I have an admittedly radical idea about how to help relieve the suffering, loss and misery of the hundreds of thousands hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Now, the way we’ve become conditioned to think about natural and unnatural disasters in this country is that the federal government takes care of everything.

There are several problems with this:

  • It is unconstitutional. I’m sorry, but there is just no way to justify coercive wealth transfers by Washington. I know we do them all the time. I know we do them for admittedly rotten reasons and causes. And I know it will be extremely unpopular to suggest we should suddenly stop this misguided practice when a seemingly noble cause arises.

    But I would be remiss in not pointing this out. It’s not a technicality. It’s part of the very essence of what defines the American experiment in freedom. We must never forget that the federal government has strictly limited powers. If we forget it, all our liberty is lost. We will have no one else to blame but ourselves for allowing this to happen.

    That’s really the heart of the problem. The American people and the leaders of both major parties have completely lost sight of the constitutionally limited powers and scope of the federal government. We may soon go beyond the point of no return.

    The question America should be asking is “Why?” Why should Americans in all 50 states – some who have faced smaller personal disasters in their own lives without a bailout – be forced to pay for the needs of those along the Gulf Coast?

    I know. It sounds heartless of me to ask these questions. That shows you how conditioned we have become in America to socialism – to big-government nannyism, to the idea of cradle-to-grave care from Washington.

    The reality is that it is a bad idea for Washington pay for these expenses. Politicians do it only to empower themselves, to make themselves look better, to feel compassionate – all at the expense of others.

  • If it’s the right thing to do for the federal government to pay people who have lost their homes due to the Hurricane Katrina damage, why isn’t it right to compensate the lone homeowner who was the victim of a fire in, say, Dubuque, Iowa? That would probably be an unpopular measure. At least I hope so. People could discern that would be a bad idea. Yet, because of the symbolism and the massive scale of the disaster in the Gulf Coast, paying for losses there is considered a good idea.

    Why would it be a bad idea? Because it would discourage personal responsibility. Aren’t we doing that as well on a massive scale when we bail out entire regions hit by disaster?

    Why should victims of large national disasters be compensated, but those anonymous victims of smaller, everyday tragedies go uncompensated?

    Of course, some in our society might suggest everyone be eligible for such compensation. There are always elements in our society who want to move America further down the road of socialism – a system where government alone decides who gets what. Ultimately, it means none of us own anything. Our property is not our own. Government controls it all and decides how much, if any, you are allowed to keep, while redistributing the rest as it sees fit.

  • And there’s another consequence as well. When government subsidizes disaster, you get more of it. That’s true of whatever government pays for – whether it’s welfare or bad education. Think about it. Every time a hurricane strikes, a community is hit by flooding or a brushfire tears into a town, the federal government is Johnny-on-the-spot, checkbook in hand, making sure everyone is made whole.

    You see, whatever the government pays for – whether it’s subsidizing some bum to sit around the house not working, or the worst educational system this side of a public jail, or a backward and inefficient system of mail delivery, or unwed motherhood, or junk science – you get more of it. You get what you subsidize.

    “But Farah,” you say, “you don’t mean to tell me that we’re getting more natural disasters because the government is compensating people for their losses?”

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. But because the government so often picks up the tab after a disaster, these days, people are less likely to prepare themselves – with insurance, by building on safe ground, by being adequately supplied for recovery. In other words, the government, once again, is subsidizing dependency and slothfulness and failing to encourage personal responsibility and preparedness.

  • Another problem with government handouts is that when you accept them, you also accept government control over your life.

    Americans seem unable or unwilling to accept risks in their lives anymore. They want the government to turn their lives into risk-free zones. If anything bad happens to anyone, it’s up to the government to take care of the problem and make the victim whole – whether it’s a tobacco smoker who claims he just didn’t know the risks or someone lobbying for a new government health-care program.

    What comes with the goodies, the freebies, the handouts, is control. If government pays to clean up your mess after a storm, it doesn’t do so without expectations. And the biggest expectation is that government assumes with that responsibility the right to tell you where you can move.

    Just how much control over your lives are you willing to accept, America? Is there any limit? Are you prepared to be told where you can live, what you can do with the land you supposedly own and how you can spend the feeble amount of money you have left after the government taxes 40 percent of your income before you even get to see it?

    What Americans ought to remember is that such benevolent and utopian thinking about government generally leads to one of three destinations – serfdom, slavery or extermination. Because when it comes to sheer terror, force and fury, government is the biggest natural disaster of all.

    This is not compassion. This is coercion. And it points out a fundamental problem with the way Americans see their government.

    Government is not Santa Claus. Government is government. It has clearly delineated powers and responsibilities – and clearly delineated areas of non-responsibility.

    Government is not supposed to make decisions from the heart. It is supposed to make decisions based on the will of the people – but only under the authority and scope of the Constitution.

    There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that would remotely authorize such a wealth transfer. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

    So what’s my radical idea? How do we get around this problem and still help the desperate people in the Gulf Coast and future victims of inevitable natural and unnatural disasters?

    I think Davy Crockett had the right idea.

    In his famous speech, “Not Yours To Give,” he eloquently explained to his fellow congressmen, intent on transferring federal funds to a needy widow, why it was not within their scope of responsibility and authority to do so. He offered, instead, real compassion – his own money.

    That’s the way it is supposed to work.

    When government takes over the responsibility of charity, it undermines charity. It undermines our willingness – and ability – as a people to help our neighbors, our families, our friends.

    With that in mind, let me ask you a question: Where are the churches in this disaster relief? Has anyone seen a massive mobilization of churches and synagogues in this country? Wouldn’t that be wonderful to see? Couldn’t they do the job more effectively and demonstrate true Godly compassion at the same time?

    That’s the biblical approach to disaster relief.

    But the churches, too, have become conditioned to allowing the government to usurp their holy duty to love one another, to serve our brothers and sisters in need, to be a blessing to the world.

    And there is a proper role for our national political leadership – get behind that movement. The Bush administration has given lip service to so-called “faith-based” charities. Why shouldn’t President Bush and former presidents marshal their forces behind this private relief effort the way they did during the tsunami relief effort?

    Let’s start this Sunday with every church in America taking up a special collection for Gulf Coast disaster relief. It would be a big step in the right direction. We can’t say goodbye to unconstitutional, immoral, coercive government intervention in every facet of our lives as long as the church abdicates its responsibility.

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