Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Business of Compassion

Excerpts from Marilia Duffles essay of the same name in The American Spectator

September 29th, 10:48 a.m. PDT. Seismologists report a substantial earthquake epicentered on the ocean floor 120 miles south of the tiny bacon-strip island of American Samoa. Within minutes the earthquake had spawned a tsunami with terrifying consequences. . . Back in the U.S. a snap decision was made to mount and launch a disaster relief mission to fly much needed supplies and help to the beleaguered island.

At a moment's notice all available hands were called into action. Enthusiastic discipline prevailed. First, the aircraft schedule was shuffled to provide a plane. Check. Second, the situation at ground-zero was assessed to ensure the plane could land on the runway and that the fuel for the return flight had not been contaminated by the tsunami. Check. The FAA and TSA were contacted to ensure all systems go. Check.

With that, volunteers were urgently sought and over 100 quickly came forward to fill just 34 spots. Relief supplies were assessed and instantly purchased with a phone call to Wal-Mart's regional headquarters. Some 40,000 pounds of water, food, medical supplies and more were sorted, loaded and delivered to the awaiting aircraft. Logistics for smooth distribution upon landing were planned in great detail. Communications experts and equipment - satellite phones, computers, IT cable were quickly procured and brought onboard. . .

September 30th, 4:00 p.m. PDT. A mere eighteen hours after the initial decision, the plane took off precisely at this pre-established time. A government operation? A launch from a military base? No, it was a Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767. . .

It is not a surprise that among the very first on the scene with life-sustaining supplies was a company from the private sector. Why? Because the culture of initiative and risk-taking is critical to a successful business and precisely the attributes required to put together a plan against unknown circumstances and uncertain outcomes. Companies aren't saddled with the paralyzing bureaucracy of the government. For the most part, they don't get entangled in the self-defeating morass of regulations and the government's bloated chains of command -- like FEMA during Katrina -- when making decisions. Nor do they march to the drum of political necessity. Decisions are based on market-based needs, not what votes they'll bring in. . .

It's the fluid ability that allowed Wal-Mart to overnight gather 40,000 pounds of goods into cargo palettes, load it onto trucks for delivery to the Moby Dick–sized belly of that purple-tailed 767 and Webco, a successful small-business in Honolulu, to proudly offer its goods. Without hesitation.

Indeed, Max Weber the 19th-century sociologist couldn't have said it better: "The individual bureaucrat cannot squirm out of the apparatus in which he is harnessed." This is precisely what the people's opposition to the government's control of banks, health care reform and so on is railing against. Our ancestors didn't take the enormous risk of traveling across the Atlantic to inhabit a new world that would be a carbon-copy of the rules-shackled society they left behind.

Like Hawaiian Airlines, they wanted to take off -- running with the freedom to be enterprising.

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