“Isn’t it socialism when the government helps you (with hurricane assistance)? The fire department’s gotta come and the police. I mean, socialism.” — Joy Behar of “The View,” mocking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pledges of assistance prior to Hurricane Ian
Conservatives ridiculed Ms. Behar’s attempt at hyperbole. But is her characterization so far off?
After all, Sleepy Joe Biden blew into Puerto Rico and Florida in Ian’s wake with a lot more than first responders. He raced through a strangely jarring early Christmas catalog promising the island’s people:
- “Up to $37,900 for essential home repairs and another $37,900 for lost property … like a car or a refrigerator.”
- “Cash assistance for 700 bucks to help cover the essentials for just a little while,” already received by nearly 200,000 households.
- More than $60 million to help coastal areas “become better prepared for the storm.”
- $4 million to “make the power grid more resilient” in the face of “climate change and more extreme weather” – a number that “is going to go up” to “drive decisive progress on … Puerto Rico’s clean energy transformation.”
- “Nearly $700 million in infrastructure investments” in “roads, bridges, public transit, ports, airports, water safety, and high-speed Internet.”
Florida? FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell says assistance will be “in the billions. How many billions I don’t know yet.”
Hmm. Here’s Webster’s definition of socialism: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”
By all means. Help out in disasters. Get people to safety, and food, water and shelter to those lacking it.
But tens of thousands of dollars each for individuals’ repairs and losses? Millions in climate pork? Yet-unknown “billions” in rebuilding aid to people and businesses who knew exactly where they were located and attendant risks? That’s an awful lot of “government administration” of “distribution of goods” (and cash).
In the end, socialism is just an extreme level not of “distribution,” but redistribution schemes. Which is, it turns out, what “disaster relief” has become.
Large bureaucracies undisciplined by market forces stink at distributing the right resources to the right people for the right reasons. So redistribution, at whatever level, is generally from the productive, prepared, disciplined and principled to those who are, well, not so much.
Ergo, two phenomena recur. One is “moral hazard,” counterproductive responses to perverse signals and incentives.
Like development in hurricane-prone regions with the assurance of subsidized assistance in rebuilding.
Or – a defining feature of socialism – lack of effort and resulting shortages of goods and labor. Lo and behold: view empty shelves in any Walmart, or patronize an understaffed restaurant, and you’d think you were in the old East Bloc. Largely thanks to generous benefits from the mother of all “disaster relief” efforts, for gub-mint’s custom-made COVID calamity.
Redistribution schemes’ other common feature? Corruption. As in Soviet or Cuban or Venezuelan socialist dictators living in palatial splendor while citizens scratch out hand-to-mouth existences.
Or ex-FEMA officials indicted in a bribery scandal related to, yes, previous hurricane assistance to Puerto Rico, and local leaders there diverting aid. Not to mention billions of dollars in unspent aid and infrastructure funding and storage facilities filled with undistributed supplies.
Especially apropos: After covering Mr. Biden’s island give-a-thon, the network this correspondent was monitoring followed up on a recent bombshell: 41,638 Small Business Administration (SBA) COVID relief awards, totaling $1.3 billion, going to applicants abroad. Many involving “high-risk” countries and – wait for it – “international criminal organizations.”
A report preceded by revelations of $45 billion in corona-related unemployment scamming. And followed by news that – here we go again – FEMA released billions in fraudulent COVID payments for lost wages.
How, you ask? Forty-one percent of 3.9 million SBA loan applications possibly approved “with no actual review” by an employee. The Labor Department’s “lack of sufficient action” to check scammers. And FEMA’s abrupt program launch without “sufficient controls to prevent fraudulent activities,” relying on “self-certifications.”
How many of those $700 payments rushed into 200,000 Puerto Ricans’ hands within days of the hurricane occurred without “sufficient controls?” Need one ask?
Because getting money into the right hands isn’t the point, but rather leveraging crises to boost government’s power to “solve” our problems and order our lives.
But it’s humanitarian assistance, you insist, and therefore not a liberal or conservative matter.
Stipulated – for reasons famously expressed by the incomparable Ronald Reagan:
You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down.
Up to man’s age-old dream – the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order – or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path.
Marx equally famously saw socialism as a way station to total state control of the means of production – and distribution – and thereby citizens’ lives.
So no, Ms. Behar, disaster relief is not “socialism.” But in its current configuration, it’s now another disconcerting first step down that path.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.