The first day of June 2005 brought a massive mudslide to Laguna Beach, California destroying seventeen homes and damaging eleven others. Several homes buckled as they slid down a hill and others were left dangling in the air. Fortunately, no one was killed in the 7:00 a.m. disaster.
Laguna Beach is a beautiful Oceanside community in southern California. The place bustles with boutique cafés, art galleries and fancy restaurants. The ocean view from the Laguna Beach hills makes housing lots worth over $2 million. In a state where the median priced home now exceeds $500,000, most of the destroyed homes were worth several million dollars. Above average precipitation over the past few months has softened the hillsides, creating the environment ideal for landslides. Such disasters have regularly occurred before on heavily developed southern Orange county slopes and they are certain to continue. There is no insurance for mudslides.
The unfortunate homeless in Laguna Beach are much like people who have built expensive homes on hurricane-prone Florida beaches or along inland rivers that flood regularly. There are two reasons that the average American has little sympathy for the folks that lose their homes in this manner. First, the “victims” own multi-million dollar homes, so we figure that they have adequate resources to come back from these disasters. Second, unlike villagers in cyclone-prone Bangladesh who have no choice where to live, southern Californians voluntarily choose to build homes where hill fires, tides, and seismic faults regularly occur. Presumably, intelligent people with resources should be wiser than to build where hurricanes blow, rivers flood, and hills collapse.
The Laguna Beach millionaires will go to FEMA and other Federal and State government agencies to ask for a taxpayer bailout, just as their Florida beachcomber friends have done. We will bail them out. They will take the proceeds and find another hill to build on, or another beachfront location where they will tempt fate a second, or third time.
Should the government bail out Laguna Beach millionaires? If a cocaine addict becomes pregnant with her fourth child, the government will bear the expense of placing her other three children in foster care. If an uninsured motorcycle rider refuses to wear a helmet and sustains massive head injuries, he is hospitalized at taxpayer expense. If corporate officers steal millions from an employee pension program, leaving pensioners only 40% of their stated proceeds, they will serve only a couple of years in some white collar “tennis court” prison. If it is the job of Government to protect people from the results of their stupid actions, shouldn’t we help the folks in Laguna Beach?
I think not. A hundred years ago our government had neither the tax base nor the desire to protect people from foolish actions. Many would say this was a cruel time, but letting people suffer the consequences of their actions also fostered a more rational and responsible society. There is no better teacher than bitter experience. When government softens the “bitterness” of the lesson, common sense will not prevail.