Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Blame Capitalism!

Consider the following article by Charles Leroux and published by the Chicago Tribune:

Growth, capitalism fueled flames of disaster

On the morning of Oct. 8, 1871, a Chicago Tribune writer who -- in the tradition of the era, wasn't given a byline -- rose to the occasion of the biggest story in the city's history:

"Only a few minutes elapsed after the striking of the alarm before the flames were seen sweeping into the sky. ... The wind -- seeming to rise as the flames did -- set from the southwest, carrying with its outward rush streams of sparks, cinders and partially-burned wood, which covered the sky with dazzling spangles, sweeping northward like a flight of thousands of meteors."

Headlined, "THE FIRE FIEND: A Terribly Destructive Conflagration Last Night," that story was the first coverage of the Great Chicago Fire, a blaze that would kill at least 250 people and destroy 18,000 buildings -- theaters, hotels, banks, newspaper offices and public buildings.

The blunder wasn't putting a kerosene lamp near a cow (widely dismissed now as the cause) but the city's eagerness to grow faster than any place in history and, in its eagerness, charting a course for disaster.

In less than 40 years since its birth as a city, Chicago had grown from a half-mile-square town of 150 people to an 18-square-mile city of 340,000. It grew at a frenetic pace, fueled by anything-goes capitalism. Whatever the endeavor, if it made for money and development, it was good.

As a result, Chicago had become a tinderbox. Most buildings were wood, the cheapest and fastest material for construction. Those few made of stone or brick were heavily trimmed in wood. The sidewalks were wood; so were the signs and the roofs. Downtown streets were lined with pine planks.

In 1868, the Fire Department warned of the "grave defects in [the way] which our city is being built," and noted that contractors often cut corners, creating "firetraps pleasing to the eye," but in fact "all shams and shingles."
So the people were poor and built with materials they had on hand. If only the regulatory overlords had been there to protect them from their poor benighted selves.

Yet cites had burned before Chicago and they did so when autocrats ruled. So why then is capitalism to blame for the Chicago fire? Were there no fires in Chicago prior to its great fire? Were there no courts to impose civil liability for allowing dangerous conditions that led to fire? The author does not say--his accusation is simply allowed to stand without evidence or balance.So it's interesting that he end his op-ed with the following observation:

On Oct. 11, while embers still smoldered, the Tribune's headline was "CHEER UP: Chicago Shall Rise Again."

The words were prophetic. Skipping hardly a beat, Chicago turned its greatest goof into greater (though safer) growth spurt that made it, as the 19th Century ended, the only major city on the planet that hadn't been a city at all at the beginning of that century.
Ah, so capitalism also caused the
rebuilding
(well, implicitly, at least).

What an idiotic article. I am amazed garbage like this even gets published.

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