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The Intellectual Activist - An Objectivist Review

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An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State (shorter version)
by Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is the editor of and The Intellectual Activist.

The events in New Orleans over the past few weeks make no sense if you view the event just as a natural disaster. If it had just been a natural disaster, then the story would have been about rain, wind, and flooding—not about rape, murder, and looting.

But this is not just a natural disaster. It is also a man-made disaster. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

Many commentators have agreed—but they blame the chaos on American "individualism" and on too little funding for the welfare state. The truth is precisely the opposite: the chaos was caused by a system of socialism, not individualism.

The real man-made disaster is the welfare state.

Most of us found the news from New Orleans to be confusing. When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the occasion, work together to rescue people in danger, and 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.

So why did the opposite happen in New Orleans? What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? Why did the people who fled to the Superdome wallow in filthy, unsanitary conditions—while chanting for someone else to help them? What caused people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the Superdome?

Why are people responding to natural destruction, either with total passivity, or by causing destruction of their own?

All of this has a familiar feeling. My wife and I both studied at universities located on the south side of Chicago, not far from the Robert Taylor Homes, which used to be 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. What we felt while watching television coverage of the Superdome was a whiff of the sense of life of "the projects."

There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit—but they were trapped alongside large numbers of criminals and parasites from the city's public housing projects.

What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the tragic psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is normal for people who are used to taking the responsibility to pursue and protect their values. 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 have never been expected to worry about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? They have been told that they are victims of society, and that theft, as many of the New Orleans looters explained to reporters, is just an opportunity to "get back" what they feel society owes them.

People living in piles of their own trash, while petulantly complaining that other people aren't doing enough to take care of them, then shooting at those who try to rescue them—this 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 state—and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages—is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that swamped New Orleans.

[This article is available for reprinting free of charge. For the permission to reprint, write to Click here for the larger version of this article.]


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