Hurricane Katrina and capitalism

Updated: 21 May 2008, 23:07

Originally written: 05 September 2005

Hurricane Katrina provides an informative counterpoint to the calls for an early warning system after the earthquake/tsunami on 26 December 2004 in the Indian Ocean. There seemed to be general agreement that an early warning system in the Indian Ocean would have saved lives.

Although an early warning system is obviously a good idea, we should ask why, given the fact that New Orleans residents were warned, that so many remained in the city. You do not have to ask a socialist to discover that those remaining in the city were poor.

They had warning, and could not afford to get out. All the warning systems in the world cannot change that. Only eliminating poverty can give everyone the ability to turn a warning into a successful evacuation.

In the richest nation on the face of this planet, people died because they were poor. Then more died because the senior governments did not act upon New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s pleas for help, for days. Agencies such as the Red Cross are asking for donations to help provide necessary services. Is this the sort of world in which you want to live? A world in which people who have just suffered a huge natural disaster, have to beg for food and medical care — or have someone else beg for them?

That is the world of capitalism.

In a world run for people, without profits, administrators could immediately direct the necessary resources to the people who need them. If today, people could hop on a plane to help in New Orleans or Biloxi, or wherever they are needed, the planes would be full, but volunteers cannot just hop on a plane. The profit system demands payment all down the line. Those who need help are dependent upon individuals deciding that they can still pay the mortgage if they fly to New Orleans.

The necessary volunteers exist. The necessary resources exist. The need exists. But capitalism stands in the way — at least for a few critical days. And when the hurricane victims are no longer in the news, capitalism will stand in the way of people getting their lives back to what is considered (under capitalism) to be an acceptable level of poverty.

Another issue is that the levees in the area may have been neglected. That is brought on by the vicious economic trade-offs required under capitalism. Avoiding problems is an expense which is often at the bottom of the barrel, because the top of the barrel is overflowing with immediately urgent problems which usually do not get solved anyway. Capitalism has shown no indication — despite frequent assertions to the contrary — that capitalism can eliminate poverty. The Left, Centre, Right apologists for capitalism can assert whatever they like — and confuse those willing to listen — but poverty remains with no expiration date in sight.

An early warning system in the Indian Ocean might have saved the relatively well-to-do (especially tourists), but the vast majority of the dead probably still would have died. In Biloxi and New Orleans the situation is basically the same.

Why socialism? To eliminate poverty so that there are no poor people who cannot respond the early warnings, and to keep the infrastructure (such as levees and early warning systems) maintained for our own safety.
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