January, 2017

Disasters Should Be Dull

But as long as distant authorities are in charge, that's impossible
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Find at Reason.com

As you might expect of a volume with the word dull in the title, Dull Disasters? is not a sexy book. The authors, Daniel J. Clarke and Stefan Dercon, are an actuary and an economics professor, respectively. Their thesis is that with better planning and coordination, natural and humanitarian disasters can become less exciting TV viewing and more, well, dull. In a good way. 

"Be prepared" is sound and uncontroversial advice, but which people do the preparation matters. The correct dispute, F. A. Hayek wrote, is not "whether planning is to be done or not. It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally...or is to be divided among many individuals."

Therein lies the tension in Clarke and Dercon's book, and in disaster policy more broadly. They assume that centralizing the planning process is both efficient and possible. Yet many of their examples show people's ingenuity in devising systems tailored to their own needs. Rather than centralizing these examples into one-size-fits-all programs, we should appreciate the flexibility and uniqueness of local solutions.