Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Libertarians And Emergency

Below The Beltway has a good discussion on how a libertarian should view the concept of "mandatory evacuations" and other emergency power. In other words, does the state have the power to forcibly remove people from their homes for their own safety.

My two cents is - it depends.

The primary concern for people's safety is that if they stay, they may end up in danger. That may result in heroic efforts to save them, which in turn may cause other risks. If society is willing to say to these people who stay behind -- you must deal on your own for a certain time period, and we will not make heroic efforts to save you -- then all if fine. Let them stay.

I see three issues that arise with this solution. They do not support the same conclusion though. This makes this a sticky issue.

(1) The first problem with the let them stay if they want to at their own risk approach is that we live in a western, Judeo-christian culture. We don't let people die who might be saved, even at some risk, and even if they deserve it (as in knowingly took the rist they now face). It seems unlikely that rescues won't be attempted to help people who knowingly stayed behind. As soon as possible, rescues will be attempted. This factor would tend to favor giving the government more power to require evacuation.

(2) Another problem, however, arises. If a significant number of people stay behind, and the police and other rescue personnel flee, looting could become a problem. In fact, there were reports on Monday of looting in New Orleans. If looting were to be seen as a real concern for those who left their homes and businesses behind, the likelihood of their refusing to leave increases. Thus, the government would need to do as much as possible to ensure some police and rescue personnel would be around to ensure that looting is not a big enough concern to increase the number of non-evacuees.

(3) Finally, on a related note, is the problem with getting back to your home. Florida has had several incidents in recent years where police became violent with homeowners who wanted to return to their homes, in some cases several days after the hurricane had come and gone. If the public perception is that people will be prevented from returning to their homes in a timely as prompt manner, many are again more likely to refuse to leave.

The state bears some burden to prevent the actual and perceived looting and prevention from returning home problems, or it faces the obligation to protect as much as possible those that stay behind because of these concerns. For the most part, local law enforcement seems to do a pretty good job at maintaining order, though incidents do arise from time to time.

This issue remains a tough one at times.

As we discuss these political philosphy questions, let us not forget to pray for those who did and are dealing with the result of Katarina.


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