Monday, January 10, 2005

Priorities, Gentlemen. Priorities.

They didn't exactly retract their article, U.S. Government Should Not Help Tsunami Victims, the main point of which is "The United States government, however, should not give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is not the government's to give."

But the organization felt the need for further clarification (note that the two are combined at CapMag). They conclude:
The crucial issue in the battle for a free society is to restrict the government to its only legitimate purpose: the protection of individual rights. (The issue of compulsory taxation, the focus of the original piece, is a derivative; it pertains to the appropriate means by which a proper government would finance its activities, and is the last issue to address in establishing a free society. For elaboration, see Ayn Rand’s article "Government Financing in a Free Society" in The Virtue of Selfishness.)

The Ego blog has a round-up of the controversy and quotes a, perhaps, better handling of the matter. I'm with him, though, when he says that Holcberg's article doesn't belong in Chrenkoff's 12 most stupid tsunami quotes.

I guess I'll quote the Terence Corcoran article too:
If there's an emerging lesson in the aftermath of the tsunami, it is this: Beware of aid efforts that must be trumpeted in press releases and hyped at news conferences. The bulk of world relief to tsunami victims, soaring to hundreds of millions of dollars, had been registered by private agencies collecting donations from individuals who sought no public recognition, issued no media release and made no effort to get their names into the papers. It was only after it became obvious thousands, if not millions, of individuals wanted to help that the world's governments -- in Ottawa and Washington and elsewhere -- suddenly saw an opportunity. Absurdly, Ottawa announced it would "match" the private donations of individual Canadians -- as if Ottawa got the money from some magic fountain behind Parliament Hill rather that from taxes on the same individuals who had already volunteered.

He goes on to point out the difficulties inherent in government aid:
How far will the UN and others get in their attempt to capitalize on popular reaction to the Asian tsunami? More important is the question of how much benefit will emerge from such massive outpourings of government aid -- aid that in the past has done little to change the economic well-being of people living in countries where the main problems are corruption, lack of good government and an absence of liberal economic policies.

Ego also links a good article on the matter at The Noumenal Self explaining why you don't do that sort of thing. Juxtapose your philosophical position against scenes terrible tragedy, I mean.

Update: Brilliant Cost-Benefit Analysis of the whole issue of disaster relief, public and private, Donating to Disaster Relief, by Brian Gongol:
To quote Robert Barro, "Nothing is Sacred." Everything about politics, society, economics, and every other field of human endeavor should be open to inquiry and debate. Open, reasoned inquiry should tend to reinforce meritable pursuits and reveal which ones are simply not as good.

Thus, it is a fair question to ask whether it is a good idea to send contributions to aid in disaster-relief efforts like the ones working to comfort the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It may sound cruel to even question whether donating is the right thing to do, but if we're honestly open to making the right decisions, we should be able to make the case for charitable donations rationally and openly.

Let it be noted: The author has contributed directly to the tsunami relief effort, having concluded that, on balance, the good done by humanitarian relief outweighs the bad. However, the conclusion is not itself a foregone one, and like all things merits open, critical debate.

Well, the wisdom of the ancients just refuses to die.