TANSTAAFL: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
You wouldn’t have thought a tragedy like Canterbury’s to be a time for politicking. But then you wouldn’t have been thinking about Chris Trotter or Catherine Delahunty.
Delahunty tweeted last night (Tuesday night) on the events of the day:
Thank goodness the sour old witch was restricted to just 140 characters since, as Liberty Scott points out, it takes a special kind of person to equate the government's welfare report as being equivalent to an earthquake that killed scores of people and left thousands more homeless.
Then there was dear old Chris Trotter, who burst into print less than two hours after the earthquake to inform readers:
The implications for the New Zealand economy are daunting. [Ya think, Chris?]
Rebuilding Christchurch cannot now be left to the Market’s invisible hand. It will take all our hands, working through the public instruments of our common purpose, to make good this tragedy.
Let me re-read that for you. “Rebuilding Christchurch cannot now be left to the Market’s invisible hand. It will take all our hands, working through the public instruments of our common purpose…” The “public instruments of our common purpose” being of course Chris’s beloved State, the very visible mailed fist of threats and pocket-picking, which would (if the delightful Mr Trotter had his way) choose “our” purpose for us all.
All Hail the State. (And don’t miss a chance to worship it.)
“The implications for the New Zealand economy are daunting.” They sure are. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Those who perished in this disaster will never and can never be replaced. But there’s a bill of around $16 billion or so to be picked up by someone if Christchurch itself is to fully rebuild.
If it is.
If people want it to.
If EQC and private insurance is sufficient, and individual savers and investors and wager-earners value its rebuilding enough to want to put their savings and resources towards it.
Because, let’s note, these “public instruments” Mr Trotter wishes so blithely to redistribute are not un-owned, or just lying around waiting to be tapped. They are people’s private property, some of which is already winging its way to Christchurch through the wires of NZ’s private banks; more of which will heading that way in coming days; and much more of which will be heading that way in the longer term voluntarily if Mr Trotter and people like him don’t poison the well.
The “invisible hand” of Mr Trotter’s nightmares is simply a metaphor for people voluntarily buying and selling, in which process is discovered who values what the most—who is prepared to put their money where their values are, and how much that makes resources worth.
And contra Trotter, that is the only real place and process in which to discover exactly how much (or maybe how little) the rebuilding of Christchurch is worth to those whose resources he would have taken by force to rebuild it.
Because in the end, it properly comes down not to “common purpose,” but to the same sort of individual choices that built Christchurch in the first place.
How many home-owners will want to use their insurance cheque to fully rebuild?
How many commercial property-owners?
What will the owners of damaged buildings do with their cheques? Will they see reinvestment in the Christchurch CBD as a good proposition for them?
What will those who chose to be uninsured do without theirs—will they see using their savings to reinvest in Christchurch as a good proposition for them?
And based on choices like these, which then is the most important infrastructure to begin building or rebuilding with the insurance cheques incoming to pay for this?
And which regulations that stop or stall recovery should be relaxed? (This is a National Emergency; if homeless home-owners can’t have regulations relaxed now that make home-building so expensive, then when can they?)
The knee-jerk reflex to look to the State in times like this is not going to pull people through. Looking instead to what people really do value (especially at a time of diminished resources) and allowing those choices to happen just might.
In his piece sent to me for his regular weekly column (with which I conclude) Dr Richard McGrath writes:
It is perhaps timely to remind readers that although it is almost a reflex action to expect assistance from the state when a natural disaster occurs, the proper role of constitutionally limited government is to maintain the rule of law and thus allow agencies trying to assist the displaced and distressed victims of disaster to do their work with minimum interference.
It is not appropriate for a government to use coercive force in transferring wealth from taxpayers to victims of the earthquake. On the other hand, it is appropriate for people to act out of concern for others to pitch in with their time and money, to whatever degree they wish, to help those affected by yesterday’s earthquake.
Here is a link to an interesting webpage called ‘Natural Disasters – Destructive Statism Versus the Heroic Free Market.’
It explores the possibility that:
- Statism (i.e. government intervention) perpetuates poverty, stifles progress
and creates unintended consequences);
- Theft is always wrong, even if it under the pretense of government “aid”;
- Free market capitalism creates the means and the ability to help others.
There are links to several articles on various websites that discuss the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Asia a few years back. And if you thought John Lott was only interested in guns, he has written a piece on why the free market should be allowed to work even – and especially – in times of disaster, so that limited resources can be allocated to those who need them the most.
To all those involved in the rescue efforts in Christchurch, thank you for the tremendous work you are doing.
"The only freedom deserving the name, is that of pursuing our own good
in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs,
or impede their efforts to obtain it."
- John Stuart Mill
UPDATE 1: Sadly, Mr John Key is already floating the idea of raising taxes to
stifle recovery make the rebuild too expensive make taxpayers stump up yet again. And some people say it’s too early to start shooting down balloons like this.
UPDATE 2: And more nasty politicking in the Trotter/Delahunty vein, this time at The Sub-Standard.