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December 30, 2004

Why Should I Care More About Florida Hurricanes?

When disaster hit Florida the US Government allocated $13 billion in aid to help the victims, but as the New York Times says:

Of course, that was home turf, and an election campaign was under way, and even Mr. Bush's critics do not expect spending on that scale for the far greater disaster in South Asia.
Well, this Bush critic does.

Over 100,000 people and counting died from the Tsunami and orders of magnitude more are in danger from its aftereffects.

We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars overseas in Iraq.

So why is spending $13 billion on aid to the Tsunami's victims not reasonable?

Even if you discount pure social justice and our responsibility to help those in need, just pure pragmatics say that such spending is a smarter investment than more bombs in Iraq.

If nothing else, there are more potentially pissed off muslims in Indonesia than in Iraq, so winning "hearts and minds" there could have substantial dividends.

But forget the geopolitics for a second. The basic moral issue is why a direct political connection (a la the political bonds of Florida to other US taxpayers) creates a strong presumption of massive US government aid. Obviously, there is a political reason for a better response to Florida, since Indonesians won't be voting for anyone in the next Presidential election, no matter how much aid we send.

But that's a pretty pathetic moral response-- disaster relief as political pork barrel.

The US can't escape responsibility by claiming that only political ties creates such responsibility to respond to disaster. The reality is that the US has assumed global power, so it inherits the burdens of imperial responsibilities. The assumed right to unilaterally invade Iraq creates a converse unilateral responsibility to respond to the Tsunami victims. Whatever the formal democratic ties our government may have to the world, we have forged imperial ties around the world. Why does that not create moral responsibility in this crisis?

Posted by Nathan at December 30, 2004 09:21 AM