Posts tagged with: Disaster/Accident

“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

Christians are called to productive service of others in our work. The fact that someone will pay you for your work is a sign that they value it, and we must say that they are better-positioned than anyone else (other than God) to decide what’s best for them. But human beings are not infallible. In fact, we are highly fallible. We deceive ourselves and desire things that are not good for us.

Does the provider of a good or service have a moral obligation not to provide certain goods (or bads) or services? When does a “service” become a “disservice”?
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DollarSignCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency — drooling only for money, caring nothing for beauty, and so on. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

Yet while free economies certainly introduce a unique series of challenges for artists and consumers alike, and despite the wide array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots that demonstrate such obstacles, recent increases in economic empowerment have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

Empowered to Create

The more obvious and overarching examples of this have to do with the simple ways in which widespread prosperity has freed up our time, energy, and resources. As collaboration and innovation accelerate, folks are continuing to discover new ways of doing more with less. As result, the tools and time needed to participate in a variety of artistic ventures, from hand-painting to stage acting to music production, are closer to common fingers than ever before.

Of course, market forces aren’t perfect. As channels of culture, they mostly funnel what they funnel, and that includes squalid appeals to the lowest common denominator. But neither are such forces limited to the hands of the tasteless and trite. Indeed, despite the best efforts of the powerful and privileged, many artists are now finding themselves increasingly equipped to bypass the big shots altogether, taking their art and their audiences with them, from the purchase of their paintbrushes to the publication of their portrait.

As a young boy, I dreamed of one day becoming a filmmaker. After working only two summers at minimum wage, I was able to save up enough cash to put that dream to the test, purchasing a-state of-the-art video camera and my very own digital editing equipment. Thanks to the innovations of others, and the basic freedoms that unleashed it all in the first place, at the age of 16, I was able to secure the tools needed to begin my work — tools that, only a decade prior, were confined to the hands of Hollywood bigwigs. (more…)

Everyone agrees that during times of natural disaster, people need help. With “Superstorm Sandy” pummeling the eastern third of the U.S., it is easy to see that many people will need aid in the form of  food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, and we are obliged to help.

But we should be smart about it.

Brian Fikkert, author of “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…or Yourself”, gives three reasonable guidelines for helping in these situations. First, he says, help must be immediate. No one should have to wait for crucial needs and services. Second, this type of help should be temporary. Why?

 It should only be provided during the time that people cannot participate in their own recovery. Determining when to stop relief is never easy. We can make the mistake of ending our relief too early, but we can also err in creating unnecessary dependency by extending it too long.

Finally, Fikkert says, relief requires partnership. This is a key element in the aid of any sort. When relief turns to pity, a situation of paternalism and not partnership is created, and that is unhealthy for both parties. As Michael Fairbanks, co-founder of The Seven Fund has said,

 …you create that parental relationship. I’m helping you. You should be guided by me because I have a bag of money. The responsibility for your future is actually on me, not on you because I have the resources to develop you. It’s patron-client; it’s master-slave; it’s donor-recipient. It’s all broken.

Fikkert reinforces this:

 Experts say relief is typically needed only for a week or less before you should transition into a rehabilitation development strategy, working with people to help them move forward rather than merely doing things for them. As you do this, look for opportunities to form relationships. As we walk with people over time, we can address the deeper issues of life and what it truly means to be a fully restored human.

As we continue to examine how we can best help our fellow human beings, whether it is in time of naturall disaster, on-going entrenched poverty or personal crisis, it is good to remember that forming relationships is always better than simply dropping supplies into someone’s lap and moving on to the next big problem.

Read Brian Fikkert’s “Help Without Hesitating” at the Gospel Coalition.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Hurricanes almost always leave two things in their aftermath: broken windows and articles advocating the broken window fallacy.

As economist Don Boudreaux wrote earlier today, “Americans will soon be flooded by commentary that assures us that the silver lining around the destruction caused by hurricane Sandy is a stronger economy. Such nonsense always follows natural disasters.” The only detail Boudreaux gets wrong is that such nonsense has preceded the actual disaster. The Atlantic, wanting to get a jump on being wrong, published an article today at noon arguing that Hurricane Sandy will “stimulate the economy” in two ways:

First, the threat of a dangerous event pulls economic activity forward. Families stock up on extra food and supplies to prepare for a disaster. Second, and much more significantly, the aftermath of storms requires “replacement costs” that raise economic activity by forcing business and government to rebuild after a destructive event.

Frederic Bastiat provided the ultimate rebuttal to this spurious thinking 162 years ago in his essay ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.’ So why do we people make the same claim that destruction is economically beneficial? Could it be that people are simply unaware of Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window”?

Back in August economist Bryan Caplan asked why the one group that should be familiar with Bastiat’s essay—economists—don’t universally love it:
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Over at the Economix blog, University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mullin takes another look at some of the recent poverty numbers. He notes the traditional interpretation, that “the safety net did a great job: For every seven people who would have fallen into poverty, the social safety net caught six.”

But another interpretation might have a bit more going for it, actually, and fits in line with my previous analogy between a safety net as a trampoline vs. a foam pit:

Another interpretation is that the safety net has taken away incentives and serves as a penalty for earning incomes above the poverty line. For every seven persons who let their market income fall below the poverty line, only one of them will have to bear the consequence of a poverty living standard. The other six will have a living standard above poverty.

Of course, most people work hard despite a generous safety net, and 140 million people are still working today. But in a labor force as big as ours, it takes only a small fraction of people who react to a generous safety net by working less to create millions of unemployed. I suspect that employment cannot return to pre-recession levels until safety-net generosity does, too.

The conclusion ought to be that policies that provide incentives for people to not seek out work as vigorously as they otherwise might, even if such incentives are unintended consequences, are morally suspect and economically questionable.

Though Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was not as devastating as expected, it took several dozen lives and has cause billions of dollars of damage. Some economists have tried to argue that the storm is a net gain for the economy—think of all the jobs that will be created by the clean-up and rebuilding! But treatment of the storm by the mainstream media has been surprisingly honest and nonpartisan, and their unguarded coverage is instructive.

ABC News reports that economic losses due to slowed commerce over the next week to ten days could be as much as $20 billion, which is more than the direct damage done by the storm. (Amusing twist: one of the economists cited in the ABC story is the guy claiming the new trees and roofs needed along the eastern seaboard constitute an “economic renewal,” although ABC seems to have decided to spare him the mockery by excluding that nonsense from its story.)

The media’s frank admission that a hurricane-forced suspension of business cannot be declared economic growth invites comparison with what is said when, for example, a snowflake falls on Hilda Solis’s eyelash as she walks into work and the Department of Labor is sent home at noon. Why does no one talk about the economic losses then? Where are the stories of systematic collapse? When the Department of Labor is not on the job! Oh, wait…

Men and women—their ideas and their hard work—are the only producers of wealth, but an economics that isn’t correctly based on human nature can pretend otherwise. As Henry Hazlitt, author of Economics in One Lesson, said,

No man burns down his own house on the theory that the need to rebuild it will stimulate his energies.

Deep down, even the Washington press corps knows that natural disasters don’t create jobs, and regulation doesn’t drive growth. It takes an Act of God to get it out of them though.

It’s terribly sad, but you just can’t make this stuff up:

Thousands of sacks of food aid meant for Somalia’s famine victims have been stolen and are being sold at markets in the same neighborhoods where skeletal children in filthy refugee camps can’t find enough to eat, an Associated Press investigation has found.

As much as half of the food aid going into Somalia is stolen and sold in markets. Militants that control of large parts of the country and those who run refugee camps interdict the aid and sell it to free agents. Last week we warned about rampant corruption and theft in the country, but passages like this from the AP story are still heartbreaking

The aid is not even safe once it has been distributed to families huddled in the makeshift camps popping up around the capital. Families at the large, government-run Badbado camp said they were often forced to hand back aid after journalists had taken photos of them with it.

The camp bosses, employed by the most corrupt government in the entire world, take back the food and sell it outside the camp. The flow of aid has become torrential as Western governments take note of the famine and announce generous new aid packages. That has created what one Somali official called a “bonanza” for local charlatans. (The man spoke on condition of anonymity because, believe it or not, “monitoring food assistance in Somalia is a particularly dangerous process.”)

One man interviewed for the story seems to have read yesterday’s PowerBlog posting on the famine.

“While helping starving people, you are also feeding the power groups that make a business out of the disaster,” said Joakim Gundel, who heads Katuni Consult, a Nairobi-based company often asked to evaluate international aid efforts in Somalia. “You’re saving people’s lives today so they can die tomorrow.”

What Somalia needs is a PovertyCure. Instead of hosting hundreds of thousands of its people in refugee camps, which reinforces their powerlessness and encourages the country’s agricultural impotence, the country must open itself up to entrepreneurial development. And the West must focus its resources not on the indirect funding of militants, terrorists, and shysters, but on helping Somalia to build up its civil society and protect the economic freedom of its citizens.

As Japan basks in the success of its World Cup champion women’s soccer team, the impact of the recent tsunami on the country is still very real. Although it has been over four months since the tsunami struck Japan, and one may assume clean-up efforts are going smoothly, restoration progress has actually been greatly hindered. Not one organization or person is to blame for this slowing of progress, but one theme that stands out is the strict regulation the Japanese government has put on relief efforts.

Ishinomaki, in northeast Japan, was one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. According to the city’s mayor, Hiroshi Kameyama, “On a recovery scale of zero to 10, some parts of Ishinomaki are at zero and some are at one.”

The government has actually made moves to prevent receiving assistance. In order to prevent jam-packed roads in the days following the disaster, citizen volunteers were discouraged from delivering aid themselves. Aid packages from the U.S. military have been accepted by the Japanese government, but some international organizations have been told they’re not needed.

When the government does accept financial or humanitarian assistance, the process of actually getting this aid to the people is very slow. In Hannah Beech’s Time article titled “Is Japan’s Bureaucracy Strangling Humanitarian Aid,” an international NGO representative in Tokyo explains, “Everything has to go through government emergency centers.” “But they’re very slow to respond and can’t keep up with the flow of aid.”

And in the midst of this struggle came another curveball, the recent resignation of Japanese government minister of reconstruction, Ryu Matsumoto. Matsumoto’s resignation came after a chain of controversial comments not well received by Japanese citizens and victims of the disaster. He arrived in Iwate, Japan in early July and according to Gavin Blair’s Christian Science Monitor article, “Japan’s Kan feels pressure after disaster reconstruction minister quits,” told the prefecture’s governor, Takuya Tasso, that the government would, “give aid to those areas that come up with ideas for reconstruction, but not to those that don’t have any.”

Although Matsumoto was seen by many to lack sympathy towards the Japanese people, he actually brings up a very good point, that the government should only contribute to those areas of Japan that want to actively contribute to the restoration process, if not manually, at least through ideas. And in addition, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), if not strictly regulated by the government, can step up to fill this void.

Christian volunteer organizations are some of the NGOs that have been most successful in recent disasters in the United States. In his Spring 2011 Religion and Liberty article, “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast,” Ray Nothstine affirms the importance of Christian volunteer organizations, saying, “With government assistance often bureaucratic and slow to respond, Christian charity and church organizations are a vital source of relief and comfort.” Nothstine’s article outlines three major recent natural disasters that have struck within U.S. borders. One of these was the tornado which caused great damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama this past spring. However, relief and restoration efforts have proven very successful.

In Nothstine’s article, University of Alabama professor David T. Beito called the relief efforts in Tuscaloosa “extremely decentralized” and added “I don’t know if a more secular city would fare nearly as well.”

Although much of Japan is not Christian, there are many international Christian charities on the ground in Japan. Caritas International is one such organization. As of the beginning of May, they have provided food and other aid to 10,000 survivors following the earthquake and tsunami. Now their aim is to provide trauma care services and help restore small communities, like fishing communities in the coastal areas.

As long as the Japanese government continues to exercise considerable control over restoration efforts, the organizations that do wish to help will be less effective than they otherwise could be. Government deregulation allows NGOs to play a bigger role in disaster relief, and overall, hopefully offers people a more stable footing so they can move forward to restore their local communities.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mark Hanlon of Compassion International writes about his experience related to the place of local churches in relief work. Contrary to the belief of some that relief and development groups “couldn’t rely on churches to do the work they needed to do in the third world. They claimed that the needed expertise and skill sets simply weren’t there,” Hanlon writes,

In my three decades of experience in developing nations with Compassion International, I have witnessed the opposite. In the midst of chaos and fear, it is local churches — rooted in the neighborhoods and anchored on the side streets — that are actually some of the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems available.

He goes on to relate some of the details about Compassion’s work in Haiti following the earthquake last year.

He concludes:

The faithful, hard-working, often unheralded heroes of the Haiti crisis are the ones who were there before the 7.1 earthquake and who will be there for generations after.

They are the local Christian churches — the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems you may never have heard of.

For more on the response of development and aid groups to the Haiti disaster, see “One Year Report On Transparency of Relief Groups Responding to 2010 Haiti Earthquake” from the Disaster Accountability Project.