Saturday, November 03, 2007

Disasters are not equal opportunity events

Fire, flood and hurricanes afflict the just and the unjust...but there is more protection for those who can afford it. Thanks to market economics those who pay the price need not suffer loss. Is it any wonder so many people worship at that altar?

Naomi Klein's thesis regarding disaster opportunities for investors is starting to make a lot more sense. The recent wildfires in California are a case in point.

I heard the phrase "fire behavior" a couple of times during the reporting. It alluded to an odd pattern of destruction that left some homes standing and burned others to the ground. One man referred to "heat so intense that sometimes a building or other object would combust a hundred feet from the fire."

But sometimes the destruction was not random. Thanks to some very pricey fire protection arrangements, some homes survived or had losses significantly reduced. Writing in The Nation (Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen), Naomi Klein points to several examples of the private sector offering top-notch protection for clients with deep pockets.

Even as wildfires devoured whole swaths of the region, some homes in the heart of the inferno were left intact, as if saved by a higher power. But it wasn't the hand of God; in several cases it was the handiwork of Firebreak Spray Systems. Firebreak is a special service offered to customers of insurance giant American International Group (AIG)--but only if they happen to live in the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. Members of the company's Private Client Group pay an average of $19,000 to have their homes sprayed with fire retardant. During the wildfires, the "mobile units"--racing around in red firetrucks--even extinguished fires for their clients.

One customer described a scene of modern-day Revelation. "Just picture it. Here you are in that raging wildfire. Smoke everywhere. Flames everywhere. Plumes of smoke coming up over the hills," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Here's a couple guys showing up in what looks like a firetruck who are experts trained in fighting wildfire and they're there specifically to protect your home."

More at the link.
H/T Truthout

Something is wrong with this picture but I can't put my finger on it. Those who can afford it get extra protection not available to ordinary people, but that's not very different from having cosmetic surgery, gated communities, new cars, or all the rest that goes with that lifestyle. The problem I have is that often the same people resent anything resembling a safety net for others who are not their economic peers. Basic health care comes to mind.

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