Searching for Security in a Risky World

by Apr 19, 2013

Recent events highlight the fact that we live in a risky world. The terrorist bombing of the Boston marathon, the explosion of a fertilizer plant in Texas, and a massive earthquake in Iran are all examples of events that result in multiple deaths and injuries along with widespread destruction. When such events occur it seems like a timely occasion to ask ourselves, what can we do to protect ourselves? Also, what role should government play in providing safety and security?

To address these questions we must first identify the various kinds of risks we face since they are not all the same despite the fact that all produce similar results. Indeed, we can classify these events in separate categories. I would offer the following list. There are natural tragedies such as earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. In addition to these in the natural realm, the prospects of succumbing to various forms of diseases are ever present. On the man-made level there are tragedies that result from accidents as well as negligent behavior. And, finally, there are human acts of aggressive violence.

Given this list, let’s consider briefly the recent events mentioned above. For instance, what should we do to protect ourselves against natural disasters like the earthquake in Iran which wiped out an entire Pakistani town that was located on the Iranian border and killed 35 people? And, what role is there for government? One of the first things to note in such situations is that the structural integrity of the buildings in any place that is prone to earthquakes will greatly determine how well they can withstand such an event. Moreover, the wealthier the people living in any place, the more likely they will be able to afford to build more secure dwellings. For this reason, economic prosperity is an important factor in promoting safety and security. So what can we do and what can government do to promote prosperity?

I would say that we can be active producers of goods and services that are valuable in market exchange. Such actions result in profits which in turn allows for the accumulation of wealth that can be used to secure the best construction resources and employ the best construction practices. What the government can do in this regard is secure the rule of private property law so that free market exchange can flourish. What it ought not do is to presume that it knows best what resources and construction methods should be employed. Such presumption disregards the fact that such information cannot be had since they evolve over time. Earthquakes and the like are destructive even in the wealthiest places and new knowledge is often gained after the fact when we evaluate the destruction resulting from the event. Nevertheless, it is true that the loss of life and property is lessened the better the quality of construction prior to the event. This brings into play one final thing that governments might do after such a disaster. They do need to move quickly to secure the lives and property of the people suffering from the destruction. But this action ought to be short-term. Its main aim is to secure the rule of law so that the people can act for themselves to restore their possessions as best they can. At this point they may utilize any insurance coverage obtained prior to the event. Or, they may simply work in partnership with others to restore what was lost. At this point, private charity may certainly be very useful to alleviate the suffering.

But, what should be done in man-made disasters such as the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas? As with the natural disaster there is an immediate need to secure the property and lives of the people affected by the event. However, beyond this, the government’s role is questionable. Much will need to be done to determine the causes of the fire and the subsequent explosion to determine the extent of negligence on anyone’s part that led to the disaster. But this process should be left to insurance experts. The extent of government involvement will be determined by whether or not the people involved can reach satisfactory agreements with the insurer of the plant to compensate for the losses suffered. This may involve the judicial system if such agreements cannot be settled privately. In the discovery process, new information will likely arise that will improve the safety practices of other fertilizer plants thus reducing the likelihood of such future events. Nevertheless, that cannot and will not eliminate all the risk associated with handling the ingredients used in producing fertilizer products.

This brings us to the Boston bombing. In this case we witnessed the premeditated act of violence intended to kill and maim people. Once again the immediate action of government to secure the lives and property of the people involved is needed. But unlike the other kinds of tragic events, there is an additional governmental action needed. It is the duty of the government to hunt down and bring to justice the perpetrators of the act. The swifter the justice, the better for the community for it sends a clear message to other would-be aggressors that any proposed act of violence will be met by just punishment.

One main point should be made. We live in a fallen world where there always have been and always will be risks of disaster, devastation, and destruction. There is nothing that government can do to eliminate these risks. As we’ve seen, risks in life can be reduced, but this occurs as an outcome of economic advancement and new discoveries of best practices in cases of natural disaster and man-made tragedies. Such reductions in risk can also be enhanced by our own prudent behavior.  Violent aggression may be reduced by actively punishing the perpetrators of such acts, but we must remember that we live in an evil world. In fact, we must all come to grips with the evil present in our own hearts. For this reason, there is only one place where we can find true security. The only place of ultimate security is when we find eternal forgiveness for our sins in Jesus Christ. No matter what should befall us in the here and now, we will arrive safely home for to live at peace with God for all eternity.

Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.

1 Comment

  1. Erin Lindley

    Excellent article! Thanks for posting


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