The government of Italy has expressed concern that the Mafia, which has allegedly already established a base in the area affected by the earthquake, is working to seize control of the rebuilding process, diverting cash from the rebuilding effort, to lining its own pockets. This not only slows or inhibits traditional forms of assistance, it helps obscure the flaws inherent in doing things in the usual way. Failure can be blamed not on providing the wrong kind of assistance in an inappropriate way (a systemic problem), but on corruption and graft — an individual problem. Before individual problems can be dealt with effectively (individual justice), the systemic problem has to be corrected. That is a job for social justice, which looks not to individual goods, but to the common good, that network of institutions within which the human person carries out the business of daily life and thereby acquires and develops virtue.
While it might not be as widespread in its effects as the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, or as politically-sensitive as Hurricane Katrina, the series of earthquakes that have overwhelmed central Italy are fully as costly in human and cultural terms as these other disasters. Thus, we can learn from the mistakes of the past in how similar events have been handled, and implement a solution that is much more efficient, cost-effective, and (above all) more respectful of human dignity than the "usual" type of response, to say nothing of providing automatic checks and balances against Mafia-style corruption in the form of building direct ownership into each citizen and resident of the affected area. Man, as Aristotle observed, pays most attention to that which is his own.
The most immediate need after search and rescue has been finished is to make whatever redistribution of wealth is necessary to provide the survivors with adequate food, clothing, and shelter until the rebuilding process can begin. International humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross, churches, and governments best handle such immediate relief efforts. Particularly in light of the economic upheavals over the last two years, preference should probably be given to relief efforts by private organizations, individuals, and non-profits instead of governments that are already beginning to be overwhelmed by the needs of their own, economically-devastated citizens.
Such private sector initiatives have, in the past, proven themselves more than equal to such tasks. It is when they try to finance the rebuilding that private resources become inadequate and people begin looking to government to supply funds beyond the scope of most private individuals or organizations. Unfortunately, at this time most governments, as we already pointed out above, are starting to be overwhelmed by the task of trying to take care of the victims of the global financial meltdown.
Further, governments (for all the good intentions that may motivate their efforts) are not really oriented to providing for individuals. By their nature and their specific role as guardians of the common good, governments by necessity look to mass solutions that often leave specific individuals to fall through the cracks. For that reason we should look at private sector alternatives for financing areas suffering from the effects of disasters, whether natural (as with an earthquake), or manmade (as in the case of the global financial meltdown), leaving governments (especially the Italian government) to provide whatever legislation may be necessary to allow the private sector initiatives to operate at optimal efficiency and respect for human dignity.
The Center for Economic and Social Justice ("CESJ") has developed a number of programs and potential financing vehicles that, once the appropriate legislation is in place, can be implemented quickly and tap into the potential of the Italian central bank to create money to finance the rebuilding. This would be financially sound and economically (and politically) feasible as long as the rebuilding is carried out in ways that 1) allow everyone in the area devastated by the quakes to participate in the benefits of rebuilding through direct private ownership of what is rebuilt, and 2) use financing vehicles that allow what is rebuilt to pay for itself out of future earnings.
Some specifics will be covered in the next posting on this subject. In the meantime, you can alert people that there may be a feasible alternative to the usual sort of rebuilding available, and direct them to the CESJ web site and this blog.