Hurricane Harvey has wreaked utter devastation in Houston and surrounding areas, and the damage is expected to rival that caused by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.
Thousands of people have been affected by the storm and are in need of some sort of assistance. Indeed, there are well over 350,000 people who have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Coast Guard has been absolutely instrumental in the impact they’ve made in rescuing people and bringing them to shelter. It is quite clear that the government should be intervening in a situation like this to provide immediate relief.
What comes next is not quite so clear.
Over 185,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed and many people will now face serious hardships in rebuilding their lives. A significant number of them will not be able to do so on their own, and will need some sort of outside help. The question now is where that help will come from.
The left will say that Hurricane Harvey victims should receive government aid to help get them back on their feet, just as they advocate for government intervention in any problem. But there is another way. For years small government advocates have criticized the expansive welfare state, and argued in favor of allowing private charities and religious institutions to provide a social safety net to those in need.
Before people relied on the government to receive aid, they relied on their local communities, oftentimes through their church or synagogue. A large part of the argument against federal welfare is the dependency that it creates among its recipients. Local communities don’t have this problem to the same extent because when someone receives money from their neighbors and fellow churchgoers, they feel indebted them and motivated to pick themselves up off their feet and pay back their debts. People don’t feel the same way when they receive welfare from the government because they don’t connect government money to individual nameless taxpayers the same way they do charity from one’s neighbors.
Even in a situation like this, where national charities will be providing a large amount of aid to the hurricane victims, people still feel somewhat indebted. Many people who receive government aid feel entitled to the money as they themselves are a taxpayer, but when a private organization comes in and provides unsolicited charity the feeling of indebtedness somewhat resembles that of local charity.
Many on the left agree that private charity is better in theory, but they don’t believe the private sector does enough to help the needy when they need it the most. That is why Hurricane Harvey is a test, and an opportunity, for all conservatives, small government advocates, and religious people who want to return to a private sector based social safety net to prove that Americans are more than willing to give aid voluntarily in times of crisis.
There will be no shortage of needy people who want to rebuild their lives after the storm dies down. Will we all put our money where our mouth is and give these people the help they so desperately need?