MY FRIENDS KNOW THAT l tell these stories too often, especially in chaotic times. So I promise to keep them short on the chance they might guide those fashioning Indiana public policy today.
First, the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 (also called the Loma Prieta earthquake, perhaps to avoid upsetting San Francisco realtors) caused 63 deaths, 3,800 injuries, and an estimated $6 billion in damage. This, please know, was a time when CNN was a reliable news source, largely because it couldn’t afford a full lineup of talking heads. Something would happen and video crews would be sent to simply record it — without shallow commentary or harebrained analysis.
It was during one of those lapses in the fancy that has become journalism that a film crew happened on a San Francisco policeman walking down a quake-devastated street. He was yelling up to apartment windows, “Nobody’s coming to help you (immediately).” He was warning the citizens inside that they should find water and tend to the injured.
I have always believed that he saved more lives than the emergency crews arriving hours or sometimes days later.
The second example is that of the late David Perlini, chief of staff under Fort Wayne Mayor Winfield Moses. Perlini, who went on to become Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Administration, tried over the years to explain to me how he set his priorities, met challenges, particularly in street and highway maintenance. He said it was not so much a matter of planning as it was trying to keep up with where people wanted to go, to keep up with the “market” of vehicular traffic.
From there I make an admittedly dangerous leap to economics and philosophy. Ludwig von Mises is surely right that the real trouble begins when — marauding barbarians, locust plagues and epidemics aside — we abandon the ideas necessary to safeguard a prosperous society. Here he describes the fall of the Roman Empire:
“The marvelous civilization of antiquity perished because it did not adjust its moral code and its legal system to the requirements of the market economy. A social order is doomed if the actions which its normal functioning requires are rejected by the standards of morality, are declared illegal by the laws of the country, and are prosecuted as criminal by the courts and the police. The Roman Empire crumbled to dust because it lacked the spirit of classical liberalism and free enterprise. The policy of interventionism and its political corollary, the Fuhrer principle, decomposed the mighty empire, as they will by necessity always disintegrate and destroy any social entity.”
Let us pray once more that those making public policy decisions in the weeks ahead understand the importance — the miraculous power even — of preserving individual liberty and its responsibilities. — tcl