FEMA’s Incompetence In Puerto Rico: A Bug Or A Feature Of The System?

Alice Salles Comments

Advocates for centralized government (as opposed to self-government) often argue that without it, important services such as emergency-related aid would not be provided when needed.

Many big government advocates claim that without tax money, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government-created entities would not exist. Therefore, they add, we must allow government entities to increasingly expropriate our earned income and accumulated wealth so that when tragedy strikes, individuals have access to food, shelter, water, and other basic necessities for survival.


This argument falls flat as soon as we see how aid is actually provided in times of need by the hands of private charities and other organizations. As Mises reports, private charity is more effective than government welfare because private persons contributing their own money are highly incentivized to identify genuine needs.

It is when government entities like FEMA utterly fail to deliver the goods when people desperately need help that we are reminded that private sector organizations and charities are almost always more capable and efficient.

After all, contractors know that governments pay better precisely because they pay more than consumers would in an open market and that they are not really expecting results. The result is obvious: a lot of waste and very little accomplished – also known as cronyism.

Recently, FEMA on a company so that Puerto Ricans struggling after Hurricane Maria would receive 30 million meals. However, only 50,000 of these meals were actually delivered.

But that’s not all. FEMA also awarded another company with a $30 million contract so that emergency tarps and plastic sheeting were delivered to Hurricane Maria victims. Well, guess what? The supplies never came.

While some believe that this story matters because they show that federal government officials as well as government entities in Puerto Rico are incompetent and unprepared to manage these types of disasters, the reality is much grimmer.

The truth is that bloated, centralized governments are too big to succeed.  Organizations like FEMA are a bureaucratic mess with little to no accountability to the American public or to the victims of disasters they are supposed to be serving.

Alternatively, aid and relief provision by independent charities and private organizations has a much better track record, in large part because these organizations answer directly to their donors and boards for the efficiency of their programs and spending efforts.  They also hear directly from donors how they would like their money to be spent.

And because knowledge of what people really need and when is dispersed and spread across vast areas and among countless, disparate individuals, governments will never be able to know just what people need and how to provide it efficiently as it cannot be everywhere at the same time.

The solution could be as simple as advocating for private charity over government “help.”

The benefits of voluntary giving and volunteering instead of forced taxation that add to these bloated agencies is that the people get to choose what organizations deserve their time and money instead of seeing government incompetence when lives are at stake.

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