Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Harvey vs Mrs. O'leary's Cow

The devastation and aftermath of Harvey along the Texas coast could be a lesson in what not to do. For sure, there are those who claim the cities and state did not do enough to protect the citizens against a 600 year flood. Others say the hurricane was caused by global warming.

There is always someone else to blame.

Travel back to 1871 when Chicago was essentially destroyed by a fire that claimed a third of the city and 200 lives.
 The fire burned for nearly 24 hours, cutting a path four miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide through what is today the Loop and the area surrounding the Magnificent Mile. Nearly everything in its path was consumed. Wrote an observer as the flames were finally extinguished by long- overdue rain, “The fire here last night and to-day has destroyed almost all that was very valuable in this city. There is not a business house, bank, or hotel left. Most of the best part of the city is gone.” -

Amid all the loss people looked for someone to blame and that blame fell on an Irish immigrant, Catherine O'Leary and her cow.

Perhaps much too late both Mrs' O'Leary and her cow have been exonerated but there is still a lesson to be learned.

Chicago recovered in less than 3 years. More importantly it was done without federal funds and almost no local government money.

How did that happen?

The role of the government immediately following the fire was largely limited to keeping order. Martial law was not officially declared, but it was imposed de facto, enforced by army troops, the police, and specially enlisted volunteers. Mayor Roswell B. Mason also issued executive orders that established the price of bread, banned smoking, limited saloon hours, and prohibited wagon drivers from charging more than their usual rate. Mason appointed Lieutenant-General Philip Sheridan, the Civil War hero, to command the Division of the Missouri in patrolling the streets, guarding relief supplies, and enforcing curfews. Four companies of infantry were also stationed just outside the city for several months. But after only two weeks, Mason discharged Sheridan’s troops on the grounds that they were no longer needed.

FEMA did not exist until created by President Carter. Federal agencies provide funds and low interest loans that essentially take the place of private insurance and charity. The federal government also provides temporary housing (FEMA trailers), food, medical and pre-loaded debit cards to cover incidentals.

Is this really what we want?

Is government dependence really what we need?

Has big government (which never seems to get smaller in spite of promises to do so) become a sugar daddy willing to bail out citizens who do not take personal responsibility?

No doubt it will take years and millions of dollars to rebuild the Texas coast. Private insurance, personal savings and charity will cover a lot of the costs but no doubt the lion's share will fall on the taxpayers.

The lessons from the Chicago fire have been forgotten. Instead of a handout the citizens were given a hand up. Assistance in the form of jobs to help them get back on their feet. How far we have come in 146 years and have we moved in the right direction or not?

#HurricaneHarvey  #ChicagoFire1871
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