Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why Even $15B Would Have Been Cheap to Protect New Orleans

Over at ReasonOnline, Jonathan Rauch explores the costs and benefits of having proactively braced New Orleans for a Category 5 Hurricane. He concludes:

But wait. New Orleans's 200-year flood might take place a century from now instead of right away (remember, this analysis is from a pre-Katrina standpoint), and money lost in the future matters less to us than money lost today. At an interest rate of 3 percent, Viscusi says, the present value of averting $1 billion in expected annual damage forever is $33 billion; at 5 percent, $20 billion; at 10 percent, $10 billion. Any of those numbers is higher than the estimated cost of hurricane-proofing the levees, and all but the smallest are higher than restoring the Delta.

Now, recall that those calculations reflect only tangible monetary cost. They do not account for inconvenience, pain and trauma, lives uprooted, and, above all, lives lost. Even a superbly organized evacuation would leave thousands of people behind. Moving nursing home patients, emptying hospitals, and losing control of the streets are dangerous at best. To all of which, add the psychic and cultural blow of leaving one of the country's most historic cities an empty ruin.

What's more intriguing is that his projection finds that it would have been cost effective even based on the abstract best-case scenario of such a hurricane hitting New Orleans directly only once every 200 years. In reality, he notes, "Category 4 storms hit the city in 1915 and 1947; [] a Category 5 storm (Camille) narrowly missed in 1969; and [] the devastating Katrina itself was not a direct hit."

More food for thought. Of course, as we know, the Bush admin -- and to a lesser extent all contemporary administrations -- have the MBA instant-gratification mindset of privileging immediate bottom-line cost-benefit calculations over ones that endeavor to take into account the larger picture. And in this sense, perhaps, there is a problem with a government that turns over so frequently, because one forgets, while legislators' interests theoretically are responsive to their constituents', the truth is that sometimes constituents value short-term measures over long-term security, especially when the latter comes at a cost. A government more ambitious would be a government more likely to get turned out come election day, and hence a Catch-22.

But notwithstanding that paradox, great leaders in our history, especially the most celebrated chief executives, forced people to accede to a long view and make the necessary sacrifices in the near term. My kingdom for a leader with a vision that cares more for our children than it does for us -- and the charisma to sell it to the masses.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

McLaughlin tops, but second unsettled
Northwest Spokane voters and first-time candidate Nancy McLaughlin will have to wait a week or more to find out the other name on the general election ballot for the District 3 Council seat.
Nice to see some decent content for a change. FYI, I log on today and see that we've got a new feature, the 'Flag blog' button, which is inconveniently located between the 'Get Your Own Blog' and 'Next Blog' buttons so that we would presumably be getting some flags on error alone (although if one happens to notice it, you can unflag a blog) But that's a trivial matter. What concerns me is this: When a person visiting a blog clicks the "Flag?" button in the Blogger Navbar, it means they believe the content of the blog may be potentially offensive or illegal. We track the number of times a blog has been flagged as objectionable and use this information to determine what action is needed. This feature allows the blogging community as a whole to identify content they deem objectionable. Ok, see the problem with this? What's "objectionable." I'm guessing there are a good deal of people that would likely deem my blog to be objectionable; and there lies the problem: what is objectionable and what is subjective. Just my 2 cents, Sew On Embroidered Patches

10:44 AM  

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