The Nation's Pulse

Private Sector Saviors

The free market, not the government, is saving those affected by calamity.

By 9.12.05

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As residents of New Orleans and the rest of the gulf coast begin to pick themselves up from a devastating natural disaster, they're finding lots of hands reaching out to help. Ordinary Americans and companies large and small from across the country are reaching out by the thousands to offer flood victims their time, talents, and financial resources. It will take a long time for some communities to recover from Hurricane Katrina, but we are once again witnessing that the most effective compassion comes from the private sector.

While Americans are reaching out, the media are pointing fingers. The media always seem to point first at the federal government's response in times of national tragedy -- demanding that federal agencies do more, spend more, and send more.

An example is a September 2 ABC News/Washington Post poll. The pollsters were so blinded by their bias that all they could see was the federal government's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their questions focused on placing blame on President Bush and asked people whether the government's response left them "angry; proud; ashamed; hopeful; or shocked."

A hallmark of our free market economic system is that when individuals work on pursuing their dreams, in this case rebuilding cities and states, the positive effects ripple throughout the economy. Together, those dreams lift a society. It's been widely reported that Home Depot's stock value rose with the floodwaters. But the story behind that is exactly what USA Today reported on September 1: the company's massive effort to stock stores in the devastated region and to prepare for a speedy response. As USA Today's Julie Schmit wrote, "Plywood makers are cranking up production. Contractors and laborers are lining up to enter the area. Retailers are redirecting products from as far as Wisconsin to the gulf region."

Without a free economic market, the companies that can help the most wouldn't have the incentive to hurry to the scene. They know their products and services will be needed -- so they're doing all they can to assist those who want to begin the rebuilding process.

Of course, plenty of companies aren't solely concerned with demand for their products and services. They're going above and beyond to provide huge amounts of charitable assistance. In a commendable September 4 article, the Washington Post told the tale of corporate generosity in Hurricane Katrina's wake. The outpouring has included everyone from blanket manufacturers to wireless communications providers to toymakers. In addition to its quick response efforts, Home Depot and its foundation donated $1.6 million.

I hope Americans will notice that some of the often-maligned corporations -- which the media and the liberals hate for making money -- have given some of the biggest gifts. Wal-Mart pledged $15 million. U.S. drug companies have donated more than $25 million in cash and pharmaceutical supplies.

And what about the oil companies, whom the media continually vilify for profiting from gasoline? The Post reported that Exxon Mobil has pledged $7 million; ConocoPhillips and Shell $3 million apiece; Marathon Oil $1.5 million, and the BP Foundation $1 million. Guess where all that disaster-aid money came from? Profits from gasoline.

But will the media recognize that corporate profits are used for corporate charity? It's doubtful. They don't want to admit that America's marketplace encourages success, which in turn allows the successful to be charitable. It's times like these when that truth is most obvious.

The generosity of individual American citizens and corporations was evident after the 9/11 attacks and the recent tsunami disaster. We are a country of compassionate, resilient, and hardworking optimists, and we are proving that again as we seek to help those in need. When the people in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi rebuild, it will make the country stronger. Right now we're beginning to forge new ties between Americans, as people from other states make sacrifices to get into the affected regions and help in any way they can.

Rebuilding is not a question of "should we do it" -- it's merely a question of who will do it. What we're about to see in the coming months and years along the gulf coast is a dynamic rebuilding process, and I just hope the media don't get in the way.

When the media look to the federal government to direct every aspect of American life, it is no wonder that their polls focus only on the federal government's role in the recovery from disasters. But if you asked me about the American people's response, the answer would be clear: I'm proud. And hopeful. And as long as we enjoy the incentives -- and the charity -- that abound in a free market society, I will continue to be hopeful about the future no matter what disasters come our way.

Herman Cain is the former president and CEO of Godfather's Pizza, Inc. and currently is CEO and president of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc., a business and leadership consulting company. He is the National Chairman of the Media Research Center's Free Market Project.

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About the Author

Herman Cain is a corporate executive, radio talk show host, and syndicated columnist from Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Cain previously served as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of Kansas City and as the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. In January 2011, Mr. Cain established a presidential exploratory committee.