Hayek to the Rescue in Tuscaloosa (My Wall Street Journal Article)David Beito • Saturday May 7, 2011 6:47 AM PDT •
My article on Talk Radio as an example of spontaneous order in tornado relief just appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Here is an excerpt:
The tornado that tore through here late last month left 41 dead and 12 still missing. Whole neighborhoods now resemble bombed-out postwar Tokyo or Berlin. But this devastation is only part of the story. Tuscaloosa is now the scene of an inspiring volunteer relief effort taking place without the guidance of any central planner.
Instead of going home for break, for example, students in the Greek system at the University of Alabama and historically black Stillman College stayed to cook more than 7,000 meals per day. Local churches have assembled armies of volunteers and vast stores of goods, ranging from dog food to child car seats, and are dispersing them with no questions asked at “free department stores.” It is doubtful that a more secular city could have fared as well.
Other than churches, much of the strength of Tuscaloosa’s extensive mutual aid comes from an unlikely source: right wing talk radio. The four Tuscaloosa Clear Channel stations have pre-empted their normal fare of Rush, Hannity and top 40 songs to serve as a relief clearinghouse through simulcasts. Gigi South, the local market manager for Tuscaloosa Clear Channel, says that it was her decision to begin the simulcasts. It was hard to do otherwise. Employees saw demolished neighborhoods outside their windows and the desperate calls for help came in almost immediately. Because many residents lost power and were unable charge cell phones, battery-operated and car radios often became their only form of communication.
These stations have only 12 full-time employees among them, but they’ve have had a vast impact. The on-air jocks have taken on grueling shifts, sometimes working 10 hours straight. The goal of the simulcasts is simple: Connect givers and victims and allow them to exchange information. According to Ms. South, “this whole thing has been about connecting listener to listener. They are the ones doing this. We’re just the conduit.”