Friday, September 19, 2008

Ike and Property Rights

Prior to Ike's landfall, everyone in the region was bombarded with tips and information on how to prepare for a hurricane. Since Houstonians often go through such a routine multiple times a year, the information is widely known (or should be). Among the suggestions: have 3 days of water and non-perishable food, have candles and batteries, fill your bathtub, and fill your gas tank. None of these are particularly difficult or expensive tasks.

In the aftermath of the storm, it became painfully obvious that the advice and information provided by authorities was ignored by many citizens. On Sunday citizens (and some local government officials) were complaining about the lack of food, water, and ice. In short, less than 24 hours after the storm, many citizens were already out of food and water. Clearly, they did not heed the advice to stock a 3 day supply.

While it was apparently too much of an imposition to fill up a few jugs of water and buy a few cans of tuna, these people had plenty of energy to hunt down the nearest reporter and air their complaints. They had no interest in taking the responsibility to provide for their own sustenance, but quickly damned the "system" when those items did not miraculously appear.

These people demonstrated little regard for their own lives. They could not, or would not, take simple steps to provide for themselves. They chose to wantonly and irresponsibly ignore both the advice of authorities and common sense. Instead, they chose to demand that others provide for them.

Unfortunately, there are many who ignore the self-imposed nature of this misery, and rush to provide aid and comfort. There are many who regard need as a claim on the property of others, and demand that tax dollars be used to provide for those who refused to provide for themselves.
The victims of Ike are not limited to the path of his winds and rain. The victims of Ike are spread across the nation as taxpayers from every state are forced to provide relief for the area.

Houstonians did not choose to be ravaged by a hurricane. But neither did the residents of Iowa, or Georgia, or Alaska, or any other state. Yet their property will be taken for the benefit of those in the Houston area. Our need is not a claim on their property.

In the days since Ike’s landfall there have been countless stories of private individuals and businesses donating water, ice, and other supplies to help others. There are undoubtedly many more such stories that will never be heard. This is the proper response to any disaster—relief provided through the voluntary actions of individuals and businesses.

Each individual has a moral right to pursue the actions required for his sustenance and enjoyment, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others. An individual’s need, no matter how dire or how tragic its cause, does not give him a right to demand that others provide for him. Those who claim otherwise are declaring that has no individual has a right to live for himself, that the individual can be forced to sacrifice for others.

Houston has become a great city because it has largely rejected that premise. Houston has largely respected the property rights of its citizens. If Houstonians wish to retain our greatness, we must continue to respect property rights, including those of non-Houstonians.

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