Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quakes and Corruption

In 2003, Thomas Sowell wrote an essay, Two Earthquakes and Their Results Under Different Social Systems. Dr. Sowell compared the results of two earthquakes of similar intensity in California (6.5) and in Iran (6.6). The death toll in California was minimal; the death toll in Iran was in the tens of thousands.

Dr. Sowell attributes this to the difference in wealth: wealthier nations have more resources, so can afford to build safer structures, especially for public buildings such as hospitals and schools. (One of the worst things about the earthquake in Haiti is the physical collapse of the few hospitals they have. I can't imagine being physically helpless and having the building collapse around me. A couple of months ago I was at the infusion clinic receiving treatment when they went through their disaster drill. I was very impressed--every nurse and clerk had a job and a responsibility. They knew it and knew what to do, whom to call, how to evacuate patients and where.) But one thing he doesn't mention is the importance of the rule of law and the lack of corruption.

One of the reasons the levee in New Orleans collapsed after Katrina was because the money that should have been spent reinforcing it was "redirected" to other purposes (casinos mostly). The newly-built City Hall collapsed during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco because the contractor used an inferior concrete during construction and pocketed the difference in cost. Building inspectors knew this and were bought off. Strict building codes don't work if not enforced. Although corruption exists (there are several examples in Congress), Americans are generally honest and have a well-developed sense of fairness and fair play (do they have instant replay in World Cup soccer?). That sense of fairness is what makes many of us root for the underdog, sympathize with those struggling with personal demons, and inspire us to volunteer and contribute to charities.

And it's why many folks are upset with the current Congress and Administration.

I don't want my child attending a school where the contractor bought off an official. I want to know my hospital, my church, my fire station is built to withstand the next Big Quake. If I'm on BART in a tunnel, I want that tunnel to remain whole so I have a chance to get out. Technical failures, such as the collapse of a section of the Bay Bridge are one thing. Fraud is something else entirely.

Once people lose faith that the Government will protect them from that form of fraud--that those whose jobs are to keep us as safe as possible aren't doing their jobs--then the U.S. will become a Third World Country.

(H/T: The Anchoress, who also has links to many other articles as well as relief agencies.)
UPDATE: Looks like Michelle Malkin is on the same wavelength.