Thursday, January 14, 2010

The disasters of poverty.

The earthquake in Haiti was a magnitude of 7.0. According to Wikipedia, the 1989 San Francisco quake was either 7.0 or 6.9 depending on which scale one used. In other words, the intensities were fairly similar. Haiti is devastated. If the New York Times is correct, the death toll could be in the tens of thousands, current projections put it around 50,000. The death toll in the 1989 San Francisco quake was 63, if you include indirect deaths due the quake.

The difference is wealth. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest areas in our part of the world and Haiti is the poorest. Poverty makes natural disasters worse. Wealth mitigates natural disasters. You would think that those who worry about the poor of the world would promote policies that increase wealth. Instead they push policies that restrain wealth creation and they do it intentionally, knowing those policies will restrict wealth creation.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation, an affiliate of the German Green Party, wrote a report that referred to wealthy areas, like San Francisco, as being areas populated by “over-consumers.” On the other hand, people in poor areas, like Haiti, were called “under-consumers.” But that is a misnomer since they also say, that in their ideal, centrally-planned paradise, the “under-consumers are not to catch up with the over-consumers.” They make it clear, that in the name of equality, the over-consumers have to have their wealth taken from them. They very explicitly attacked those who would try to help develop the poor nations of the world because such people “work at lifting the threshold—rather than lowering or modifying the roof… Poverty alleviation, in other words, cannot be separated from wealth alleviation.” (Note: In a rather ironic twist I worked for some time in Berlin and the office from which I worked was literally a few feet from the Böll Foundation. Our doors were immediately next to one another.)

The truth is that wealthy people can bear the burdens of the worst Mother Nature throws at us. I know the Greens want us all to live in tune with nature but Mother Nature is a bitch. She has no feelings, no compassion, and is quite happy to turn you into fertilizer. Condemn materialism and wealth all you want, but it saves lives. Sure, if you hate humans, then you won’t care. But, whatever problems the process of wealth creation is claimed to cause, pale in comparison to the problems that accompany poverty.

The disaster in New Orleans was a similar example. When the government-maintained dikes failed, during Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was flooded. The people who suffered were the poor, especially the poor who relied upon government mass transit for evacuation. The better off of the city fled in their cars. However a huge percentage of citizens didn’t own cars. Randal O’Toole wrote:
We have heard that 60 percent of New Orleans residents are black, but it has been little noted that a third of those black families do not own a car -- nor do 15 percent of white families. It is these people who were left behind when those with cars evacuated.
O’Toole notes that in previous years, when wealth was lower in the country, death rates from hurricanes were higher. When Galveston was hit by a hurricane in 1900, people couldn’t escape in time because autos didn’t exist. Now, major cities can evacuate before a hurricane arrives because people have cars. Even mass transit works better to evacuate people when more people own cars since mass transit is then used to evacuate far more manageable numbers.

The quake in Haiti inflicted massive death because poverty magnifies the evil that comes with natural disasters. The San Francisco quake led to few deaths, even with a similar magnitude, because the area is productive and wealthy. And, as I will show in a follow-up post, most the deaths in the 1989 San Francisco quake were due to government failure.

The point that Bjorn Lömborg has made in regards to threats from any alleged global warming is that the “solutions” offered by the Green left tends to push “wealth alleviation” without being able to do much good. The net result is that the future world is poorer because we destroy wealth in order to reduce any alleged warming the computer models predict. Given all the assumptions of the warming crowd that could mean that we make future generations less able to deal with any problems, not more able. Policies that destroy wealth creation today mean a poorer world tomorrow and poverty, not wealth, exacerbates disaster. Of course, instead of thinking about what he says, his critics just pretend he has said something very different.

Lömborg’s point on global warming is similar to what I am saying about the earthquakes and about hurricanes. Wealth reduces the harm of disasters while poverty exacerbates them. The best way to deal with disasters, I dare say even those that some say humans create, is to make the poor of the world richer, not the make the rich of the world poorer.

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