Thomas Lucente: Natural disasters: The lessons we never learn

By Thomas J. Lucente Jr. - [email protected]


See past columns by Thomas J. Lucente Jr. at

Another natural disaster, another circus of politicians falling over each other to send billions of dollars stolen from the people to the disaster zone.

Meanwhile, clueless and whiny leftists accuse merchants of gouging because market forces cause prices to increase when supplies are low as if this is some new phenomenon. Notably, the same leftists whining about gouging are not emptying their bank accounts and donating all their property to disaster relief as they believe the merchants should be doing.

The rain was still falling as politicians, including President Donald Trump, were arguing about how many billions of dollars to send to the affected areas.

The Aug. 25 disaster declaration was the 74th of this administration. That is 74 federal disaster declarations in 217 days. And each declaration carries with it the expenditure of federal money.

This wasn’t always the case.

In 1887, Grover Cleveland, the last decent Democratic president, was faced with a different kind of natural disaster in Texas.

Texas was suffering under a long and severe drought. Yes, there were droughts long before leftists embraced the global warming boogeyman. The drought killed off the grass, which led to the death of 85 percent of the cattle in the western part of the state with the remaining 15 percent slowly starving to death.

Farmers were also starving and many had eaten their seed corn simply to survive.

Even in 1887, politicians were fond of taking money from the public fisc and passing it out to voters. The Congress passed the Texas Seed Act, which would have appropriated a paltry $10,000 — about $260,000 in today’s money — to allow the commissioner of agriculture to purchase seed grain and give it to farmers in certain Texas counties.

Cleveland knew the drought in Texas was bad and the seeds were much needed and the amount of money was not that much. Still, a man of principle, Cleveland vetoed the bill with a message that should be required reading for every politician:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.”

Cleveland rightly saw that the job of disaster relief rested not with the federal government but with individuals, families, communities and private charities.

Today, though, presidents and other politicians use federal disaster aid as a campaign too. President Barack Obama issued 937 declarations during his presidency. In 1959, there were seven disaster declarations.

The disaster declarations are solely at the discretion of the president leading to abuse, cronyism and politics. Hence, such declarations increase in election years and in states deemed strategically important to the occupant of the White House.

In addition to federal money, natural disasters also bring about accusations of gouging. What the economically illiterate call “gouging” is actually the market working the way it is supposed to do.

In Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit, some stores raised prices to $99 for a case of bottled water and $5 for a gallon of gas.

When there is limited supply of an item, and a natural disaster certainly limits supply, the prices have to go up. Such price increases protect against hoarding by the customers who get there first.

Additionally, the higher prices give merchants incentive to take the risks to get products to the disaster zone. Without the incentive of higher prices, why should store owners risk their lives offering wanted products in a disaster zone?

The higher prices also tell suppliers what products are in most demand. As more suppliers bring in the product in demand, the price drops.

The market works.

The lesson Harvey is teaching us is that disaster relief is killing us and the market works if permitted. What the next natural disaster will teach us is that we never learn.

By Thomas J. Lucente Jr.

[email protected]


See past columns by Thomas J. Lucente Jr. at

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

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