Dr. Bruce Weinstein is a syndicated columnist and author of Life
Principles: Feeling Good by Doing Good (Emmis Books). His Web site
The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness.” Americans who live in the Gulf Coast
region, the Midwest or Northern California, among other places, trace
their ancestry back many generations. They don’t want to leave the land, for good reason: Their
history is there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the land is their history.
Even if wealthy groups exert a powerful influence on how our hard-earned tax dollars are
spent, we can still make our voices heard. And our voices should be crying out to help those who
need financial assistance the most.
There are three powerful reasons why the federal government ought to support communities
built in areas susceptible to natural disaster.
First, the federal government is us, not an entity apart from us. Our tax dollars should be
invested first in programs that have a direct, material bearing on our lives, and the rebuilding of
areas devastated by catastrophe is just such a program.
Second, we are entitled to a return on investments of our labor. We work hard for our
money, and to see that money, in the form of tax dollars, being diverted from projects that make
our very survival possible is more than unfortunate. It’s unfair.
Finally, we’re supposed to look after one another. If the rest of us do not help people whose
lives have been ruined by hurricanes, earthquakes and the like, what kind of society do we have?
Of course, it doesn’t make sense to throw good money after bad. We ought to create infrastructures in high-risk areas that will decrease, even though they cannot entirely eliminate, the
chances that these localities will be wiped out again. Also, with rights come responsibilities, and
those who choose to live in these parts of the country should play a central role in their sustenance and reconstruction. If you get, you ought to give.
In short, justice, compassion and simple human decency require us to help the newly disenfranchised rebuild their homes and communities. There but for the grace of God go we. C
Should people make New
from experts in the field:
Adrian Moore is an economist who specializes in studying
how public policy affects business decisions about investing
and location. He’s vice president of the Reason Foundation ( www.
reason.org), a nonprofit research organization based in Los Angeles.
We’ve learned a few things over the years about rebuilding after a
disaster, and let’s not forget them in our anguish over recent catastrophes
such as New Orleans.
In 1993 the Mississippi River overflowed the levee protecting
Valmeyer, Illinois, and destroyed the town. Community leaders looked hard at their choices:
rebuild the town as it was or move the town to safer land. They chose the latter, and rebuilt the
town—businesses, homes, schools, city hall—a mile and a half away and 400 feet higher.
Valmeyer was a small town, not a big city. But they realized that spending ridiculous amounts
of money could not guarantee flood protection for structures built below the river level.
We should admire Valmeyer’s practicality. And we should think back over the years to how
much we objected to federal bailouts allowing rich owners of beach houses to rebuild each time
a hurricane knocked their houses down.
Now that many want federal spending to allow rebuilding in the parts of New Orleans below
sea level, the lesson of Valmeyer and ritzy beach homes is crucial. There is a choice. The New
Orleans that does not face unreasonable risk can be rebuilt. Other parts can be located elsewhere.
We have to ask ourselves, how fair is it to make people living in Pennsylvania or Ohio pay
billions for massive engineering projects so that some of the people of New Orleans can go
back to the way things were and avoid the hard choices nature presents them?
It is plain as day that as long as the federal government is willing to bail out people who
build homes or businesses in high-risk locations, they will keep building there. And you and I
will keep paying for them to rebuild.
Federal policy should be to help the victims of the floods but not undertake the massive
projects to reclaim areas of the city built below sea level. If the people of New Orleans want to
rebuild there, more power to them. They can fund the levees with local taxes or fees. There are
ways to make it work that don’t tap the limited resources of people who never chose to live
below sea level. C
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