2017 Year In Review (Part 2)

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by David Collum, Peak Prosperity:

A warning for those who proceed

Part Two is contentious indeed

The “P***y Generation”

May feel agitation

From all of the truth that they read

~@TheLimerickKing

Natural Disasters

“God always forgives. Man often forgives. Mother Nature never forgives.”

~Pope Francis

It’s easy to overlook how much Mother Nature batters the world, but this year she tore a new one through North America.313 Wildfires and extraordinary temperatures are scorching California. Los Angeles witnessed 104°F on October 4th (seems high).314 San Francisco had back-to-back triple-digit days for only the third time since 1870, reaching 115°F south of the city.315 Record-breaking wildfires are destroying neighborhoods, vineyards, and forests throughout northern and southern California.316 The risk of floods after forest fires is enormous.317 Rains earlier in the year took out the spillway of the Oroville Dam in the Sacramento Valley, threatening a Biblical flood for those downstream.318

“Yellowstone super volcano may blow sooner than thought—and could wipe out life on the planet.”

~USA Today headline

Earthquakes and volcanoes have been capturing imaginations of late. A devastating earthquake in Mexico went underreported because of bandwidth-sucking hurricanes (see below).319 For decades, Oklahoma has averaged only two earthquakes a year above a magnitude of 2.7. That number has crept up to 4,000 per year, all attributed to fracking.320 The big one, however, is the Yellowstone Caldera. Six hundred thousand years ago, an eruption created the 40-mile-wide caldera that is now rising more than an inch per year and is accompanied by unusual “swarms” of earthquakes.321 NASA suggests drilling into the super volcano to dissipate the heat with water.322And you guys call yourselves rocket scientists? Please do not touch it. The prospects of generating electricity may explain the plan: there is money to be made.

“Irma, you just became the strongest storm, what are you going to do next?

I’m going to Disney World!”

~Paraphrased tweet

Of course the big story was Harvey and his friends. Not Steve Harvey, who crowned the wrong Miss America, or Harvey Weinstein, who probably assaulted her, but rather Hurricane Harvey along with Irma, Jose, Maria, and the rest of the near-record-breaking alphabet. Irma was showing up on seismometers.323 The Caribbean Islands got totally weedwacked; it is difficult to imagine how those areas will ever recover. Mother Nature seems to be trying to take back the Everglades; it was never really meant for human habitation in the first place.

The aftermath of the hurricanes is what interests me. Economists grope to find silver linings in the destructive forces of storms. Auto industry analysts, for example, claimed that the 2017 hurricanes solved the industry’s massive inventory problem.324 Indeed, it is a new-era cash-for-clunkers program, but somebody has to pay that tab. Then there is the wholly misguided notion that a post-disaster, debt-fueled spike in GDP owing to rebuilding is good for the economy. Such idiotic thinking—so-called Bastiat’s broken window fallacy—has been fully debunked in entry-level economics textbooks.325 Once in a while, however, some unsuspecting Bieber-bright boob can’t resist:

“The long-run effect of these disasters unfortunately is it actually lifts economic activity because you have to rebuild all the things that have been damaged by the storms.”

~Bill Dudley

Embedded in such buffoonery is also the message that the Fed views fueling economic growth as “unfortunate,” which is oddly consistent with its actions. Moving along, let me digress by looking at some disasters from the past. I have a point to make.

1835: A massive fire destroyed much of Georgetown, VA. The fledgling federal government created one of its first social programs by giving the hapless victims money. As the story goes, a farmer told Congressman Davy Crockett that he would not vote for him again because of Crockett’s support for the relief: “What protects me from Congress giving even more money next time or money for a lesser cause?” the farmer queried. Crockett had his come-to-Jesus moment and purportedly gave a famous tongue-lashing to Congress saying, “It is not yours to give.”326

1889: As described in David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood, an earthen dam in Johnstown, PA, washed out, killing 2,300 residents. Industrialists from Pittsburgh sent trainloads of goods immediately. Government troops showed up two weeks later to help with law and order.

2001: Planes hit the Twin Towers. Boats spontaneously converged at the southern tip of Manhattan. The Coast Guard, recognizing the problem, put out a call for all boats to come. Without organization or planning, 800,000 people were evacuated—more than were evacuated from Dunkirk, France, during WWII—in 14 hours. You must watch “BOATLIFT: A Tale of 9/11 Resilience.”327 Try not to tear up.

2005: Katrina hit New Orleans, and the levees failed. Walmart sent a fleet of trucks with essential goods but were turned back by FEMA, which was doing a “heckuva job.”328 The nation watched in horror as 1,800 people died.329 The display of “bystander bias”—inaction caused by the belief that somebody else (FEMA) will act330—may be the most horrific in U.S. history.

2011: Hurricane Irene veered away from New York City, where journalists waited with great anticipation. It thwacked northern New York and Vermont instead, causing rivers to rise almost 30 feet.331 My wife became a volunteer relief coordinator while on vacation. FEMA showed up two weeks later, applied oneBand-Aid, put up a banner for photos, and left. Soon thereafter, I joined my wife to find new temporary bridges, hundreds of miles of new roads, and recovery in progress.

2017: Hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and Houston particularly hard. The now-famous Cajun Navy, still smarting from Katrina, spontaneously headed to Houston with boats in tow (Figure 38).332 The navy was staffed by folks of marginal means and of the type the progressive left is quick to call white supremacists. The Antifa Army, by contrast, was nowhere to be seen. J. J. Watt of the Houston Texans raised $35 million from 200,000 donors for hurricane relief. Contrast this response with that in Puerto Rico.333 U.S. air carriers tried to get to San Juan before the storm; a heroic Delta Airlines crew made it.334 Post-storm relief stalled for weeks as political battles and government graft prevented the distribution of goods and services.335 Where was the Clinton Foundation? Still screwing up Haiti?336 William Dudley arranged to have a jet loaded with pallets of cash sent to the stricken island.337 Nice gesture, Bill, but they needed food and medicine. I wonder who got the money.

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