing two restaurants in Biloxi," and her husband's part-time job. But wait a minute: in the first part of the article, she had complained about having to call government agencies "start[ing] in the morning...sometimes until 3 o'clock the next morning." Is this for we're giving money to Katrina "victims" for, so they can have jobs on the side, then burn through our money buying non-essential items? We shouldn't be surprised. In one infamous case revealed last year, the federal government had given millions of our dollars, "victim compensation money," to a 9/11 widow and daughter. The two then blew through almost all of it by enlarging their Long Island home, traveling the globe, staying up late to buy designer handbags over the Internet, and fund boob jobs for friends and even strangers.

In Fenton's case, are we giving her money so she can insult our intelligence by downplaying her job, then claiming she makes calls to government agencies until 3 a.m.? Think about it for a second: just how many different numbers could she call, so how many times could she call in a day and not waste time? She said she knows them all by heart, including which ones are not helpful, so a rational and honest person would only bother calling the numbers that lead somewhere. Did we give her a check for $1565 so she could all but throw it back in our faces? What gall must someone have to say "That doesn't go far"? It reminds me of the guy who rides the subway, peddling a newspaper, claiming to be a vet and that "the government doesn't give me enough."

Coincidentally, $1565 doesn't seem to go that far for me. Maybe because I pay taxes on it first, or maybe it's because I'm actually working for my checks and am dismayed how much is taken from me to support others that ought to be working -- or work and still demand the rest of us "help"! While Fenton wants "enough money to move into a new apartment in New York, so she can begin anew the life that Katrina ripped apart," what about the rest of us who work honestly and do not live off the coerced sweat of others? Ronald Reagan, rest his soul, no doubt turned in his grave at the emergence of the 21st century welfare queen.

Incredibly, Fenton's story doesn't end there. The Times had to issue a correction (appended to the end of the article) once she was arrested and charged with welfare fraud and grand larceny. She allegedly never even lived in Biloxi, Mississippi, nor was she another "Katrina refugee." She's allegedly (and I keep using that word lest she somehow weasel out of the charges and look for people to sue for libel) committed another of uncountable Katrina scams, ripping off taxpayers all across the country. And The Times got duped because it was so eager to advance its agenda of redistribution of wealth. Like Dan Rather, will it maintain that the story was "fake, but accurate" because of "Katrina victims" genuinely in need?

For every scammer, there are those from the Gulf Coast who unquestionably were in genuine need after losing their homes (if not everything they had). They are not fools. Now that they're dependent on government, now that they know we the taxpayers are a golden goose (they know not to kill us, though, unlike the fable), they'd rather take the easy way out. In recent weeks, "Katrina victims" have complained that FEMA is cutting off the funding for their hotel rooms. By what right can they complain when no one is taking money from them? They are merely being denied easy access to taxpayers' money, but no one is denying them the ability to find a job.

New Orleans homeowners are even complaining that until the release of new federal maps of flood-prone areas, they won't know how much flood insurance they'll need to rebuild. Notwithstanding no part of the U.S. Constitution makes the federal government responsible for that (or any other purely state matter), since when must the government be responsible for determining such information? What does it matter, anyway, if the federal government designates an area as a flood plain?

Well, it matters who pays for it. Insurance companies' actuaries traditionally determined risk, but they cost money to hire, which gets passed on to the insured in the form of higher premiums. However, if insurers can get government to create the maps, they might save enough overall that it won't matter if government is wrong. (See my recent entry on how markets work with imperfect information.) Naturally, the insured just love this because their premiums will be lower -- at everyone else's expense. And even if the federal maps are wrong, well, the federal government has set a new precedent in how much it will take from the many to give to the few (the few who knew they lived in flood plains but expect the rest of us to bail them out). George W. Bush's willingness to act like a 1980s Democrat has proven that Katrina marked the latest age in the Era of Big Government.

There are even New Orleans residents who complain that nobody is removing the cars that were destroyed by flooding. Why don't the people on a block band together and hire a junkyard driver to take them away? I'll give them a free clue: if the cars haven't been claimed by now, they never will, or they won't be claimed for so long that it's not worth keeping them. Then again, we're dealing with "the state," the monstrosity of which Bastiat warned. These people want the government to clean up the cars in their driveways, not just the ones on the street, which means the expense is borne by everyone else. And since everyone else is responsible for storing the junk cars that nobody wants, they don't have to worry about the expense.

"Darmok" is one of my favorite Trek episodes, and admittedly it's very odd because of how the Tamarians speak in metaphors. Someday, perhaps "Pushing cars after Katrina" will be our own metaphor for forcing taxpayers to bear your own burdens.

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