Rebuilding after disasters, Government Role in

Last updated: June 20, 2016

What role should the federal government have in rebuilding after disasters? Does its intervention do more harm than good, or is a national government the only actor able to plan strategically and direct the appropriate level of resources to areas of need?

Rebuilding after disasters, Government Role in
Yes because...

The government exists to protect citizens and to help them recover from crises. When disaster strik...

The government exists to protect citizens and to help them recover from crises. When disaster strikes, be it a summer of tornados, an earthquake, or a hurricane, the government bears primary responsibility for speeding its citizens’ lives back to order. Financing rebuilding efforts is the least the government can do to help individuals recover from incredible personal loss and community tragedy.
No because...
Government intervention in rebuilding is not the answer and only serves to cover up the government’s previous failures. Rather than being “acts of God”, many disasters happen either because of government laxity (a terrorist attack) or are made worse because of inadequate government preparation (a lack of hurricane warning systems or earthquake building codes). Focusing on the role of government in recovery encourages a mentality that excuses earlier government negligence and does not help prevent similar crises in the future.

Rebuilding after disasters, Government Role in
Yes because...

The government has an obligation to promote the economic redevelopment of regions hit by natural dis...

The government has an obligation to promote the economic redevelopment of regions hit by natural disasters. Helping fund the rebuilding of private homes would be one step. The individuals and families affected by disasters are taxpayers, and if a disaster were to strike another region, their tax money would go to support citizens in those areas. Citizens must accept this fact if they demand benefits from themselves.
No because...
To be sure, the government has a responsibility to fix destroyed infrastructure. However, individuals should rely on their insurance to rebuild their homes. In a free society individuals make a choice about where they want to live; if they cannot afford disaster insurance, should not live in high-risk areas such as flood-plains or hurricane alleys. They should not look to government (and the taxpayers) to bail them out.

Rebuilding after disasters, Government Role in
Yes because...

Because of its huge resources, only the federal government can help regions recover from massive dis...

Because of its huge resources, only the federal government can help regions recover from massive disasters quickly and efficiently. States simply do not have the financial reserves to rebuild, especially as a natural disaster will damage the state economy and so reduce their tax take. Nor do individual states have the expertise to coordinate a massive reconstruction campaign. States must rely on federal entities like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that have experience in dealing with overwhelming and continuing crises.
No because...
Government-sponsored rebuilding efforts are notoriously inefficient and prone to fraud. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, millions of dollars of government assistance were given to “victims”, who spent the money on frivolities ranging from exotic dancers to diamond rings. Government rebuilding efforts are by their very nature bureaucratic and politically driven, and do not necessarily respond to cases of greatest need. In contrast, the private sector has a vested financial interest in efficiency and fraud prevention.

Rebuilding after disasters, Government Role in
Yes because...

In the wake of a disaster, state and local administrations are often overwhelmed by its impact. The...

In the wake of a disaster, state and local administrations are often overwhelmed by its impact. Their own offices and employees are likely to be directly affected, greatly reducing their ability to respond effectively to the situation. If humanitarian aid is to reach afflicted citizens, and a coordinated recovery and rebuilding plan put into place, it will require the intervention of the federal government. The national executive branch can call upon the resources of the armed forces and civilian administration to bring order to a chaotic situation and establish the clear lines of authority necessary to start rebuilding.
No because...
There is a difference between short-term humanitarian relief and long-term recovery. While there may be some role for the federal government in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, this should be as brief as possible. After all, if state authorities think the federal government will always bail them out, they have no incentive to adopt precautionary measures such as strict building regulations, and proper evacuation and disaster continuity plans in case of disaster. The US Constitution was intended to limit the role of the federal government, placing authority for most domestic affairs in the hands of the individual states. We should not allow Washington DC the excuse of natural (and often foreseeable) disasters as a justification for extending its already bloated reach. State and local officials will always be more responsive to local needs and concerns, and are the right people to lead rebuilding efforts.

Rebuilding after disasters, Government Role in
Yes because...

The federal government should advance the “general welfare” and the prosperity of our whole nation d...

The federal government should advance the “general welfare” and the prosperity of our whole nation depends on each part of the Union being as productive as possible. But some parts of America are much more prone to natural disasters than others, requiring some federal support to make it possible for economic life to go on in states that are at risk from floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. By offering insurance subsidies in such states, the government makes sure that families and businesses can settle and invest for the future. But because government had a role in encouraging people to settle in such vulnerable areas, it also has a duty to help them in exceptional circumstances when insurance policies would be insufficient to deal with the damage from natural disasters.
No because...
Government subsidies on flood insurance either coddle the rich or allow the poor to take risks without suffering the consequences. We live in an “ownership society” – individuals and private institutions should take responsibility for where they choose to locate.


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