Preparedness versus “Price-Gouging”: Don’t Hold Out for a Hero

Hurricane Harvey
Harvey as a hurricane, 08/24/17. NASA Goddard Space Center — public domain

As the US Gulf Coast continues to reel under the impact of Hurricane Harvey, the word “hero” finds itself in much, and appropriate, use. From government first responders to Louisiana’s “Cajun Navy” to just plain old friends and neighbors, people are pitching in and helping one another through the worst tropical storm to make landfall in the US in more than a decade. That’s a ray of sunshine for a cloudy week.

But, living as I do in another hurricane-prone area (Florida) where I got a small taste of the phenomenon from Hermine last year, and having seen my share of tornadoes, blizzards, floods, earthquakes, etc. in other places, it seems to me that hoping for such heroics should be the last rather than the first resort.

No, I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to be, or should be, an all-out “prepper.” Maybe you can afford your own generator, maybe you can’t. Maybe you can afford a boat or a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a winch or snow blade to pitch in with, maybe you can’t. You may or may not be inclined to keep ten years’ worth of freeze-dried food in the spare bedroom.

But most people can  afford to take some simple measures to prepare for emergencies both predictable and sudden.

First, always keep several days’ worth of bottled drinking water on hand. It goes for a few dollars a case … until there’s a run on it because of an impending storm or sudden tap water outage.

Secondly, set aside additional jugs or buckets of water, or keep a rain barrel, so you don’t cut into your drinking supply to keep toilets flushing and for personal hygiene.

And food. Don’t forget food: A few days’ worth of meals that don’t require refrigeration and that you either can eat cold or have a way to cook if the power goes out.

Flashlights, radio, power packs for your phones, batteries for all of the above. Make sure you’re not short on any vital medications, in case you can’t reach an open pharmacy. I’m sure you can think of a few other things.

Unlike some libertarians, I’m not going to try to convince you that merchants who charge greatly increased prices during times of emergency are “heroes” as such. On the other hand, it’s neither realistic nor especially moral to expect a business owner  to provide the goods you need — risking his or her own wealth or even life to do so — for any less than the market will bear.

There’s an old saying: You can’t cheat an honest man.

Here’s a new one: You can’t “price-gouge” a customer who thinks ahead.

Be your own hero, so someone else doesn’t have to.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Hurricane Harvey: About That Wall …

Hurricane Harvey
Harvey as a hurricane, 08/24/17. NASA Goddard Space Center — public domain

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey hovers off the Gulf Coast, menacing Louisiana and possibly ramping up for another go at Texas. Much of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, is under water.

It may be weeks before the storms end, the waters recede, and basic utilities are restored. But this, too, shall pass — and then begins the rebuilding. Who’s going to do that rebuilding?

A few years back, a contractor who built houses in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 answered that question for me. Demand for construction workers was high, but many American workers weren’t especially interested in spending months away from home, living in trailers or tents. And those who were willing to take jobs that didn’t have them home every night understandably commanded premium pay.

If not for large numbers of largely “undocumented” workers who showed up ready to work for reasonable wages, the contractor told me, the work simply couldn’t have been completed in any reasonable time-frame or at any reasonable cost.

Even before Harvey, an April 2017 poll by Texas Lyceum found that 62% of Texans believe immigration helps the US more than it hurts, and that 61% of Texans oppose US president Donald Trump’s “border wall” project.

Hopefully those numbers will go up as the bills for Hurricane Harvey start to arrive and the need for (re)construction labor begins to mount.

Hopefully, President Trump will re-think both his border wall proposal and his emphasis on immigration enforcement, and order at least a temporary draw-down of Border Patrol and Immigration & Customs Enforcement operations, especially along the Gulf Coast.

The conflict Donald Trump faces now is one of priorities. He can indulge his immigration obsession or he can let the market rebuild Houston. He can’t do both.

To put it bluntly, America can’t afford to live without Houston and the rest of Gulf Coast Texas for even a moment more than absolutely necessary. If the Houston metro area was a country, its GDP would rank 28th in the world. It routinely ranks near the top of US job creation and paycheck indices.  Even setting raw human suffering aside — and we shouldn’t — the rest of America will feel each day without Houston in our pocketbooks (possibly to the point of recession).

Impeding immigration has always been morally evil and economically stupid. In the wake of Harvey, it will remain morally evil and become economically suicidal.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


WikiLeaks: Hostile is as Hostile Does

English: A van that purports to be the 'WikiLe...
English: A van that purports to be the ‘WikiLeaks Top Secret Information Collecution Unit’ parked at the protest event Occupy Wall Street in New York on Sunday September 25. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is the sense of Congress,” according to the annual Intelligence Authorization Act now working its way through the US Senate,  “that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.”

US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was the lone dissenting vote on the bill, which was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee in late August. Wyden is on board with Congress’s general anti-Russia/anti-WikiLeaks hatefest, but worries that the bill’s “novel” phraseology might be “applied to journalists inquiring about secrets.” That’s a valid concern as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Simply put the US government’s problem with WikiLeaks — the basis for its claim of hostility —  is that WikiLeaks tells the truth about the US government.

WikiLeaks’s disclosures include material on US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and US spy operations against putative allies (including a scheme cooked up by the CIA and then Secretary of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to spy on United Nations officials).

“Vault 7,” the current round of WikiLeaks disclosures, reveals the tools the Central Intelligence Agency uses to compromise our computers, our telephones, even our televisions, Not to mention the tools it uses to spy on, get this, other US intelligence agencies.


Not that the US government is the sole target of this “non-state hostile intelligence service.” WikiLeaks embarrasses governments around the world by showing their subjects the secrets those governments (yes, including Russia’s) don’t want them to see.

Ever since passage of the National Security Act of 1947, the US government’s “defense” and “intelligence” apparatuses have accustomed themselves to growing  and operating absent any obligation or accountability to the citizens and taxpayers who pay —  in treasure, and sometimes in blood — for their games.

Bottom line: The CIA, the NSA and the other “alphabet soup” agencies of the US government spy on you, lie to you, and commit crimes in your name with presumed impunity. WikiLeaks merely shows you what they’re doing, and has yet to be caught in a lie.

When the US Senate Intelligence Committee declares WikiLeaks “hostile,” the obvious question is “hostile to whom?” WikiLeaks is allied with the American people, while the US intelligence community — and, for the moment at least, the US Senate Intelligence Committee — is our enemy.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.