Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Lessons of Natural Disasters

The Houston area was hit hard by nature recently, but the people of Houston and people with large hearts around the country have responded. The damage is severe, but there is bright hope in the spirit of cooperation evidenced, if we will just keep it in our hearts.

Puerto Rico is not as fortunate by any means. Even if we were all as aware of Puerto Rico as we are of Houston, we can't just pool resources with friends, churches, and whoever and pack up big trucks and buses and get down there to help. Even if we could, the infrastructure to move people and materials once they get there was not in good shape to begin with, and has now been severely damaged -- almost destroyed -- by two storms. The help can't get where it is needed, and people are suffering and dying while they wait for help.

We can blame the people of Puerto Rico, but that doesn't end their suffering. And I hope that is not where we stop thinking.

There is talk of it taking more than 30 billion dollars to just rebuild.

We have 10 US citizens whose personal worth is well over that. If the 400 richest people in America each gave 1.1% of their personal wealth, Puerto Rico could, theoretically, have it covered.

But Puerto Rico was in trouble before the storms. (I ranted a little bit about that here, on the debt, and here, on fixing their debt.)

Fixing their infrastructure and getting them food and supplies is not going to solve the underlying problems.

Puerto Rico is a microcosm of the essential problems first-world countries face around the world and at home. How can we expect the less well-off to be happy (and peaceful) wearing out their lives in sweatshops that manufacture the goods that we buy (with borrowed money) and so blithely throw away?

They need investment from people and institutions who won't be waiting to exact their pound of blood exactly one year or ten from now.

Why would investors be willing to take a loss in Puerto Rico or any particular rust belt town in the US, or any failing community anywhere around the world?

Imagine what would have happened had the country and the world just abandoned New York after 9/11.

Imagine what would happen were we to all just let the people of Houston fend for themselves.

What happens without all the the small towns that are struggling not to disappear? The big cities and small territories and countries? Where does the market go when it disappears?

Isn't this obvious?

This is what refraining from loss investment means:

No market. No sales.

That cash flow from which the rich milk their excessive profits dries up and blows away like the smoke it is.

(Have you ever wondered why those whose ledgers show vast personal worth never seem to have enough money? There's a big clue here. There are a few small items missing on most of those ledger sheets -- abstract items, maybe, but no less essential.)

So, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, what does your warm-fuzzies pledge mean for the people of Puerto Rico? Will you turn away, just because you can't figure out how to recapture the value you would have to give away?

Jeff Bezos, can your rockets move needed fuel, food, infrastructure, raw materials, etc. to Puerto Rico?

Mark Zuckerberg, can a woman in Juncos use her Facebook page to tell her friends or relatives on the mainland she's alive but still without electricity or clean water?

Larry Ellison, your databases might help track the supplies being sent to Puerto, but who takes them the last mile?

[edit 201710021016: I felt an imbalance in the force. Someone complained that I had left Trump out of this list.

Skipping, but not ignoring, a lot of people in the list, Donald Trump, what substantial help can you give?


What good is all that paper worth if you can't use it to help hold this world together for a meaningful context for next year's bottom line?

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