The Answer to Katrina

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In the last little while I have written twice about hurricanes afflicting New Orleans, and my attempts as a resident of the Big Easy to escape from them; once on Ivan, and more recently on Katrina. The latter column led to more responses from readers than any other piece I have ever published with

There was plenty of positive response, but I will not reply to any of that, except to thank the readers of this web for their warm support.

The negative reaction expressed two concerns; first that I was talking through my hat (the word "moron," and worse, kept cropping up) in terms of free enterprise being able to control the weather, and second that I was totally off base (that is not exactly how some of the letters expressed themselves, but this is a family periodical) in urging that people not contribute to the Red Cross, but instead to the Salvation Army for short-term needs (I thanked the sainted Wal-Mart Corporation for doing so), and to the Mises Institute and and the Libertarian Parties of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for long-term considerations.

Let me now reply to each of these issues.

I. Cloud seeding

First, the weather (I owe a great debt of gratitude to Yang Chenping for steering me to the material I cite below in this section of the column).

I concede to my critics that the free enterprise system is nowhere near to being able to quell category 5 hurricanes such as Katrina (she slowed down to a category 4 level only when she reached the coast). However, there is at least such a thing as a weather control industry. It is viable. It is operational. It has made great strides already, and is continually improving. It is benefiting from the weeding out process, whereby firms that satisfy customers enlarge their scale of operation, and those that do not pass by the wayside. This is the recipe for success in every other industry known to man, and there is no reason to posit that it cannot, indeed, is not, functioning in this way at present in terms of weather control.

Consider in this regard Dyn-O-Mat Inc. The stock in trade of this company, located in Riviera Beach, FL, is to "implode" storms by seeding them with chemicals, and/or to at least reduce their severity. According to CEO Peter Cordani "attacking a pie-shaped sliver of a hurricane as it forms over water could slow the storm down by 15 to 20 mph, causing the winds to turn on themselves." He continued: “We’re not going to get rid of the storm,” he said. “There will still be heavy rain. We’re just trying to take the punch out of it.”

Then there is Weather Modification Inc. This firm has been operating out of Fargo, North Dakota since 1961 and offers services in terms of "rainfall increase (rain enhancement), snow pack augmentation, hail damage mitigation (hail suppression), and fog clearing (fog dissipation).

North American Weather Consultants, Inc., "incorporated in 1950, specializes in providing Weather Modification, Air Quality Services, Ambient Monitoring, Tracer Studies, (and) Applied Meteorological Studies."

Research from the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast shows that corals are packed full of the chemical dimethyl sulphide, or DMS. When released into the atmosphere, DMS helps clouds to form, which could have a large impact on the local climate.”

The Nissan Corporation protected its parking lot, chock full of automobiles, from a hailstorm by shooting off a cannon that sends "sonic waves up to 50,000 feet in the air." According to Eric Rademacher, an environmental engineer with Nissan, “Hailstones are formed and begin with a piece of dust in the clouds. There is a lot of activity going on, and what we do is to de-ionize that activity in the clouds and keep those dust particles from collecting moisture out of the clouds in turn reacting and forming what we know as a hailstone.” Hailstones today, hopefully hurricanes tomorrow.

But all is not well regarding the private enterprise of weather control. Government is sticking its evil nose into the initiative. From 1962 until 1983, the National Weather Service was involved in such initiatives with its Project Stormfury. But they gave up, and now bash private companies such as the ones above, who are attempting to improve matters.

Even that great bastion of free enterprise, China, has gotten into the act. According to a China Daily report “Drought-stricken central Henan province has been using a method called cloud seeding, in which chemicals are shot at clouds.” The only problem here is that those responsible for these acts were not actually market participants; rather, they were elements of the government.

A similar threat to a complete role for private enterprise in protection against the elements emanates from Russia. In order to protect its 60th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany the Russian air force was dispatched to disperse rain clouds.

As well, the governments of Philippines, India, Thailand, New South Wales and others, plus several U.S. states such as Utah, North Dakota, Nevada, Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Colorado have gotten into the act. They, too, are horning in on what should ideally be entirely a private initiative. Perhaps the worst aspect of this is that the U.S. government is now contemplating getting back into this business. Weather socialism we can do without. (Happily, some such as Oklahoma seem to have suspended their involvement). There is even a silver lining in the cloud of Moscow’s celebration. Private individuals too, such as Paul McCartney, have entered the fray, kicking in "$55,000 for three jets to spray the clouds above the city with dry ice. Some 50,000 people gathered in Palace Square for McCartney’s concert, only his second performance in Russia. The former Soviet regime had banned Beatle music as a corrupting influence."

Personal disclosure. I have no stock in any cloud seeding or any other such company. I am an economist, not a meteorologist. I make no claim that this technology shall be the one that finally brings winds on steroids like Katrina to her knees. There are dangers in this technology, too. All I am saying is that the market — with proper protections for private property owners — can be trusted to satisfy consumers in this field as in all others.

Is there any doubt that if the government can keep its mitts off this industry, in the years to come it will make great strides in protecting us from inclement weather? But that means no excessive taxation, no unnecessary and stultifying regulation, no nationalization, and no subsidization of government bureaus in competition with these folks (such as the case in which public libraries compete with private bookstores and lending libraries, and even with your local neighborhood Block Buster.)

The technology of cloud seeding has been utilized since 1946. Vincent Schaefer of General Electric Labs was the pioneer in this regard. Private enterprise is not anywhere near perfecting it. But it is my contention that if government stays away, objections to the contrary notwithstanding, that this is the last best long-run hope for humanity to rid itself of this ancient scourge.

II. Charity

Let us now consider the issue of charity, in the aftermath of Katrina’s devastation.

First, the short-run. Why do I continue to favor the Salvation Army? Mainly because the proportion of their donations spent on salaries, fund-raising and administrative costs is very low (see Block, Walter. 1987. “Preface,” General Arnold Brown, The Salvation Army and the Shadow Side of Affluence: the Welfare System and the Welfare of the Needy, Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, pp. 4—5). The overwhelming majority of the money entrusted to them is allocated to the purpose for which it is donated. Secondly, they cooperate with the sainted Wal-Mart Corporation, and no one who does that can be all bad.

How about The Red Cross? I have several things against them. Minor point: they are over bureaucratized. They turned down offers from numerous people anxious to offer help to the victims of Katrina. Then, as I mentioned before, they are so politically correct they did not sufficiently scrutinize the blood donations made by homosexuals, due to considerations of political correctness. As a result, innocent people contracted AIDS. Then, too, they are in far too close association with government for my tastes.

What about the long run? Here, I suggested two institutions. My first recommendation was that people concerned with the plight of the poor in general, and specifically with future unfortunates such as those now victimized by Katrina, donate money to the Mises Institute. In this regard, one of my critics challenged: “How is funding Mises going to influence the disposition of 250,000 homeless unemployed?”

I readily "concede" that this Auburn Alabama institution will not directly devote itself to the care and feeding of the New Orleans homeless. They are simply not in the business of handing out bottles of water, food and housing accommodations to refugees. But this misconstrues my suggestion. I was urging support of the Mises Institute not as a short run solution, but as a LONG RUN one.

How so? Funding the Mises Institute (and will promote free enterprise. If Bill Gates or George Soros were to give this organization just $1 billion, a mere pittance for people of this sort, the market system will be given a gigantic boost. Not only in the future, when hundreds more Austro libertarians will become professors, journalists, etc. but even in the immediate future. Just think in terms of a new Washington Post with Lew Rockwell as publisher and Jeff Tucker as editor. Or, imagine a new Fox News with these two in similar positions. That’s point one.

Point two is that to the degree a country embraces libertarianism and economic freedom, it becomes richer, far richer. For those of you who are empirically oriented, see this publication for an illustration of that claim: Gwartney, James, Robert Lawson and Walter Block. 1996. Economic Freedom of the World, 1975—1995 Vancouver, B.C. Canada: the Fraser Institute.

Point three is that with a radically richer society, it would be just that much easier for people in the U.S. to come to the rescue of “250,000 homeless unemployed.” And not through welfare checks either, but rather via the creation of new employment to produce still more wealth.

Nor does the Mises Institute and LRC stand merely for free enterprise. It also urges an end to U.S. imperialism abroad (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan, at present). Bringing back the troops as soon as possible would create still additional wealth, with which to help, further, the “250,000 homeless unemployed.”

Moreover, the Mises Institute opposes regulations, such as the minimum wage law and coercive union legislation that are responsible for unemployment. By the way, it is an economic fallacy that additional wealth is needed to give jobs to these “250,000 homeless unemployed.” Even if we were half as rich as we now are, everyone could be employed in the absence of government laws that preclude such a situation.

Please realize several things in this regard. First, I am not employed by the Mises Institute and thus cannot speak in their behalf. I am a member of the Senior Faculty along with a dozen others, but this means only that my advice is sometimes sought, and I am regularly invited to speak at Mises events, but always on a contractual basis. The views expressed above are only my own opinion.

Second, the Mises Institute was not the only organization I advised that people contribute to, in my column on Katrina. I also mention LewRockwell,com, and the Libertarian Parties of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. They, too, play an important role in raising public appreciation for the free enterprise system in those states, where it is most sorely needed in the aftermath of the hurricane.

What I continue to regard as these eminently reasonable statements on my part were met with a storm of protest (please keep those electronic cards and letters coming). Political parties are evil, including, even the Libertarian Party. Anyone who locates himself in the Belly of the Beast (Washington, D.C.) will soon "grow in office," like Cato, and eschew their prior free enterprise principles. Politics is a creation of the Devil.

Not so, not so. Ron Paul is exhibit "A" for the case to the contrary. And he is only the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous elected Libertarian Party members, all over the country, who have not compromised on their principles by one iota. And, there are plenty of former once very able and accomplished libertarians who have renounced their prior ideology, who have not been connected with politics in any way (Murray Rothbard is presumably spinning in his grave over these incidences of treason; some of them were his chief lieutenants years ago). Yes, there is a tendency to take on left liberal, and neocon positions when located within the beltway. But this certainly does not apply to all. Even the Mises Institute for a time had an office in Washington D.C., where Lew Rockwell had been Ron Paul’s chief of staff. But this did not lead them to temper their free enterprise message in the slightest.

So, I reiterate my earlier claims. The last best hope for society and a civilized order is the freedom philosophy. The promotion of Austro-libertarianism is the dark horse candidate to protect future generations from horrors such as Katrina. This can and will be done two ways. One, directly, by allowing a private enterprise industry devoted to cloud seeding and other such techniques to stop future storms dead in their tracks. Two, indirectly, by making us ever so much more wealthy, so that we will one day have the wherewithal to support such new technology, and better care for those few who still fall victim.

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable.

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