Tuesday, September 14, 2010

There is no song lyric to express what I am feeling.

So, I've been trying to wrap my head around the Christchurch earthquake for over a week now. It's amazing. I've never been anywhere near earthquakes, so I've never seen anything like it. The ground is literally ripped open. Rivers and railroad tracks completely re-routed. Brick buildings have utterly collapsed. The others are leaning. Liquefaction (best word ever, btw) has caused the streets to run muddy with a mixture of silt and sewage. Homes and businesses destroyed, tens of thousands displaced from their homes.

What I'm most struck by, though, is the extent to which, and the speed at which, Christchurch is recovering. And I have been seriously thinking about the role that socialism has had to play in that.

Now, New Zealand is not purely socialist any more than the United States is purely capitalist. However, I think we'd all agree that New Zealand is on the socialist end of the continuum.

Case in point, the government-run Accident Compensation Corporation means that every individual physically located in New Zealand (and every New Zealand resident traveling overseas) is completely covered for "accidental" physical injury. This means, basically, unforeseen. Whether or not it is that person's fault. Fall on the ice? Covered. Injury while skiing? Covered. Fall down drunk and break your own nose? Covered. It is awesome. I'm actually thinking about taking a dive one day to get that nose job I've always wanted.

It also means there is virtually no personal injury litigation in this country and that, by extension, the courts are able to process other civil disputes much more quickly. That is also awesome.

But I digress. With respect to the earthquake, it means that every individual with personal home and contents insurance on their home (owned or rental) is covered by government-sponsored earthquake insurance. It's automatic. It means that a record number of claims have been submitted in the last week and are already starting to be paid. It means insurance companies aren't in there trying to make a profit by splitting hairs. It means one entity is responsible for the payouts that will rebuild Christchurch. And that rebuilding is already underway.

So that is the concrete part of it. And that's just one part. It goes so much deeper. The more stringent building codes in this socialist-leaning government meant that the damage was not as bad as it could have been. The public run facilities meant that power was back on in hours or days and water is now safe to drink throughout Canterbury. Given the aforementioned liquefaction where the streets ran with poo, that alone is amazing.

But there is also something intangible. A socialist-leaning government understands the obligation of the government to look after its people. Within one day, the government had designated a Minister Responsible for Earthquake Recovery. Not a minor player, either. The third ranking member of the government, the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister said, "you have a bigger job to do; we'll take care of the House for you. Look after Christchurch."

This very evening, the House is sitting in something called "extraordinary urgency" to pass legislation to enable Christchurch to rebuild outside the normal red tape that would usually be required. Including tonight, extraordinary urgency has only been used a handful of times in recent memory.

All members of Parliament elected from the region have been given extended leave to tend to their constituencies. To be on the ground to give advice and form a bridge between the citizen and the government, so that they can help people get what they need both to get back on track, but also to move on.

Specialist counselors have been deployed from all over the country to handle psychological trauma; doctors and nurses have been deployed to patch up the injured; caregivers have been deployed to care for the young and the elderly.

And I am absolutely struck by the difference between this and Katrina. Both cities of comparable size. One left to rot by its government, who deemed the problem too hard; the other extended a sturdy, helping hand by the government.

That is the thing about socialism, really. It's not about higher taxes and greater public services. It's about a different attitude: a government that says, "you, citizen, are my responsibility. I take, but I also give."

It is extraordinary.


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