Larry Elder

What about government "disaster" relief? After the September 11 attacks, the Small Business Administration lent $1.2 billion dollars to more than 10,000 companies claiming to be hurt as a result of the terrorist hijackings. Four years later, $245 million -- or 20 percent of the loan money -- was in default. The loans written off by the government included $992,000 to an Atlanta hotel, $620,000 to a Maine broccoli farm, $985,000 to a Florida boat dealer, and $38,900 to a Lubbock, Texas, computer store.

By contrast, the typical private sector non-performing loans percentage is 1.5 percent for FDIC-insured bank loans and 4.3 percent for credit card loans. If a bank CEO delivered a non-payment rate over 20 percent to his board of directors, well, can you say, "You're fired"?

Government agencies like FEMA go from inefficient over-action to inefficient under-action. After California's 1994 Northridge earthquake, FEMA sent thousands of homeowners unsolicited checks up to $3,450 because they lived in zip codes supposedly hard-hit by the quake. When criticized, FEMA defended their generosity and denied making mistakes in the giveaway, because they "received very, very few calls from people who felt they didn't need the aid." You think?!

Why the reluctance to rely on private charity?

Before Hurricane Katrina struck, Home Depot's "war room" transferred high-need emergency items like batteries, lumber, flashlights and generators to distribution centers around the strike area. Afterward, Home Depot teamed up with the Red Cross and handed out much-needed items, including pet supplies.

Wal-Mart handed out $30 coupons to Katrina evacuees, and refilled medication for patients with containers from valid prescriptions. Using its huge database of consumers' past purchases, Wal-Mart determined which goods people needed most after a hurricane. Because of its advance logistics planning, the retail giant quickly moved in to hard-hit areas with mini Wal-Marts, handing out goods. The hurricane shut down 126 Wal-Mart facilities. A little over a week later, the company re-opened all but 14.

More government or more private sector -- you choose.


Larry Elder

Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit www.LarryElder.com.