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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Here's a Scientific American article from October 2001 predicting what would happen if a major hurricane hit New Orleans (levees swamped, city drowned in 20 feet of water), and talking about the measures necessary to prevent it.

I know, Clint: get back to screenwriting. And I will. At least, I'll make sure it's not all outraged political sentiment. For those of you who are just here for the screenwriting, now's the time to bail on this post.

But I have noticed a few people here and there posting the question, "Since when is it government's job to protect people from natural disasters?" (Usually this is phrased, "Since when is it the *federal* government's job," as if Louisiana could handle a disaster this size on its own.)

On one hand, I agree that we have counterproductive policies, such as reimbursing people when their houses are destroyed by predictable disasters such as earthquakes in California, tornadoes in Kansas, hurricanes on the Gulf, storms on the Carolina barrier islands, etc., which encourages people to build houses where they woudn't otherwise do so. And build them in the same places, again, which is contrary to any sort of common sense.

But. My answer to "since when is it government's job" is ... since about 4000 BC, when people started having governments. What was all that stuff about Joseph and Pharoah's dream? It was Pharoah's job to store grain in the seven fat years against the seven lean years that were coming. Only Pharoah could afford to do it. Left to their own devices, some people would have stored grain, some wouldn't have, and when the famine came, the grasshoppers would have killed the ants and eaten them.

It is government's job to do those things that are for the common good that the market will not accomplish. I'm a free-trader. I think markets are the most efficient way of allocating resources ... except when there are externalities that the markets ignore. The cost to having my car on the road isn't just the gas I buy and the cost of the car. Someone has to build the road. I can't afford to build the road myself. Someone has to make sure the Middle East isn't taken over my people who hate us. I can't do that myself. Someone has to make sure that everyone stays on the right, and doesn't drive in the breakdown lanes. When people are just looking out for themselves and their own, it looks like ... well, something like New Orleans. Or Baghdad. I would be hard pressed to come up with a more legitimate purpose for the federal government than the job it didn't do in NOLA. It could have forbidden people to drain the marshes and build under sea level. It could have forbidden people from channelizing the Mississippi at the expense of the protective marshes and barrier islands. Or it could have built higher levees and sea gates on Lake Pontchartrain. Any of those would have helped.

I think it's instructive to look at the blue state/red state divide and ask: which are the successful, rich red states? I think the argument that taxes make people poor is belied by looking at the states. New York: blue, fabulously wealthy. California: blue, very well off. Mississippi: red, dirt poor. Louisiana: red, dirt poor. Ohio: doing okay for itself, swing state. Massachusetts: stinking rich, blue. You can make the case for Arizona (red, rich), but Arizona hasn't been populated long enough to have problems yet.

Taxes pay for things that make people rich by making society rich. Taxes pay for schools. Roads. Bridges. Day care. Health. Disaster planning. Well-trained police forces. Hospitals. Universities. I live much better in Canada than I did in LA, even though I pay more in taxes, because I get vastly more back. When they turn off the water to work on the pipes here, they call you first. Why? Because they're not so understaffed they can't take the time. Not to mention, they fix the pipes before they break.

If the US doesn't stop cutting taxes, it's going to turn itself into a Third World nation for real. Especially after the blue states secede and join Canada.

5 Comments:

For those who say, "Since when is it the government's job?" - let's keep this whole thing in purely capitalistic, commercial terms:

Because of this disaster, gas prices are going to rise: affecting the public, the transportation industry, the plastics industry, etc...the cost of goods imported into, and made within the United States and Canada is going to rise.

The cost of agriculture products in the midwest will rise as it costs more to transport them to ports other than New Orleans for shipment. I believe NO is the fifth largest port in the world. This will affect not only the U.S., but the world.

We now have approximately 80,000 people out of work, homeless and in need of medical care. This drains the economy - period.

Christmas sales around the country will drop - people will not have the money to spend. Industries which depend on Christmas will take an economic hit.

And since this is a screenwriting site, how much you want to bet that numbers for the theaters in the gulf coast this weekend will be nothing? Not to forget the surrounding areas which will also go into the dumper. I would not want to have a movie opening this weekend...three to five years of work flushed.

Lets not forget the security issues as we now have foreign tankers "assisting" us by transporting oil. These people will have to be paid and it ain't cheap.

So, lets again put this all into perspective:

Isn't an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Especially if we saw this coming and did nothing? (No, strike that - we not only didn't do nothing, the government took money away from New Orleans to the point where they had to cut back on existing systems that were deemed inadequate).

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 2:05 PM  

The one question that has to be asked..which the press is avoiding...Is what if this chaos wasn't the result of a "natural" disaster? What if it was a terrorist attack?...and after all the b.s. and 4 years of supposed changes...the response is this shitty?

Also if the images were of little 4 year old blonde white girls with blue eyes and sad faces...something tells me even the Republicans would be attacking the President and his administration. But its mainly poor black people...so the Republicams and even most Democrats are silent.

By Blogger CharlieDontSurf, at 3:06 PM  

I don't think you can say anyone's being silent. Even the President has said the response was "unacceptable."

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:02 PM  

People aren't being silent, but imagine if Gore or Clinton were President and the Democrats controlled the House and Senate. If their administration had done the same thing as Bush's and the Senate/House over the last three years- I.E. everything we're doing national security wise, prevention and response wise is going to make you safer and the reponse better the next time we're hit.You know Republicans would be calling for all of their heads on a platter.
So far they have proved they can talk the talk...but so far they haven't walked the walk.

The only difference is this takes a slightly different look and tone because its a "natural disaster".
If a terrorist had planeted bombs across the levees(don't even know if this would be possible) and flooded the city imagine how much worse things would be.

FEMA, the governor, government etc. knew something bad was coming given it was a hurrican which the government can track...they were able to at least evac some of the city. With all the prior knowledge people probably still died from not recieving treatment after 4 days of no help. Bush and his party have preached the last four years that this is in fact strongest reason to keep them in office. They(Republicans) will do a better job of preventing national disasters, and if one does occur they will do a better job of fixing things asap.

By Blogger CharlieDontSurf, at 4:40 PM  

Living in Africa, I'm sadly not unfamiliar with (phtographic) images of displaced regugees, of people with broken souls whose existences have been reduced to no more than surviving until their next meal. Due to many complex factors that are way beyond me or the scope of this post, it's become expected to see this in third world countries, to see the dying masses while the ruling elite live in overblown luxury and are unable or unwilling to help their citizens.

To see it happening in the US, well, it's a mind-f*ck. I just can't help but wonder if Georgie's reaction has been so retarded because like the Dude said, the victims aren't blue-eyed Wasps. But maybe I'm being unfair to your Georgie. Maybe he's not a racist, maybe he's just an incompetent boob, like most non-Americans have always known.

By Blogger Dennis Venter, at 2:34 AM  

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