Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sympathy Rationing

I have the utmost sympathy for most victims of Hurricane Katrina. But my sympathy is limited, so I’m withholding it from the following groups:

1. People looting anything other than basic necessities and survival gear. (Also, people looting basic necessities and survival gear when the proper owner is present and objecting.)

2. People who had cars (or friends or family with cars), knew the worst storm in recorded history was headed right for them, and chose to stick around because they didn’t want to sit in traffic.

3. People who chose not to take shelter in the SuperDome because the lines to get in were too long.

Truthfully, I’m perplexed by most of those who stayed. I know many of them were (and are) dreadfully poor, and that limited their means of escape. Still, I think if I had $50 to my name and a working pair of legs (yes, I realize some people don’t), I’d have found a way out. But I suppose that’s easy for me to say from this distance, so I’ll withhold my sympathy only from those in categories 1-3 above.

(Backsliding a little: Okay, maybe I don’t have zero sympathy for people in categories 2 and 3, but they still won’t get as much as everyone else. I can imagine being excessively optimistic and thinking I could ride the storm out. But I’d think again after the authorities recommended a complete evacuation.)


lizriz said...

I can't stop thinking of that Survivor episode where those idiots rebuilt their camp on the river bed and it washed away AGAIN.

Gil said...

Yes, and I have little sympathy for those who plan to rebuild in the same dangerous area.

I have even less sympathy for people who will demand that I subsidize that.

Over A. Barrel said...

Just a couple of posts ago, you were speaking in purely charitable terms - about your thoughtful decisions to give to the American Red Cross. Now you've all pulled back and are making value judgements about who is deserving and who isn't of receiving sympathy. Lizriz doesn't even want New Orleans rebuilt because the people who do that are stupid. Gil doesn't want his "immorally taken" tax dollars to pay for rebuilding. Do you all want the Red Cross to "ration sympathy" as well by only deciding to give help to the ones who acted prudently before disaster struck? I don't think the Red Cross acts that way. Perhaps you all are having second thoughts about your generous donations?

lizriz said...

Um, HELLO, I didn't say that. I said that I can't stop thinking about that Survivor episode, which I can't. That's a far cry from a strong statement of opinion on rebuilding New Orleans or the people who will be making those decisions.

You seem to be jumping to some really odd conclusions.

Gil said...

And what I was saying was not that relief should be rationed according to any scheme other than what will do the most good for victims.

But, there are separate questions about the wisdom of rebuilding there, and who should assume financial responsibility for it.

If people rebuild there, and there's another disaster, I'll contribute to voluntary relief-efforts again. The children certainly won't deserve the harm that befalls them, and while the adults will deserve some blame/responsibility I'll still prefer to help them than to have them die for their mistakes.

philip whitman said...

This is for all those out there who have no sympathy for people who live in flood plain and hurricane prone areas of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area in general, and who say that the government (and their tax money) should not help in rebuilding and shoring up the dikes and levees to prevent or mitigate similar disasters in the future. This geographic area and the people who inhabit it provide roughly a third of the nation’s seafood and probably 20-40% of the nation’s crude oil, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gases like propane, and petrochemicals that fuel the engine of our economy and our modern way of life. This region also contains a major portion of the refining and chemical processing plant capacity in the nation. It is also the origin or throughway for many vital pipelines that carry petroleum products, like gasoline, to the rest of the country. In addition, the Mississippi River accounts for huge amounts of waterborne freight transportation. If nobody lived (or rebuilt) in these areas because of hurricane and flood dangers, who would operate and maintain the oil and gas rigs, the refineries, the petrochemical plants, and the fisheries, not to mention the marinas that service the river boat tugs that transport goods, the farms that provide a significant portion of our food, and the recreation areas that serve millions of Americans?

Whatever your political ideology is with respect to what ought to be the proper role of the government, in particular the Federal government, it has, by historical precedent if nothing else, long been a major force and money source in building dams and levees for flood control, building highways, parks, and many other things deemed worthwhile or necessary for the public good. Frankly, I would a lot rather pay tax money to build levees and install pumping stations and the like to ensure the security of the energy and food supply, and the safety and wellbeing of the people who provide these things for the rest of us, than on frantic, unorganized, expensive rescue efforts and military troops to quell the looting and riots that result from failing to prepare in advance. (But tax money should not be the only money source. The oil companies and other commercial entities there should also help pay.)

For years now, the people of these regions have been begging for help from the government in upgrading the levees, yet the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for flood control was reduced in 2003. These are projects that are too big to be undertaken by individual citizens, companies, and private entrepreneurs; but they are of national importance. Before the attack of 9/11/01, FEMA reported that the three worst disasters that could befall the country were a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco, and a severe hurricane hit on the New Orleans area. But the report was ignored.

Over A. Barrel said...

Mr. P. Whitman is very knowledgeable about the region's economy. I can tell that he cares deeply about the affected region's commerce and its communities as well. His detailed comment will help us all to appreciate the vital importance of the affected areas to our country as a whole and our daily lives. Thank you very much.

Gil said...

If the geographical advantages of commerce in the New Orleans flood plain justify the costs of protecting it from damage, then those who wish to benefit from those advantages should have no problem affording the costs.

If there are powerful public goods arguments for others to want to contribute to subsidizing this development more than competing projects then, again, it should be possible to raise those funds voluntarily.

But, if the only way to pay for this development is to put a gun to the heads of me and millions of others, then to me that indicates prima facie evidence that those claims are false and the arguments are actually much weaker than the claimants would like us to believe.