Planet Earth

Political Arithmetic

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJan 13, 2006 8:10 PM


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Bush was in New Orleans yesterday, the day we learned that the federal budget deficit is going to be $ 60 billion more than expected, thanks to spending related to hurricane Katrina. Of course, that $ 60 billion hardly represents the only economic impact of the hurricane. For example, there are the insured and uninsured losses, which have been estimated at well over $ 100 billion. And then, of course, there's damage to the economy. Richard T. Carson, an economist at the University of California San Diego, has put the figure for that at around $ 1 trillion due to losses in shipping and tourism at a major port city. And of course, no one can put a monetary value on some kinds of destruction brought by the storm, ranging from loss of life, to a rise in mental illness and suicides, to loss of family pets, to the destruction of countless families' baby picture collections.

But the point is, these damages have a huge price tag on them. And given that price tag, it would easily have been worth it to spend a fortune before the storm to better defend New Orleans.

The same is obviously true today when it comes to the question of rebuilding the levees. I don't think New Orleans is going to have quite as much to lose as it did before, but I also know that it could be hit by an even more devastating storm. So the economic calculus in the future ought to be similar: Once again, it will be worth it to spend a fortune on hurricane protections.

Bush is spending $ 3.1 billion, and he seems unwilling to promise any more. It is hard to know what else to call this, except for an abdication of leadership and an abandonment of a city's future.

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