Tuesday, October 11, 2005

AP's defeatism: World Helpless Against Assaults of Nature

To the AP's 'World Helpless Against Assaults of Nature' , by Calvin Woodward, is the work of a defeatists that sells his fellow humans short.

Mr. Woodward attempts to make the case that science has failed us:

In a more hopeful time, buoyed by the promise of science, it was thought hurricanes could be tricked into dispersing, earthquakes could be disarmed by
nuclear explosions and floodwaters held at bay by great mounds of dirt.
But in fact it has not. Mr. Woodward sets up a straw man only to knock it down. Science may not tell us where the next earthquake will be, but it does tell us what areas are disaster prone. Incidentally, the same 'destructive' forces Mr. Woodward complains about give us the weather patterns that bring water to the nation's bread basket, create mountain ranges that contriubte to the weather patterns, flowing rivers that support commerce, etc.

There are millions of places in the world that are not at the whim of 'Nature'. We as humans generally know where those places are by now and we make the conscious decision to live in harm's way or not; as our fellow citizens in New Orleans and San Francisco have done. People decide to use, or not, the information that science has given us. You can be sure that insurance companies are using the work of science in their business of assessing premium rates for risky areas. This is known as the Actuarial Science.

At a minimum, a calculated risk/benefit analysis must have gone through the mind of every homeowner in those cities that sought out flood or earthquake insurance. This calculation/assessment/act of risk taking is at the very heart of freedom and freewill.

And why do we have such large population centers in harm's way? Partly because the free market is being distorted by government policies. As 2004 Nobel Laureates Prescott's and Kydland's work on the time consistency of economic policy explains:

...A government might, for instance, want to discourage building in areas prone to hurricanes. So it warns citizens that no compensation will be given for houses in such areas should disaster strike. If people believe the warning, they will not build. But if they expect (as history suggests they should) that the government is likely to soften its stance and pay for hurricane damage after all, they will ignore the warning. Before the fact, the government wants to stop building; afterwards, it wants to compensate those who have suffered...

Mr. Woodward's overlooking of the individual decision to live in disaster prone areas is typical of a defeatist's narrow view of the world and discounts the proven gains of the geological/meterological/actuarial/economic sciences.


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