The Myths of Hurricane Katrina: Part One

Myth number one: A lack of federal money

I am currently in New Orleans on my nineteenth trip to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina, as part of the Mercatus Center's research on Gulf Coast rebuilding. Earlier this month, I'd been asked several times what I thought about Time magazine's August 13th cover story. Thing is, I had a hard time finding it. The magazine was stocked on the newsstand at the New Orleans airport upside-down. When I pulled out the front copy, I noticed that the copy behind it had also been flipped. As had the copy behind that-and so on to the back of the news rack. It was a subtle form of protest you see often in the Crescent City.

The author of the story, Michael Grunwald, probably had no control over the cover, which carries the banner "Special Report: Why New Orleans Still Isn't Safe." But it angered many New Orleanians, who are tired of that kind of sensationalism and feel it does little to inform the public discussion about what's happening on the Gulf Coast two years after Katrina.

It's unfortunate, because Grunwald has done some excellent work covering post-Katrina reconstruction, especially untangling the web of cash, cronyism, and committee chairmanships that pollutes the US Army Corps of Engineers. But Grunwald's the exception to the rule. Much reporting on the Gulf Coast has been inadequate at best, applying a cookie-cutter template to a scenario that's far too unique and important for trite narratives.

Unfortunately, these stories are likely to continue. With today's second anniversary of Katrina, reporters and editors have again turned their attention to the Gulf Coast. And as expected, they're resurrecting the old saws that have ill-informed the public the last two years.

But forewarned is forearmed. Over the next three days I will discuss three myths about the rebuilding after Katrina—and explain why you should ignore them.

Myth Number One: The main impediment to rebuilding the Gulf Coast is a lack of federal money.

Talk with people on the Gulf Coast area and you'll soon learn the primary problem they face is not a lack of funding, but the mass confusion created by federal, state, and local governments about the rules of the game when it comes to rebuilding. Confusing and contradictory regulations, showboating by politicians, and stunningly complex bureaucracy have only exacerbated the problems of people who've already been through hell and have kept people from making the decisions they need to make to get on with their lives. This creates what economist Emily Chamlee-Wright calls "signal noise"—the persistent uncertainty created by uncoordinated government at every step of the recovery process.

All levels of government deserve blame for this. On the federal level, Congress and the US Army Corps of Engineers have failed to articulate a clear, credible plan for what types of flood protections will be built and when they'll be completed. And of course, based on the Corps' recent track record, no one could fault Gulf Coast residents for questioning whether those protections will perform as advertised once (and if) they are completed.

On the state level, Louisiana's Road Home Program is currently suffering from a $3 billion shortfall, and the program only recently began settling existing claims at a rate faster than new claims were coming in. So it may be another two years before many people receive their check—and that's if there's any money left by the time their claims crawl to the front of the queue. Local governments haven't done much better. New Orleans is already on its fifth rebuilding plan since Katrina. Meanwhile, Mississippi residents have been subjected to one urban planning charrette after another, with few actual plans adopted. Mississippians have become to the New Urbanist movement what The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi once joked that Iraqis are to the neoconservatives: human guinea pigs for testing their latest theories.

The federal government has already allocated a substantial amount of money to Gulf Coast reconstruction. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), as of July 2007 the federal government had appropriated $94.8 billion for Katrina recovery. Congress has allowed the National Flood Insurance Program to borrow another $17 billion from the government to cover the deficit it racked up paying out Katrina claims. The federal government has also created $16 billion in targeted tax breaks through Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone credits and other programs.

So it's not a lack of funding that's the problem. It's spending the money. Under existing laws, FEMA can't simply write checks to Katrina victims. Some recipients would undoubtedly squander their funds, and there would be widespread fraud. This isn't idle speculation. According to the Government Accountability Office, immediately after Katrina hit, about a billion dollars of emergency aid—16 percent of the total—was lost to fraudulent claims. Even legitimately obtained pre-paid debit cards given to aid Katrina's victims were used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn.

Unfortunately, the other option—the one currently in place—isn't any better: government micromanagement of payouts. This is where you get the Road Home program's Byzantine policies, which includes dozens of dizzying, intermediate steps between filing a claim and the receipt of funds and, consequently, the plodding pace of recovery we've seen over the last two years. Because of legitimate fears that money will be squandered, mismanaged, or lost to fraud, the money sits unused.

Two years after Katrina, the CBO reports that FEMA had spent only about 66 percent of its supplemental appropriations for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Only 28 percent of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding had been spent. A billion dollars in approved Small Business Administration loans have yet to be dispersed. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has yet to even allocate 15 percent of its Katrina-specific budget, much less disperse it.

Things are probably going to get worse before they get better. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana's Road Home Corporation—the state corporation that purchases properties sold to the state by Road Home grant recipients—is an absentee landlord, leaving its forfeited properties to decay in disrepair. Such absentee government ownership of homes is only likely to increase: an unpublished Small Business Administration report estimates that up to a quarter of Louisianans who took out SBA loans after Katrina may default on them within the next two years. Which means the federal government will take control of their property.

It's also unlikely that Washington will pony up much more cash. Soon after Katrina, Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu (a Democrat) and David Vitter (a Republican) proposed a $250 billion recovery package. Unfortunately, it was chock full of earmarks and special favors that would have done little to actually help the victims of Katrina. Many of the earmarks had been rejected in prior legislation as wasteful boondoggles. Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, for example, attached a $700 million earmark—the largest in history, according to the Christian Science Monitor—to another bill to move the CSX railroad line that hugs Mississippi's coast several miles north from its current location. The Louisiana and Mississippi senatorial delegations squandered much of the goodwill their fellow legislators had shortly after Katrina. Many in Congress are likely to see additional requests as little more than grabs for more pork.

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  • ||

    "The main impediment to rebuilding the Gulf Coast is a lack of federal money."

    Implying that the lack of federal money isn't the main impediment, but an impediment nonetheless.

  • ||

    Rebuilding New Orleans is STUPID STUPID STUPID. The city is doomed to a watery grave, it's just a question of when. All the waste, fraud, and abuse involved in the effort only compounds the stupidity.

  • ed||

    Good article, but it's too long and uses some big words. It's far easier for most Americans to comprehend Hurricane Katrina thus: "It's George Bush's fault."

  • ||

    its your 19 trip apparently you are a slow learner, you have to see it 19 times, you cant re build garbage !!! let it die on its own it is a major waste of money !!!!!

  • ||

    Rebuilding New Orleans is STUPID STUPID STUPID. The city is doomed to a watery grave, it's just a question of when.

    Not really. We just need to build decent levees. The small-government cheap ones didn't exactly do the trick. Meanwhile, Holland is mostly under sea level and they're doing just fine.

  • ||

    Even legitimately obtained pre-paid debit cards given to aid Katrina's victims were used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn.

    Am I the only one who has absolutely no problem with this? I don't remember the details, but if the individuals responsible for giving out the cards did their jobs and made sure the recipients were eligible, and if the cards were given with no strings attached, WTF difference does it make where the money went?

  • Syloson of Samos||

    Rebuilding New Orleans is STUPID STUPID STUPID.

    That depends on how it is rebuilt. For example, making some areas of the city permanent overflow zones to deal with tidal surges associated with hurricanes would be one smart way to rebuild the city.

  • ||

    "Meanwhile, Holland is mostly under sea level and they're doing just fine."

    Um, yeah, but Holland ain't exactly in a hurricane-prone area, now is it?

  • Paul||

    This creates what economist Emily Chamlee-Wright calls "signal noise"-the persistent uncertainty created by uncoordinated government at every step of the recovery process.

    So would you call my attempt to learn the tango "signal noise"?

    Warren:

    The city is doomed to a watery grave,

    So, you don't know the way to France, either?

    I'm here all week.

    Lamar:

    Implying that the lack of federal money isn't the main impediment, but an impediment nonetheless.

    The lack of money is always an impediment. If the federal government flew round the clock missions with C-5 Galaxy transports air dropping bags of money (which, in essence is what they're doing), there still wouldn't be enough federal money.

    Dan T:

    Not really. We just need to build decent levees.

    While I disagree with the OP's generalized comment that we "shouldn't rebuild New Orleans", there is a kernel of logic in there. Fact: when you have a large population on a coastal area which is below sea level in a hurricane zone, you have to question the logic.

    I'm no expert on the history of New Orleans, but my understanding is that like many places like it, they needed to expand the city, and their desire to do so overrode sound decision making. Someone, somehwere said "Yeah, we can start building houses there, we just need a really kick-ass levee system, and everything should be fine. Really, in the end, questionably build levee or not, it was all really a matter of time.

    N'awlins:

    Um, yeah, but Holland ain't exactly in a hurricane-prone area, now is it?

    Booya!

  • carrick||

    Meanwhile, Holland is mostly under sea level and they're doing just fine.

    Thus Dan T proveth his fundamental lack of knowledge in both geography and meteorology.

  • Syloson of Samos||

    N'Awlins,

    The Dutch experience quite violent storms. Indeed, they come with greater frequency (as far as I know) than hurricanes which happen to touch down in and around New Orleans. Indeed, this is much of the reason that they have built seawalls which can be opened and closed, etc.

  • ||

    were used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn

    You know, some people lost all their champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn in the flood. What would you do if the Federal government didn't replace your champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn after a disaster?

  • Syloson of Samos||

    carrick,

    Dan T. is essentially correct. The Dutch have found rather ingenous ways to get around the problems associated with a low-lying land (and sinking all the time) which experiences severe storms many times a year.

  • Syloson of Samos||

    carrick,

    Indeed, as I recall the new floating houses which are being built in Holland can take a thirty foot rise. While it isn't exactly comparable keep in mind that along the Mississippi coast that Katrina had a thirty foot storm surge.

  • rho||

    I recall reading somewhere that the Dutch are thinking of returning some of their reclaimed nation back to the wetlands.

    Lots of Army CoE projects were simple pork and/or make-work. I imagine if you dig deep enough the levees were just that. The heart of N.O. handled Katrina reasonably well. This was because it was built during a time when federal bailouts weren't available, so if you wanted your house to A) remain standing and B) not flood, you built it in a certain way and in certain places.

    Most places can withstand suburban growth, but N.O. cannot. There simply isn't a dry place to take a piss.

    As for the conflicting regulations, that sure is a problem on the Gulf Coast. The flood zones have all changed, insurance is iffy, and you can't build new building without perching it atop 30 feet of piers like a stork.

  • Gahan||

    I'm all for rebuilding New Orleans... Perhaps somewhere in the middle of Nebraska.

  • ||

    I don't understand the argument about whether or not "WE" should rebuild New Orleans.

    If some land owner wants to build on his land in New Orleans that's his business. If another decides to leave it be that is also his business.

    I don't see where "WE" comes into it at all.

  • ||

    Also remember regarding New Orleans that we're not likely to not have a major shipping port city at the mouth of our most important river.

    The city is kind of important to the nation as a whole, that's why it was there in the first place.

  • ||

    I'm OK with the people who live in New Orleans digging in their own pockets to build levees to stave off the inevitable demise of a city, mostly below sea level, in a hurricane zone, with the outer buffering land being eaten away due to the funneling of silt into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Course, if they did that, the people who live in New Orleans would realize it's too expensive and not rebuild in the areas below sea level.

    Not so OK with the rest of us footing the tab for this ultimately doomed project. Or with the existence of FEMA at all. Or ...

  • carrick||

    Sy:

    The North Sea has bad storms, bue they do not get hurricanes.

    The geology under the North Sea is dramatically different that the geology under the Gulf of Mexico.

    The geology of the low lying coast of Denmark is dramatically different that the Mississippi Delta.

    Finding a solution that works in Denmark does not prove that a similar solution exists for NO.

  • Mark Bahner||

    Not really. We just need to build decent levees.



    No, we don't. If we build levees in New Orleans, it doesn't help Tampa or Miami or Charleston or Virginia Beach or New York City a bit when they get hit.

    We should develop/fabricate something that can be put in place in 2-3 days, to cover ~100 miles of coastline *anywhere* along the Gulf or East coasts, from Brownsville, TX, to Portsmouth, ME.

    One ~$10 billion system that can be deployed anywhere along the 3000+ miles of Gulf and East coasts makes much more sense than protecting each city individually.

    For example, I can virtually assure you that in the next 20 years one of the coastal cities of Florida is going to take a direct hit from a Category 3-5 hurricane. I just can't tell you which city it will be. But if a system could be developed that could be deployed protect *any* section of Florida coast within a few days, it wouldn't matter which city will be hit.

    And in fact, such a system would be useful anywhere in the world...e.g., India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, etc.

    Think smart. Think temporary and portable, not permanent and immovable.

  • ||

    But Mark, what happens when the Mississippi rises 20'?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    As long as were debunking myths about Katrina, we can debunk the myth that news media is operating by that New Orleans is the one and only place that got hit by it - as they have and continue to devote 99.99% of their coverage to New Orleans vs all the other places that got hit.

  • TLB||

    One of the main problems there is not the lack of money, but that it was spent in a Reason-style libertarian fashion (i.e., corporatism).

    For the adults: looking back, if forced to choose between the corporatism that occured and some form of a WPA, which would have the most good overall (all things considered)?

  • Paul||

    Orleans is the one and only place that got hit by it - as they have and continue to devote 99.99% of their coverage to New Orleans vs all the other places that got hit.

    I wondered about this myself. When anyone talks about 9/11, they think Twin Towers. No one remembers that the Pentagon got hit, and some folks burned in a ball of jet fuel there, too.

    TLB:

    One of the main problems there is not the lack of money, but that it was spent in a Reason-style libertarian fashion (i.e., corporatism).

    Nice try. I think what you're really referring to are "public/private" partnership style deals. Those are the antithesis of what "Reasonoids" believe in. In fact, that's a trick I'm getting very tired of. Something is "deregulated" a-la the power utilities in California, a set of government handed-down contracts are set up, and when it all goes to shit, someone calls it a "market failure".

  • Asharak||

  • TLB||

    I'm not a libertarian; I'm too rational.

    If Reason says it doesn't like wet cakes, but it "accidentally" leaves a cake out in the rain, we might assume Reason is saying one thing but taking steps to get something else for one reason or another.

    So, for instance, Reason might claim to oppose government interference, but it takes steps that will increase that: by supporting anarchistic behavior, they pave the way for someone like Rudy to solve the problem they played a tiny part in creating.

  • ||

    I'm not a libertarian; I'm too rational.

    Well, I'm not a hard-core doctrinaire libertarian either, but when you consistently talk about the evils of IllegalImmigation when most economists completely debunk your rantings, you become nothing more than a Donderoesque troll.

    So, for instance, Reason might claim to oppose government interference, but it takes steps that will increase that: by supporting anarchistic behavior, they pave the way for someone like Rudy to solve the problem they played a tiny part in creating.

    I don't even know what that is supposed to mean. Are you saying that, as a pragmatist, you believe that Reason-style solutions will lead the people to eventually look to an authoritarian to solve the problems that may ensue? Prove that there will be problems and I might be willing to listen.

  • fyodor||

    I'm not a libertarian; I'm too rational.

    If Reason says it doesn't like wet cakes, but it "accidentally" leaves a cake out in the rain, we might assume Reason is saying one thing but taking steps to get something else for one reason or another.

    So, for instance, Reason might claim to oppose government interference, but it takes steps that will increase that: by supporting anarchistic behavior, they pave the way for someone like Rudy to solve the problem they played a tiny part in creating.


    LOL. Takes all kinds, I guess.

  • Asharak||

    Yeah, because supporting violating the rights of native-born American citizens in order to crack down on illegal immigration and thinking World War II internment camps were justified are both very rational, not like what those whacko libertarians believe.

  • Asharak||

    Well, I'm not a hard-core doctrinaire libertarian either, but when you consistently talk about the evils of IllegalImmigation when most economists completely debunk your rantings, you become nothing more than a Donderoesque troll.

    The funny thing is that I don't even agree with everything Reason says on immigration either, but TLB comes across as the bigger schmuck.

    I don't even know what that is supposed to mean. Are you saying that, as a pragmatist, you believe that Reason-style solutions will lead the people to eventually look to an authoritarian to solve the problems that may ensue? Prove that there will be problems and I might be willing to listen.

    Well, TLB is an authoritarian anyway, even though he likes to claim otherwise.

  • TLB||

    Well, I'm not a hard-core doctrinaire libertarian either, but when you consistently talk about the evils of IllegalImmigation when most economists completely debunk your rantings, you become nothing more than a Donderoesque troll.

    You have no clue to my argument; I note also that most "economists" consistently fail to note all the costs associted with IllegalImmigation and are thus little more than hacks.

  • Brownee||

    Since the thread has been thoroughly hijacked, would this be a good time to ask for a little pat-on-the-back for what a good job I did?

  • ||

    For the adults: looking back, if forced to choose between the corporatism that occured and some form of a WPA, which would have the most good overall (all things considered)?

    I assume you mean a Works Progress Administration? The WPA was part of an overall framework of corporatism unheard of before then in american history; many of the New Deal policies, such as the NRA, were deliberately and closely modeled after Benito Mussolini's policies. So what you're offering is only an illusion of a choice. Nevermind that the WPA was notorious for its wealth wasting make-work policies.

  • Mark Bahner||

    But Mark, what happens when the Mississippi rises 20'?



    The Mississippi didn't rise 20' during Katrina...although it looks like it made 15'. But the question is what the river would have gone to if there had been a storm surge barrier in place? That is, was any significant portion of that 15' due to storm surge, rather than water from inland rain?

    Good Katrina website

  • ||

    Not really. We just need to build decent levees. The small-government cheap ones didn't exactly do the trick.

    And when we are done, whe just need to build a decent foundation for California, to solve the earthquake problem.

  • ||

    Not really. We just need to build decent levees. The small-government cheap ones didn't exactly do the trick. Meanwhile, Holland is mostly under sea level and they're doing just fine.

    Interestingly enough, dike building in that part of the world was done privately for a long time, and the new land generated by dike building served as an escape from the oppressive feudal economic order.

    http://www.mises.org/story/2537#2

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I wondered about this myself. When anyone talks about 9/11, they think Twin Towers. No one remembers that the Pentagon got hit, and some folks burned in a ball of jet fuel there, too."

    I don't wonder about it - I know why the media remains focused on New Orleans and they manner in which they are focusing on it. It is just part of their predetermined storyline that, as someone upthread put it "it's all George Bush's fault".

    That's why the endless focus is on New Orleans with virtually no coverage of other places hit by Katrina that have had better results in coping and recovering. No stories of people in other areas who are more self sufficient than the denizens of the welfare plantation in New Orleans who think the primary responsibilty for their own lives and welfare is "the government" and who have a lifetime of conditioning to respond to any situation by sitting and complaining that the government fix it for them. No stories about the role of incometence and corruption at the state and city government level in the disaster vs the endless bashsing of FEMA and Bush.

  • Syloson of Samos||

    Carrick,

    Denmark?

    Anyway, the overall point is that there are technological solutions that the Netherlands has undertaken which can be adapted for use in New Orleans.

  • ||

    "We should develop/fabricate something that can be put in place in 2-3 days, to cover ~100 miles of coastline *anywhere* along the Gulf or East coasts, from Brownsville, TX, to Portsmouth, ME."

    Huh? Like a Hurricane catcher? A giant plastic portable bubble we can all hide under?

    How about this -- swim at your own risk. If you build on land that has the potential to flood, and then lo and behold it floods, why should I have to share in the risk you took? Suck it up and learn your lesson.

  • ||

    I'm from New Orleans. I'm sitting in my apartment in New Orleans right now. We HAVE been digging in our own pockets to rebuild this city. The only reason it's still around is because we love it, we've slogged through the last two years to stay here and try to salvage it, we've spent our own money (A LOT of our own money) to fix it, and we're not giving up. It's home, and I'm sorry, but I'd rather die than move to Nebraska. It really irks me when people outside of Katrina-affected areas talk about using "their" money to rebuild "our" city. WE PAY TAXES, TOO. It's OUR money just as much as it is yours.

  • ||

    Kapaali,

    Thanks for the input. All I'm saying is that when I have a choice of campsite I pick the higher ground. You can love the valley all you want, but when it rains my tent is dry. Yours, not so much. I'll help you dry out your gear, but I shouldn't be forced to do so.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Kapaali, I appreciate your struggle but we already bought Louisiana once.

  • ||

    we already bought Louisiana once

    And we should demand some warranty repairs. It's obviously defective.

  • ||

    Kapaali,

    I feel your pain, but you need to face the fact that it is irrational to build (or rebuild) a city in that location. If NO residents insist on rebuilding, then it really should be done on their own nickel.

  • ||

    Kapaali,

    One final point. If NO weren't such a den of iniquity with all manner of immoral debaucheries then George W Bush would not have had God destroy it in the first place...

  • ||

    Kapaali,

    Another final point: Louisianna already receives $1.45 in federal spending for every $1.00 of federal taxes, so in an accounting sense it really is "not your YOUR money" as NO residents have been dipping into the federal pocket book for years and years already.

    As a New Orleans resident you can take a smug satisfaction in knowing that DC residents get $6.64 for every federal tax dollar contributed. Well, either that or you can feel cheated because you did not get "your" extra $5.19 per dollar of taxes.

    One interesting thing from this report is that Massachusetts is a "net payer". MA only gets $0.77 for every dollar of federal taxes paid. Way to go, Joe!

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/files/sr139.pdf

  • ||

    Let's set one thing clear.

    Louisiana is simply one of the worst run states in the Union. Its history with bad government makes it inevitable that any disaster there is felt worse than in any other state because it simply does not know how to manage much more than stealing money. When Katrina hit, there was shock from the lethargic government at first, and then hurried inaction. They (with FEMA) hampered private action, distributed funds to people the wrong way (I mean debit cards, come on) and simply had some difficult people to deal with (the 30% of the city used to violence and government dole). It would have been better had the US government not come to aid at all or had better local officials to deal with, but it was pretty much a bad situation on all sides.

    For those of you that argue that the US government shouldn't be responsible for rebuilding New Orleans, I agree and many of the self reliant NO citiznes would also concur. New Orleans has been horribly mismanaged and a symptom of too much government. It would do the city good to find itself having to stand on its own two feet and fix its multitude of problems of corruption, incompetency and dependency.

    New Orleans is an important city, but it will only improve by itself, not with federal money.

  • x,y||

    Also remember regarding New Orleans that we're not likely to not have a major shipping port city at the mouth of our most important river. The city is kind of important to the nation as a whole, that's why it was there in the first place.

    Or you could just relocate a few miles up the river where it's above sea level.

  • ||

    You have no clue to my argument; I note also that most "economists" consistently fail to note all the costs associted with Illegal Immigation and are thus little more than hacks.

    Did Lou Dobbs start posting at reason?!

    I, too, hate these so called "economists" who say things I don't agree with.

  • ||

    Lost_In_Translation comments: Louisiana is simply one of the worst run states in the Union. Its history with bad government makes it inevitable that any disaster there is felt worse than in any other state because it simply does not know how to manage much more than stealing money.

    I am a lifelong resident of Louisiana and do not disagree with your sentiment. I'm embarassed to admit it but our government ON A STATE LEVEL and IN NEW ORLEANS has behaved horribly historically and today.

    But New Orleans isn't the whole state and the whole state is not corrupt. I live in Southwest Louisiana -- a few weeks after Katrina there was this other hurricane called Rita that hit my town head on and obliterated Cameron Parish beneath us. You don't hear a whole lot of talk about Rita or its effect on my area (which was tremendous) but part of the reason why is this -- we took care of ourselves then (we evacuated, our city arranged for evactuation of those who could not, we didn't leave empty school busses and thousands of people stranded, our local law enforcement gave me goose bumps in the looting-control and safety department) and we're taking care of ourselves now.

    As Katrina was unfolding 2 years ago, my husband and I both commented that the world as a whole was now going to see just what a cesspool NOLA had become and we were absolutely right. Starting from the nanosecond the storm had passed with barbaric behavior of so many who stayed behind, with whining and complaining since then that the government just isn't doing enough, blah, blah, blah.

    Now, don't get me wrong. There is plenty to complain about even if you are self-sufficient and it does have everything to do with conflicting and changing regulations and different governmental levels. But I think the moral to the story is that if the government returns to doing only that which it was designed to do in the first place -- provide us with protection -- and we all return to where we should be -- providing for ourselves and our own -- we'd all be a whole lot better off.

  • dhex||

    I'm not a libertarian; I'm too rational.

    don't YouMean IncrediblyEntertaining and more than SlightlyRacist?

    we must destroy liberty to save it, indeed.

  • ||

    k2law,

    My parents are from Lafayette, so I know that local governments aren't nearly as bad as the state and New Orleans governments (up until recently, it was said that New Orleans basically ran the state government, so that might account for something).

    But yeah, the point is there is a problem and disaster occurred where things were least likely to recover effectively.

  • Mark Bahner||

    We should develop/fabricate something that can be put in place in 2-3 days, to cover ~100 miles of coastline *anywhere* along the Gulf or East coasts, from Brownsville, TX, to Portsmouth, ME."



    Huh? Like a Hurricane catcher? A giant plastic portable bubble we can all hide under?



    No, I'm thinking something that just protects against storm surge. I'd rather not get into the specifics of what I'm thinking about, but think of this: Suppose you had a tube 30 feet high and many miles long, filled with water, placed on the shore. It could even be on the shore of barrier islands, like the Chandeleur Islands (the crescent-shaped islands in these figures):

    Map of Mississippi River delta

    Hurricane Katrina storm surge

    When the storm surge hits that baby, that giant water-filled tube isn't going anywhere. The tube may rupture, but it's not going to be pushed inland. It's far too massive.

    How about this -- swim at your own risk. If you build on land that has the potential to flood, and then lo and behold it floods, why should I have to share in the risk you took? Suck it up and learn your lesson.



    Yes, that's the standard libertarian answer. See how it's resonating with the public? They love it! Why, some Libertarian candidates for federal office have even gotten 1 percent of the vote! (Well, maybe 0.5 percent, but if one rounds upward, that comes to 1 percent.)

    Libertarians--at least everyone but the anarchist wing--would gladly pay money to prevent the French from coming to wipe out New Orleans. Or the Cubans to wipe out Miami. Or the English to wipe out Virginia Beach or Washington, DC. But not God wiping out any of those cities.

    Here are some facts (if anyone disputes that these are indeed facts, please let me know):

    1) The total real estate value along the shores of the Gulf and East coasts that could reasonably be considered at risk from hurricane storm surge is probably on the order of several trillion dollars (let's call it $4 trillion, which is probably conservative).

    2) That real estate value is doubling in less than every 20 years. So in 2020, we're talking $8 trillion. And 2040, $16 trillion. Etc.

    3) Roger Pielke Jr. has estimated that if the Miami hurricane of 1926 were to hit Miami in 2020, the cost of that one hurricane *alone* would be $500 billion. (That includes storm surge and wind damage.)

    4) There is simply no way, in the next 20-30 years, that the libertarian philosophy of "it's God's will...rebuild it yourselves" is going to be reflected in federal laws regarding hurricane storm surge damage. There are simply too many voters on the Gulf and East coasts to ever get that idea through Congress.

    5) And even if that philosophy DID become federal law, it would mean the citizens of Miami and Florida would be out $500 BILLION if the 1926 hurricane hit Miami in 2020. So even if Florida has 25 million people in 2020, that would be $20,000 dollars for every man, woman, and child in Florida. (And if the Miami area had a population of 5 million, that would be $100,000 for every man, woman, and child!) Just where does anyone think the citizens of Florida--let alone the citizens of Miami area!--are going to come up with that kind of money?

    Practicality has never been a libertarian strong point, but wouldn't it make more sense to spend maybe $10 billion to develop a system that can be deployed anywhere along the Gulf or East coasts, rather than to rebuild after a hurricane causes hundreds of billions of dollars of damage when it hits Miami, or St. Petersburg, or Norfolk, or New Orleans, or New York City? (And that's the key thing…we don't know which city along the Gulf or East coast is going to be wiped out, or when. We just know it will happen somewhere in the next few decades.)

    Libertarians may say that the Gulf and East coast states should pay the bill for the system. Fine. That would make sense. But first let's agree that such a system *should* be built, and get an idea of the cost. If the cost truly is approximately $10 billion…well, the federal government spends that much every 2 days. And the federal government can be expected to pay many times that amount on rebuilding after hurricanes, in just the next few decades. In fact, the federal government has probably already spent more than 5 times that amount on Katrina alone.

    We in the U.S. should at least be talking about such a system. It seems virtually impossible that such a system would cost more than cleaning up and rebuilding various cities along the Gulf and East coasts after they are severely damaged by hurricane storm surge.

  • ||

    "I'd rather not get into the specifics of what I'm thinking about,..."

    Aw, go ahead.

    "What is this, some kind of tube?"

  • VM||

    merci, M. Bart. Merci

    *Whithers some random passer by's taint to make up for Carrick's lack of geography.

  • robc||

    wouldn't it make more sense to spend maybe $10 billion to develop a system that can be deployed anywhere along the Gulf or East coasts, rather than to rebuild after a hurricane causes hundreds of billions of dollars of damage when it hits Miami, or St. Petersburg, or Norfolk, or New Orleans, or New York City?

    Yes it does. So much sense in fact, that if private insurance was insuring Miami, the insurance companies might spend the $10 billion to develop it in order to protect themselves from paying $500 billion in payouts. Not sure why the government needs to be involved.

  • ||

    Hurricane Katrina never directly HIT New Orleans.
    The sun was shining when levees broke.

    The Lower 9th needs to become a landfill and low cost homes for its previous tenants need to be located on safer higher ground.

    Nobody tried to build new homes on the island left behind by the tsunami. THEY moved to higher elevations. duh.

  • Mark Bahner||

    Yes it does. So much sense in fact, that if private insurance was insuring Miami, the insurance companies might spend the $10 billion to develop it in order to protect themselves from paying $500 billion in payouts. Not sure why the government needs to be involved.



    There are at least four reasons:

    1) The government already IS involved. The federal government *already* provides flood insurance. Libertarians can say all they want about getting the federal government out of the business of payment for flood damage from hurricanes. But given that NO Democrat or Republican running for federal office would probably ever publicly advocate cutting off all federal payments for flood damage (let alone that a majority of members of Congress would vote for such a position) talking about getting the federal government out is a waste of time. They're in. And they'll be in for at least the next several decades. The best thing that can be done is to dramatically lower how much the federal government is going to spend, for a similar level of protection, in the next several decades.

    2) The insurance companies in Miami don't KNOW that a hurricane like the hurricane of 1926 is going to hit Miami. Here's a great map of the probabilities of hurricanes hitting any given 50 kilometers (30 miles) of coast in a given year:

    3) Even if the insurance companies knew with complete certainty that the Hurricane of 1926 was going to hit Miami, they don't know WHEN. It could be next year. It could be 30 years from now. The smart insurance money would be to collect big premiums, and then to get out of the insurance business in Miami the year before the hurricane struck. That would be good for the insurance company who did so, but bad for the people who owned property that got wiped out.

    4) The amount of money involved in the insurance is so staggeringly large. Can you name ANY private insurance situation that covers a potential $500 billion in claims from a single event? In 2000, the total market capitalization (total value of all stock) of the largest 5 insurance companies in the world was $720 billion. Even with re-insurance, that's a phenomenally large amount of money.

  • LarryA||

    Even legitimately obtained pre-paid debit cards given to aid Katrina's victims were used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn.

    Ah. The "we gave you the money so we should decide what you do with it" theme. Bleh!

    The Dutch have found rather ingenious ways to get around the problems associated with a low-lying land (and sinking all the time) which experiences severe storms many times a year.

    The Dutch live under their dikes, and thus have more incentive than D.C. bureaucrats do. If the people of New Orleans paid for and had control over their own levees there could be the same ingenuity applied. If they get past NOLA's legendary corruption.

    I'm all for rebuilding New Orleans... Perhaps somewhere in the middle of Nebraska.

    What do you have against Nebraska?

    Suppose you had a tube 30 feet high and many miles (100 miles earlier) long, filled with water, placed on the shore.

    You're talking about deploying approximately 63 million sq ft of skin and pumping it full of 475 million cubic feet of water in areas where mostly there no hard-surface roads, or electricity to run pumps or lights.

  • Mark Bahner||

    "Suppose you had a tube 30 feet high and many miles (100 miles earlier) long, filled with water, placed on the shore."

    "You're talking about deploying approximately 63 million sq ft of skin and pumping it full of 475 million cubic feet of water in areas where mostly there no hard-surface roads, or electricity to run pumps or lights."

    First, the tube (or tubes) may be 100 miles in length, and 30 feet high at their peak but that doesn't mean their are 30 feet high along their whole length of 100 miles.

    Even if they were 30 feet high along their length, that would be:

    100 miles x 5280 ft/mile x pi x 30 feet = 50 million sq ft. But the average height would be less than that. Let's call it 15 feet on average. So that would be 25 million sq feet. (Just to be accurate...what can I say, I'm a geek!)

    But more importantly, I'm not talking about pumping ANY water. There's plenty of water already. No need to pump any.

    As far as "roads," what makes you think the storm surge protection system is deployed by land?

    ;-)

    These are all legitimate considerations you're bring up, but if you think they are any way unsolvable or even necessarily relevant, you haven't thought about the problem very much.

  • LarryA||

    But the average height would be less than that. Let's call it 15 feet on average.

    So part of your barrier is 30 feet tall, and part is zero. Just like the dikes were after they broke.

    But more importantly, I'm not talking about pumping ANY water. There's plenty of water already. No need to pump any.

    All of your available water is at or below sea level. How are you going to get it into your barrier, which is up to 30 feet higher (or whatever) without pumping?

    These are all legitimate considerations you're bring up, but if you think they are any way unsolvable or even necessarily relevant, you haven't thought about the problem very much.

    One more issue. A pipe 30 feet in diameter filled with water would be a massive barrier on land, because it's much heavier than the air around it. But waves are made of water, so your barrier would weigh about the same as the first 30 foot wave in a storm surge. Unless it was firmly anchored somehow, which would be interesting in sand, I think your barrier would simply be picked up by the surge and become part of it.

  • Mark Bahner||

    But the average height would be less than that. Let's call it 15 feet on average.

    So part of your barrier is 30 feet tall, and part is zero. Just like the dikes were after they broke.



    No, the ends of the barrier are less tall than the middle of the barrier because the storm surge is less, farther from the eye of the hurricane.

    But more importantly, I'm not talking about pumping ANY water. There's plenty of water already. No need to pump any.

    All of your available water is at or below sea level. How are you going to get it into your barrier, which is up to 30 feet higher (or whatever) without pumping?



    If the barrier is actually a set of ridges, waves that overtop one ridge would collect in a pool between the ridges.

    A pipe 30 feet in diameter filled with water would be a massive barrier on land, because it's much heavier than the air around it. But waves are made of water, so your barrier would weigh about the same as the first 30 foot wave in a storm surge. Unless it was firmly anchored somehow, which would be interesting in sand, I think your barrier would simply be picked up by the surge and become part of it.



    Sand is heavier than water, so if there was a layer of sand, that would help to keep the barrier in place. Alternatively, ships are held in place on the surface of the ocean by anchors, so something like an anchor might be included.

    Again, your comments raise valid questions, and valid problems that would need to be addressed. But hurricane storm surge can be expected to cause tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars of damage in the next decades. So it's not like doing nothing is cost-free.

  • ||

    myth no. 1 is that there was no terrorist involvement when it was a terrorist attack. Check out Katrina Novel about this girl that claims hurricane katrina was a terrorist attack. Go to http://hurricanekatrinakaif.com

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