A Libertarian Survives Hurricane Matthew

I live in Northeast Florida and just went through Hurricane Matthew.  Although the eye of the hurricane did not make a direct landfall on Florida, it was damaging nonetheless.

I know that some will say the media exaggerated the threat and hyped up the storm.  And certainly, there are some media outlets that did probably over exaggerate certain things.  Still, I would say overall that the coverage did not over exaggerate the situation.

The storm did not make a direct hit, but it was still quite devastating for some people, especially in terms of flooding.  When you have the ocean crashing against houses, it is not a good situation.

I live about 15 miles from the beach and did not have to worry about flooding.  We had friends who live right near the beach stay with us.  They were able to return to their homes rather quickly.  This is a better situation than I have heard from some cities from past storms where residents are prohibited from going back to their homes for days.

As a libertarian, I don’t like the term “mandatory evacuation”.  I understand that it is a safety issue of getting residents out of dangerous zones.  Still, couldn’t they call it a “highly recommended evacuation zone”?

Luckily I did not hear any reports of widespread looting, which can easily happen when the vast majority of residents evacuate.  The lesson from Hurricane Katrina is that the police don’t prevent crime. It is the presence of the general population that prevents it.

The thing that fascinated me the most is the economics of the situation.  In Florida, there are always warnings about so-called price gouging when a storm hits.  It doesn’t matter if the governor and attorney general and other politicians are Republicans or Democrats.

As an advocate of free markets, I hate these price gouging laws.  The politicians act as if they are being so caring, watching out for the people.  But they are an interference in the marketplace that harms individuals.

When there is a shortage of supplies, we need for the price mechanism to work more than ever.  Before and after a hurricane, there are typically shortages of many things including bottled water, gasoline, flashlights, batteries, canned food, bread, and hotel rooms.

If businesses were allowed to adjust their prices up, then consumers would conserve more when buying.  You may not buy as many bottles of water if they are double the price of what they normally sell for.  I saw this at the grocery store where all of the cheap loaves of bread were gone.  However, there were a few loaves left of high-end bread (if that is what you want to call it) that sell for almost four dollars.

In addition, when prices go up, it motivates sellers to provide more.  If the price of bottled water doubles in price, it could motivate someone from a hundred miles away to drive in a truck full of water to sell it.  He isn’t going to go to that trouble if there is no profit to be made.

In spite of the price gouging laws, it was still amazing to see the market process work.  We went out the next day and most restaurants were open and grocery stores were open, at least where power had been restored.  The grocery stores use generators to keep their refrigerated and frozen foods.  I really don’t know how the restaurants had good food, whether it was from delivery that day or from generators.

The gas stations with power were up and running again too.  They had mostly run out of gas just before the storm hit.  It didn’t take long to get replenished.

This just shows the great advantages of a high division of labor society with a large population.  Due to having a gas stove, we didn’t have a cold meal at home and we ate out about 24 hours after the height of the storm.

It is simply amazing how well off we are in our high division of labor society.  It is too bad that government at all levels inhibits our living standards as much as is the case.  We could be even better off if government spending and regulations were to shrink.

In conclusion, the hurricane showed just how much damage could be done, even without a direct hit.  But even with the damage, the marketplace is able to adjust very quickly and get people back on track to a normal life again.

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