These are searing and haunting images: Senior citizens with medical issues trapped on the higher floors of tenements with no running water or power. Volunteers, including medics from other states, going door-to-door to see what they can do. The suffering is immense.
I grew up in Bronx; and although I don’t know the specific buildings I have seen in video reports, I know the neighborhoods. Far Rockaway is one of areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy; many decades ago, it was a place that my family aspired to move to. Now, after decades of decline, and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it looks like a third-world hellhole.
My wife is currently teaching a student who volunteered for a three-day mission to New York to bring needed supplies. He reported to her class on the desperation he encountered. He saw little evidence that government was doing much to help, and news reporters were not visible. The residents were glad for the help; but at the same time, there was clearly a criminal element afoot. Those on the mission felt threatened at times. And yes, the residents they encountered were angry and bitter.
We can all understand their anger and bitterness. Some have lost their homes; some have been living in desperate conditions for weeks. Yet, if we are to learn, we must ask, are they entitled to their bitterness? Is their suffering just happening to them? Collectively, have they contributed in any way to the conditions that have given rise to their misery?
Let’s look at what collectively the residents of metropolitan New York support.
They support big government and big government solutions. This big government compounded suffering via their constant threats to prosecute “price gougers.” Gasoline and other needed supplies disappeared as the price system was not allowed to work its magic. I have covered this issue previously in my post “Let ‘Price Gougers’ Do Their Job.”
They have tolerated corrupt labor unions. These labor unions, at least in New Jersey, turned away nonunionized, out-of-state power crews thus prolonging the agony of those without power. These same unions will make reconstruction many times more expensive than it would otherwise be.
They have supported using government to keep Walmart out of New York City. Walmart is famous for stocking needed supplies prior to a storm, and then assisting in recovery. Walmart does not operate a single store in New York City. Despite the many benefits they would bring to the poor and middle class in New York City, they have “faced furious opposition from community leaders and elected officials” each time they have tried to open a store in New York City.
Is it a surprise that their power companies, with their government-protected monopolies and their big-bloated bureaucracy, are unable to effectively respond to a disaster?
And then there is the building of houses in areas where homes are basically uninsurable by private industry. Without government-sponsored flood insurance, fewer homes would have been built in harm’s way and fewer people would have had their lives turned upside down.
It is not just New Yorkers and New Jerseyans—not one of us is entitled to our bitterness. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, insisting on our version of our story of who is to blame will do nothing to remedy our problems or provide lasting solutions.
Despite any appearances, bitterness increases fear. Bitterness blinds us and makes us unresponsive to our needs and the needs of others at the moment.
There will be other catastrophic storms, and Mother Nature is not the only source of storms. Our collective dysfunctional beliefs about budget deficits, Fed policy, and government subsidies are likely storm cells. When those storms arise, if we retreat to our bitterness, new possibilities will arrive slowly and our suffering will be only slowly alleviated.