Airplane Crash: Public Problem, Private Rescue

This from Steve Horwitz at the Austrian Economists:

“I join with others in celebrating the heroism of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the flight crew of USAirways 1549 (don’t forget the flight attendants folks!) for getting that plane down and getting everyone out alive.  I also would like to note the heroism of the first responders to the crash, as reported by the Washington Post:

Before police and Coast Guard vessels could respond, the Hudson’s commercial flotilla converged on the scene. Ferry, tour boat and tugboat crews tossed life vests to the stranded passengers and began hoisting them up ladders.

People too often associate “commerce” with selfishness and narrow profit motives.  Stories like this are good reminders of the bourgeois virtues.  All of those people risked their lives and property because they had the right equipment and human capital to know what to do and how to do it.  They didn’t charge anyone anything, they just did the right thing.  When skeptics of the ability of non-governmental institutions to respond to situations where there’s no profit on the line raise their concerns, this is a good case to point to in response.

In many ways, the response of those private ships was but a smaller scale version of the response of Wal-Mart and other private sector actors to Hurricane Katrina, as I have documented elsewhere.  Just as Wal-Mart always has disaster relief supplies either on hand or close by, so can the commercial boats along the Hudson be quickly “repurposed” for disaster rescue if need be.  Viewing private sector capital that way should reduce the need to rely on the public sector to provide human and physical capital in the face of a disaster.

As I understand it, the folks along the NY Harbor engage in a number of disaster preparedness drills that, I believe, include the private sector.  In my work on Katrina, I have argued that local governments in hurricane-prone areas should be doing much more to allow the private sector to do what it does best in the preparation and response to disasters.  The lessons from yesterday’s crash make it clear that private actors will indeed do the right thing and that governments should do all they can to facilitate their quick and effective response.

So a big thank you to all of those commercial mariners who, like Wal-Mart’s associates, made use of their local knowledge, skills, and capital in order to do the right thing.”

I think he makes a great point!



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