Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stupid question of the day: "Why wasn't Manila prepared?"

American news has been covering the flooding disaster in the Philippines, but Philippine TV has the images you probably haven't seen. If you thought Katrina was bad, imagine two million people now without homes. The following videos are (someone else's) captures of Philippine news. It's ok if you don't understand Tagalog. Just watch, and like the line in the original Dragnet movie, you don't need a translation to understand what people are saying.

SUVs and minivans literally floating away
Philippines flood of woes - 29 Sep 09
TV PATROL WORLD 09/29 PART 1
TV PATROL WORLD 09/29 PART 2
TV PATROL WORLD 09/29 PART 3
TV PATROL WORLD 09/29 PART 4

Time magazine has now asked, "Why wasn't Manila prepared?". It's a stupid question, and here's my simple answer.

Because the Philippines is a poor country that can't afford to spend a huge percent of its GDP on an unpredictable event that might happen only once every several decades.

This holds true whether it's government spending or private spending. For this reason, as I explained last February, metro D.C. didn't spend millions every year to maintain equipment suitable for very rare snowstorms. That's in a wealthy area, so then what can we expect from an impoverished country?

Besides, if the Philippine government had tried, it's not as if it would have prevented this disaster. The bureaucracy works this way: Congress "appropriates" money and eventually "distributes" it to local officials in the targeted barangay. But Philippine officials tend to be so corrupt that the money is rarely spent on what it's supposed to be. Instead, it's pocketed at some point in the chain, and evidence will be faked appropriately. Roads will supposedly have been paved and well-maintained for years, so the report to Congress will include lovely photos of other infrastructure -- you could call them "Potemkin roads."

So even if the Philippine government actually had spent a sizable percentage of the country's GDP, it would have made a marginal difference at best (and certainly with less efficiency than private sector spending). Such is the nature of the state.

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