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Relief and Outrage

I didn't watch President Bush's speech about hurricane relief, so I can't say whether he bumbled the delivery in his characteristic manner. But I can say that the substance of his speech was outrageous, whatever the quality of the delivery.

(Not Shocking! Outrageous!, because there's no shock — this was fully expected.)

To carry out the first stages of the relief effort and begin rebuilding at once, I have asked for, and the Congress has provided, more than $60 billion. This is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis, which demonstrates the compassion and resolve of our nation.

Sixty billion dollars! Every man, woman, and child in America just "donated" $200 to post-Katrina rebuilding. Of course this is not a donation — this is theft. And there's absolutely nothing compassionate about that.

I don't want to hear anybody tell me that we're all in this together and that I'd feel differently if it was me living in a disaster zone. That's exactly the point: I don't live in a disaster-prone area. My risk profile is different. Therefore, in insurance parlance, I should not pay the same premium.

When the federal government pays for disaster relief, it subsidizes those who choose to live in dangerous areas. This subsidy is paid by those who choose to live in safer areas. When you subsidize something, you get more of it — government disaster relief spending encourages more people to live and invest in areas prone to disasters. This "compassion" actually increases the costs associated with disasters, because without the subsidy there would be less development in harm's way!

I don't want to subsidize people who live in high-risk areas. It's their choice to live there, so they should bear the cost themselves. Buying insurance to pool risk is an excellent idea, but the premium must reflect the risk. Some places really are more expensive to live in due to the possibility of disasters: they are periodically wiped out and must be rebuilt, and this is a real cost that should not be ignored. People who can't afford it should live someplace less expensive. They should join the rest of us living in these less expensive areas, instead of using government to steal our money for their own costs of rebuilding.

Let me give a concrete example. The levee system around New Orleans should be financed entirely with local funds. Why? Because all the benefits go to local people! It's fundamentally a part of the cost of living in that area, and should be factored into peoples' decisions to live there. I live over two thousand miles away — the New Orleans levee system is not a cost of living in my area. I shouldn't have to pay for it! But this new federal spending is certain to include funding for levee improvements. So now I'm paying for levees in New Orleans, and I'm not at all happy about it. You could say I'm outraged.

I propose the creation of Worker Recovery Accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search.

I have something to say about this, too. I'm not happy that the government is crowding out private charity. But I am happy that it's being done with cash instead of services. Cash enables people to pursue their own personal priorities rather than being put into a poorly-fitting program. Cash also puts the entire private economy at one's disposal, minimizing waste and corruption and fraud — except, of course, for those instances associated with applying for the funds in the first place. (There will be a lot.)

And to help lower-income citizens in the hurricane region build new and better lives, I also propose that Congress pass an Urban Homesteading Act. Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity. Home ownership is one of the great strengths of any community, and it must be a central part of our vision for the revival of this region.

This, however, is a great idea and should be expanded nationwide, regardless of whether there's been a disaster or not. I'm very happy to see the conversion of government property to private property. In fact, literal homesteading shouldn't be required — these government lands should simply be sold on the market.

Tiny Island