When disaster strikes, Americans are the first to insist on the need to help others, and it makes sense to many citizens that the government should play a role. Yet there are important institutional limits that prevent government disaster relief from working as intended.
In many instances, government aid plants the seeds for future catastrophe by inadvertently helping citizens to live in disaster-prone areas. These government programs sometimes worsen the problems they intend to solve, showing that good intentions sadly do not guarantee good results.
Another problem comes when government tries to come in and deal with the aftermath of a disaster. Most Americans remember the bureaucratic delays and inhumane treatment of innocent people that characterized the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, this is a predictable result of government intervention. As under normal conditions, the best way to encourage people to help one another in need and to rebuild what was destroyed is to allow them to cooperate in peace and freedom through their families, communities, and market institutions.
The Disaster Relief and Insurance component of federal spending is largely represented by the activities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and a variety of government-backed natural disaster insurance programs.
Learn more about Disaster Relief problems and solutions:
“Disaster Aid: Federal Proposal Might Help Florida but Not California”
Eli Lehrer (San Jose Mercury News) March 1, 2013
“A Government Imposed Disaster: Price Controls in the Wake of Sandy”
Benjamin W. Powell (The Huffington Post) November 5, 2012
“It’s Time to Get Rid of FEMA”
Emily C. Skarbek and David B. Skarbek (The Atlantic) September 12, 2011
“Disaster Relief as Bad Public Policy”
William F. Shughart (The Independent Review) Spring 2011
“Wal-Mart to the Rescue: Private Enterprise’s Response to Hurricane Katrina”
Steven Horwitz (The Independent Review) Spring 2009
“FEMA’s Expansion Threatens Charitable Competition”
Mary Theroux (The Beacon) September 25, 2008
“Public and Private Responses to Katrina: What Can We Learn?”
Mary L. G. Theroux (Chief Executive Organization’s Women’s Seminar) October 20, 2005