Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti Relief Requests Illustrate Core Capitalist Principal

Both government and private relief agencies are asking people to send aid to Haiti in the form of cash, rather than stuff. Why? Because, especially in a situation where the distribution channels are tough at best and non-existent at worst, it's far more efficient to have the end user determine what they need than to deliver goods and hope they can make use of them.

This is true of non-profits and government agencies handling a catastrophe and it's true of individuals in a free market. Keeping the focus on Haiti and natural disasters, perhaps we could see a new type of disaster relief organization emerge.

What if there were a non-profit relief agency who's mission were to enable commerce at the street level? It could provide things like safe storage for goods and currency; a safe place to buy and sell goods, where you could set up a table or a box, display your goods and not have to worry about getting beat up or shot; safe transportation; safe meeting areas, some kind of dispute resolution service and other things we often take for granted that would enable trade at an individual level. It could work closely with government and other relief agencies to police fraud and theft in its marketplace(s). Essentially, it would be a security service, but primarily focused on securing safe, free trade among individuals.

This would not take the place of other forms of relief, it would be in addition to it. Of course, you couldn't cover the whole country rapidly. But even a single, safe marketplace would enhance the efficient distribution of basic necessities and other goods.

Markets and economies are all about trade and resource distribution. Disaster relief efforts have demonstrated that the more options you put in the hands of the end user, the better the result and the more efficient the distribution. Government, non-profits and free markets all have legitimate, productive roles in a free society. We need to unleash the potential of free trade at all levels, not to the exclusion of everything else, but for the benefit of everything else.

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