Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Some Thoughts On Katrina

This is from the Best of the Web at Opinion Journal:

Democrats are worried. "Before the Senate acts on John Roberts' new nomination, we should know even more about his record, and we should know whom the president intends to propose to nominate as a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor," Reuters quotes Sen. Ted Kennedy as saying.

Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.

You gotta love the last line. I wish journalists used it every time they quoted Teddy the gasbag.


This caught my eye also from Best of the Web, which quoted John Podhoretz: Once again we see the gigantic divide in this country--not between Right and Left, but between people who live and breathe politics and those for whom politics are only an incidental part. You need to look at the world through political glasses to assume that THE key aspect of a natural disaster is the response or lack thereof of the authorities--whether they be local, state or federal. The president doesn't MAKE hurricanes, therefore he will not be blamed FOR hurricanes. Nor do the governor and the mayor.

Very true. And it seems to me, as guilty as I most often am of living and breathing the politics, that those who don't are correct not too in most cases. Some windbag on Capital Hill, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, before all hell broke loose, was rattling on about how we're all Americans, and that we're not Republicans and Democrats when it comes to our sympathies for what is taking place in the Gulf, etc. etc. Like that really needed to be said? That differences over tax policy or other mundane or even serious affairs of state would translate into differences over our reactions to the devastation in that region and to its people? At the end of the day, both your average Democrat and your average Republican do not abuse their dogs; we're more alike in most ways than not, a fact that is often lost when political discourse vests all of our energies into exploring those areas where we do differ.

But now the fur is flying with fingers pointing everywhere and the s*&^ hitting the fan, and every other metaphor you can think of to describe how fingers are pointing between mayors, governors, presidents, cabinet members, etc. Which is how it should be - because we are universally saddened by the events down there, it is only natural that we explore what might have been screwed up. But of course that diverges quickly into accusations of personal willfull negligence, mostly aimed against Bush. Not very productive. Call him incompetent, and offer the facts to prove that assertion, and that is fair game. But call him a racist who couldn't care less about poor people, and all you can offer as proof is your omniscience, which allows you to read his mind.

At the end of the day, we know we can count on the Senate to conduct an investigation that satisfies everyone, right? The problem is that, as with any crisis that merits some review after the fact, those who do so tend to lose sight of the fact that New Orleans getting hit by a Cat 4 hurricane was not a certainty one month ago.

Playing the role of the cold economist, there is no doubt that a structural solution to what has occurred in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane can be conceived, financed, implemented, and ultimately successful in avoiding repeating this rather ugly history. But many suggestions, if offered in time to have been put into place prior to Katrina, would still have been worthily rejected; the simplest solution in this category – evacuate the city forever (which may be the most cost effective solution ex post, but not ex ante). The tendency is to discuss what went wrong in the aftermath with the 20/20 knowledge that a CAT 4 or 5 hurricane hit the city with certainty, but decisions are made when such events are far from 100 percent probabilities. Many solutions are cost effective when the bad event is a certainty; many are not when the probability is low. The end result of this catastrophe will be this – the government will seriously over-invest in emergency preparation.


Blogger Professor Vic said...

As to your last comment. Couldn't that be just as easily applied to the war in Iraq? There was a low probability of a highly catastrophic event (that is Saddam obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction).

Therefore, we overinvest in national defense. (We spend hundreds of billions of dollars and 2,000 lives on something with a low expected return.)

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Jim O said...

The weird part of all this is - Katrina didn't "hit" New Orleans. The center of Katrina was farther to the east in Mississippi.

Maybe if Katrina DID hit directly, the levees would have broken immediately and the emergency would have been much more evident earlier, istead of the slow buildup to catastophe status.

Everyone MAY have been better off if Katrina was much worse.

And, as an aside, Katrina is classified as a Cat 4 storm NOW. The actual determination may change as data is crunched over the next few years. Apparently Hurrican Andrew (of "Mmmm, Florida is yummy, gobble, gobble,gobble" fame) wasn't declared a Category 5 hurricane until 2002, 10 years after it hit. Katrina may be eligible for an upgrade in the future, which doesn't do a damn thing to help anyone now, but the possibility is still interesting

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FEMA's project Hurrican Pam.

The Netherlands with their focus on preserving and even enhancing their levee and dike system to enable the low lying areas to survive.

June of this year:

Between congress and GW there wasn't any money left to fix the levees or even enhance their ability to survive this sort of storm. The blame is there and every sitting representative is responsible.

10:57 AM  

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