Government Spending

Katrina's Next News Cycle

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This shoe was always going to drop eventually, it seems. If the federal government was incompetent in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it only makes sense that the money it's doled out is riddled with errors too. Reports the AP via the Cincy Enquirer:

In the neighborhood President Bush visited right after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government gave $84.5 million to more than 10,000 households. But Census figures show fewer than 8,000 homes existed there at the time.

Now the government wants back a lot of the money it disbursed across the region.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration has determined nearly 70,000 Louisiana households improperly received $309.1 million in grants, and officials acknowledge those numbers are likely to grow.

More here.

Check out Reason's special coverage of Katrina and the failure of public policy at local, state, and federal levels here.

And check out our recent story about how unconventional aid groups stepped in where the United Way and Red Cross feared to tread.

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  1. I have a perfect solution for New Orleans. Bulldoze the fuck out of all the low areas (including ripping out any underground contaminants such as sewers and oil tanks), and let nature take that land back as wetlands. This would serve as a buffer for future hurricanes/floods.

    For the richies who decide to stick around the higher grounds, we tell them “You’re on your own. Get some damned high-risk insurance.”

    We would save billions.

  2. Cripes, at least New London pays you first, MNG.

  3. There’s only one appropriate response to a government failure of this magnitude — appropriate more funds!

  4. And good luck getting that money back.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  5. joe:

    I’m talking about public housing, which I imagine most of that junk is.

    If any private property owners wish to still live/work at the bottom of a bowl… that’s their right, of course. But no more endless bail-outs (literally).

  6. How freaking hard is it to get the property tax map and records from each parish or whatever to see who owned what prior to the hurricane? of course, if the agencies had tried to verify they probably would have been charged with racism, bungling or mean-spiritedness. Only if one is dealing out one’s own money is one careful…and not always then either.

  7. The whole “Katrina government failure” meme that H&R writers are so fond of comes across as a little unfair.

    Katrina was a major, major natural disaster and while the government was not flawless in its execution of providing relief to the area, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize just how much incredibly worse it would have been had the government not been there at all.

    This was not a minor problem. It was a literal disaster and organizing an operation on that scale on that kind short notice is not as easy as you guys seem to think.

    Frankly, the writing here is so slanted that there’s no reason to think any performance of any government could meet your unfairly absurd standards.

  8. Come to think of it, the government has declared areas as being unlivable, and had them permanently evacuated (the “Love Canal” comes to mind).

    Even with all the costs involved, this would be far cheaper than indefinitely supporting/enabling this disaster zone.

  9. Mr. Nice Guy, the reason that New Orleans exists where it does is because it’s an extremely important port city. We can’t just bulldoze the whole place. Ideas like that indicate that the government really does know better sometimes.

  10. There’s type I and type II errors. It’s no use saying you don’t want any of either (not giving enough money to desired households, or giving money to unfavored households)

    Make up your mind which you want. The faster you demand action, the more wasted money there is. The more careful you are, the more desired households get money.

    Competence is doing the one without producing unconscionable amounts of the other.

    I’m not sure anybody has studied what’s unconscionable.

    Perhaps the news hype at the time, would qualify.

  11. “The more careful you are, the more desired households don’t get money,” it should be.

    Never revise in a text window that’s 1.5″ by 1/2″ in size.

    Not very generous. (Netscape 4.0)

  12. “… there’s no reason to think any performance of any government could meet your unfairly absurd standards.”

    Damn right, Dan T. You just hit upon a major reason why I would never support the government being in this role in the first place. Another major reason being that it mostly amounts to a huge wealth redistribution scheme, and I don’t think that’s a valid function of government either.

  13. You just hit upon a major reason why I would never support the government being in this role in the first place.

    Really? You don’t think Katrina as a disaster would have much worse had nobody from the government lifted a finger to help? Do you really think enough private citizens would have dropped what they were doing and mobilized in a few days to provide adequate relief?

    Another major reason being that it mostly amounts to a huge wealth redistribution scheme, and I don’t think that’s a valid function of government either.

    The whole point of government is to redistribute wealth. Everything the government does fits into this category, including the functions that libertarians generally consider “valid”.

  14. Mr. Nice Guy, the reason that New Orleans exists where it does is because it’s an extremely important port city.

    Its kind of weird hearing a would-be progressive push this kind of corporate welfare. Try taking the “important cultural center” angle. It’s more believable.

  15. I think Dan T is trying to justify $1.4 Billion in government waste?!? Most people aren’t going to argue that government doesn’t have a part in a relief effort of its citizens. But government is so incompetent Dan that they render themselves a laughing stock. Perhaps you should spend more time thinking about how government can suck less.

  16. I’ll go out on a limb and assume that the same people who complain about the government’s response time will also complain about the inevitable waste and fraud that resulted from the government trying to respond expeditiously.

  17. I’m talking about public housing, which I imagine most of that junk is.

    That’s a pretty broad, and almost certainly wholly untrue, assertion. In fact I am pretty sure the low-lying areas were already fully populated with privately-owned houses long before public housing even existed.

  18. Its kind of weird hearing a would-be progressive push this kind of corporate welfare. Try taking the “important cultural center” angle. It’s more believable.

    I suppose maintaining one of our country’s most critical shipping ports is indeed “corporate welfare”. So is the fact that the government builds roads that allow you to drive to your office and allows Wal-Mart to deliver products to their stores.

    So “corporate welfare” is a necessary part of our economic system, if you expand the definition to that point.

    We all benefit from New Orleans, that’s why we’ll pay to rebuild it.

  19. Katrina was a major, major natural disaster and while the government was not flawless in its execution of providing relief to the area, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize just how much incredibly worse it would have been had the government not been there at all.

    You are forgetting that the Federal Government CREATED the distaster. The Federal Government:

    1. Subsizing insurance for homes built in flood plains, and thus making sure that millions built homes in areas where flooding and destruction are 100% inevitable.

    2. Creating a federalized system of levees for “protecting” the area, which will inevitably break and cause rapid flooding.

    3. The federal government created FEMA… the operating principle of FEMA being that disaster relief is best managed by political appointees thousands of miles away.

    It is kind of like shooting someone in the stomach, and then saying in your defense “Well, if I didn’t call the abulance, the victim would have been worse off”. Whatever insignificant benifits provided by the government were tiny compared to the fact that the Katrina disaster was engineered by the government.

    I suppose maintaining one of our country’s most critical shipping ports is indeed “corporate welfare”. So is the fact that the government builds roads that allow you to drive to your office and allows Wal-Mart to deliver products to their stores.

    Yes, thank god for the Federal Government building those freeways! Without tax funded freeways, we would have to go back to have a highly efficent, competitive, unsubsidized, and far more enviornmentally friendly rail network! Oh the humanity!

    We all benefit from New Orleans, that’s why we’ll pay to rebuild it.

    We won’t pay to rebuild it. We will pay the federal government to embezzle most of the money, and to spend the remaining crumbs on policies that will make New Orleans worse. And then you will call it a “market failure” and declare that what the world needs is more socialism!

  20. You are forgetting that the Federal Government CREATED the distaster. The Federal Government:

    1. Subsizing insurance for homes built in flood plains, and thus making sure that millions built homes in areas where flooding and destruction are 100% inevitable.

    The port of New Orleans is the main element of the world’s largest ports system (the lower Mississippi river). We need people to live and work in the area. It’s a dangerous place to live so extra incentives are needed.

    2. Creating a federalized system of levees for “protecting” the area, which will inevitably break and cause rapid flooding.

    But the levees worked fine for decades – the problem was not in creating the levees, but not being willing to spend the money to keep them maintained. Score one for “small government” – they saved us so much money with their penny-pinching.

    3. The federal government created FEMA… the operating principle of FEMA being that disaster relief is best managed by political appointees thousands of miles away.

    Thousands of miles away from what, exactly? In the case of Katrina, it’s good thing that FEMA was available because the local authorities were overwhelmed. It’s as if you’re simultaneously saying that the Federal government does too much and doesn’t do enough.

    It is kind of like shooting someone in the stomach, and then saying in your defense “Well, if I didn’t call the abulance, the victim would have been worse off”. Whatever insignificant benifits provided by the government were tiny compared to the fact that the Katrina disaster was engineered by the government.

    Come on – the problem was that a particularly large hurricane hit. It’s a risk of being near the ocean (or major gulf in this case), but unless you want to do away with all shipping trade you kind of have to have port cities.

    Yes, thank god for the Federal Government building those freeways! Without tax funded freeways, we would have to go back to have a highly efficent, competitive, unsubsidized, and far more enviornmentally friendly rail network! Oh the humanity!

    Right, because the railroad monopolies of old times never held any sway over the government. It must have been wonderful to have those guys controlling things.

    We won’t pay to rebuild it. We will pay the federal government to embezzle most of the money, and to spend the remaining crumbs on policies that will make New Orleans worse. And then you will call it a “market failure” and declare that what the world needs is more socialism!

    But your complaint is that the entire city of New Orleans is a socialist project to begin with, suggesting rather absurdly that we’d be better off without the infrastructure that enables the free trade that libertarians worship.

    You guys don’t see the big picture at all. Yeah, let’s bulldoze every town that might be in danger of getting hit with a hurricane, tornado, flood, or earthquake. See how that works out.

  21. The notion that there would not be a well-functioning port at the conjunction of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, absent federally subsidized flood insurance, is too silly for words.

  22. “But your complaint is that the entire city of New Orleans is a socialist project to begin with, suggesting rather absurdly that we’d be better off without the infrastructure that enables the free trade that libertarians worship.”

    Thank you. Now I don’t have to bother with the rest of your post, but can address this one issue:

    “The port of New Orleans is the main element of the world’s largest ports system (the lower Mississippi river). We need people to live and work in the area. It’s a dangerous place to live so extra incentives are needed.”

    The free market would take care of this “problem,” Dan T., which I think you already know. If ships wanted to use that port system, they would have to charge more for their services, since they would have to pay people enough to afford the insurance to live there, and they’d have to pay for maintenance of the portal infrastructure. If those higher costs still made New Orleans a competitive shipping port, then people would have just what they needed without government intervention. Have you ever taken an economics class?

  23. “You guys don’t see the big picture at all. Yeah, let’s bulldoze every town that might be in danger of getting hit with a hurricane, tornado, flood, or earthquake. See how that works out.”

    What’s with this “let’s” business? I wouldn’t propose that “we” bulldoze anything! Just let the free market (through property insurance) determine the risks of living in a given area, let people live where they want and pay for it, and leave the government out of things.

  24. When Katrina victims started playing the race/class card, good ole gubmint did the politically safe thing, before being accused of “not doing enough fo us po’ folks”: throwing up money at anyone and everything within a thousand miles, hoping some would stick.

    Outrage at waste like this is pale in comparison to hundreds of TV cameras on dramaqueens outside the Superdome yelling at the top of their lungs “Dis ain’t right!”

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