Fwd: Man Made Disaster - The Welfare State
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Thu Sep 8 09:03:48 MDT 2005
September 5, 2005
Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of
the Welfare State
By Robert Tracinski
It took four long days for state and federal officials to figure
out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame
them, because it also took me four long days to figure out what
was going on there. The reason is that the events there make no
sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.
If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public
officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you
send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters;
you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's
infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a
familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together
to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and
rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.
Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would
have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored
vehicle, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And
journalistsmyself includeddid not expect that the story would
not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and
But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.
The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response
by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by
Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and
television channel has gotten the story wrong.
The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not
happen over four days last week. It happened over the past four
decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.
The man-made disaster is the welfare state.
For the past few days, I have found the news from New Orleans to
be confusing. People were not behaving as you would expect them to
behave in an emergencyindeed, they were not behaving as they have
behaved in other emergencies. That is what has shocked so many
people: they have been saying that this is not what we expect from
America. In fact, it is not even what we expect from a Third World
When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the
occasion. They work together to rescue people in danger, and they
spontaneously organize to keep order and solve problems. This is
especially true in America. We are an enterprising people, used to
relying on our own initiative rather than waiting around for the
government to take care of us. I have seen this a hundred times,
in small examples (a small town whose main traffic light had gone
out, causing ordinary citizens to get out of their cars and serve
as impromptu traffic cops, directing cars through the
intersection) and large ones (the spontaneous response of New
Yorkers to September 11).
So what explains the chaos in New Orleans?
To give you an idea of the magnitude of what is going on, here is
a description from a Washington Times story:
"Storm victims are raped and beaten; fights erupt with flying
fists, knives and guns; fires are breaking out; corpses litter the
streets; and police and rescue helicopters are repeatedly fired
"The plea from Mayor C. Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen
poured in to restore order and stop the looting, carjackings and
"Last night, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said 300 Iraq-hardened
Arkansas National Guard members were inside New Orleans with
"'These troops are...under my orders to restore order in the
streets,' she said. 'They have M-16s, and they are locked and
loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more
than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.'"
The reference to Iraq is eerie. The photo that accompanies this
article shows a SWAT team with rifles and armored vests riding on
an armored vehicle through trash-strewn streets lined by a rabble
of squalid, listless people, one of whom appears to be yelling at
them. It looks exactly like a scene from Sadr City in Baghdad.
What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse
for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes
unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate
them, causing the drivers to speed away, frightened for their
lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat
patients at the Superdome?
Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing
further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are
trying to help them?
My wife, Sherri, figured it out first, and she figured it out on a
sense-of-life level. While watching the coverage one night on Fox
News Channel, she told me that she was getting a familiar feeling.
She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Chicago,
which is located in the South Side of Chicago just blocks away
from the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the largest high-rise public
housing projects in America. "The projects," as they were known,
were infamous for uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor.
(They have since, mercifully, been demolished.)
What Sherri was getting from last night's television coverage was
a whiff of the sense of life of "the projects." Then the
"crawl"the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the
screen on most news channelsgave some vital statistics to confirm
this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already
evacuated before the hurricane, and of those who remained, a large
number were from the city's public housing projects. Jack Wakeland
then told me that early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that
the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the
city's jailsso they just let many of them loose. [Update: I have
been searching for news reports on this last story, but I have not
been able to confirm it. Instead, I have found numerous reports
about the collapse of the corrupt and incompetent New Orleans
Police Department; see here and here.]
There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two
populations--that is, a large number of people in the jails used
to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.
There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans
when the deluge hitbut they were trapped alongside large numbers
of people from two groups: criminalsand wards of the welfare
state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative
and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of
sheepon whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans
unleashed a pack of wolves.
All of this is related, incidentally, to the incompetence of the
city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of
the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. In a
city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is
to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage
to political supportersnot to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation
in case of emergency.
No one has really reported this story, as far as I can tell. In
fact, some are already actively distorting it, blaming President
Bush, for example, for failing to personally ensure that the Mayor
of New Orleans had drafted an adequate evacuation plan. The worst
example is an execrable piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail, by
a supercilious Canadian who blames the chaos on American
"individualism." But the truth is precisely the opposite: the
chaos was caused by a system that was the exact opposite of
What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences
of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an
emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values
and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People
with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing
whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They
don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken
care of them. And they don't use the chaos of a disaster as an
opportunity to prey on their fellow men.
But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry
about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they
don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to
their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They
never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime
and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for
People living in piles of their own trash, while petulantly
complaining that other people aren't doing enough to take care of
them and then shooting at those who come to rescue themthis is
not just a description of the chaos at the Superdome. It is a
perfect summary of the 40-year history of the welfare state and
its public housing projects.
The welfare stateand the brutish, uncivilized mentality it
sustains and encouragesis the man-made disaster that explains the
moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story
that no one is reporting.
Robert Tracinski is Editor and Publisher of The Intellectual
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