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How many smokers or obese people have medicaid and medicare in mind when they light up or snarf down? Is medicaid and medicare's coverage of preventable ailments analagous to federal disaster relief?

I once thought, perhaps cruelly, that anyone who had a smoking-related illness should not be illegible for Medicare/Medicaid. But I think you have a point that it would not significanlty change people's if smoking-related illnesses were not covered by Medicare/Medicaid. People like to live in denial. They think that they can always quit or lose weight "later." Suddenly, it's "later" and the damage is done. In some cases, people fail to accept responsibility altogether. The lawsuit against McDonald's was a bunch of fat people saying "it's not my fault." And if you object to the phrase "fat people," I happen to be one of them. I accept responsibility for it. I've been exercising regularly. It's hard work. Forget what the infomercials say about "10 easy minutes a day." Fortunately, I enjoy exercising. Trying to eat less is hard work. Unfortunately, I hate dieting. But I deal with it.


Wes argues that I overestimate the cost of rebuilding...Only that most of the money will not go to poor individuals who have the most desperate need - it is unlikely that poor people in New Orleans are going to be given the $200,000 each implied by a rebuilding cost of 100 billion for a city of 500,000).


The way I see it, coercion is most clearly justified when immediately necessary to protect other human beings from violence.So it have been be clearly justified to hold Bush's family hostage in order to prevent the US invasion of Iraq and protect millions in Iraq from violence at the hands of the United States? I'm not sure it really counts as pacifism but there sure would be a lot less wars if, every time some old guy tried to get young guys to commit acts of violence against human beings, the old guy's family got taken hostage until he stopped.I would say that coercion is most clearly justified when the benefits of coercion most clearly outweigh the harm. That may include specific instances of preventing violence against human beings (and imposing law and order generally) but there are also instances of violence against human beings where it is far from clear that the benefits are outweighed by the harm....destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein was a more worthwhile government endevor than making sure everyone has access to the basic necessities of life...The other day I saw someone wearing a sweatshirt with a big American flag that said something about being sympathetic to the victims of September 11th. I found myself wondering whether she also had a sweatshirt that said something about being sympathetic to the thousands of children that die every single day from inadequate nutrition.If governments use coercion and violence to impose an (economic) system where food is allocated in such a way that there are people (including young children) who starve to death then the governments (and the people who support such governments) are responsible for those deaths even if they are only killing people indirectly through starvation.Back to the topic at hand, if the US federal government had a uniform and standardized system for guaranteeing its citizens access to the basic necessities of life (rather than a hodge-podge of poorly organized federal and local government programs and private charities) it would have been much better able to help people from New Orleans.


Wes, There is an entire body of Law here in the States that covers such eventualities, it's called Martial Law. This body of Law covers everything from: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

I'm surprised that such forebearance has been shown to date by the proper authorities.


There is an entire body of Law here in the States that covers such eventualities, it's called Martial LawI was thinking of something more like the post office. Every town would have one in a central and prominent location but instead of dealing with mail they would provide access to things like minimal levels of food and shelter in an easily accessible standardized way.As it is, there are things like homeless shelters, battered women shelters, youth hostels (even some college dorms) and housing projects that provide shelter for people with limited resources while things like soup kitchens, subsidized meal programs and food stamp programs provide food for people with limited resources. The issue is not that the USA doesn't provide minimal food and shelter at all.The issue is that it does so only grudgingly in a disorganized and embarrassed manner. If the USA took pride in its ability to provide a minimal level of food and shelter for all its citizens and did so in an open, uniform and easily accessible manner then it would be a lot better able to cope when a lot of people got down on their luck all at once because of natural disasters.


Wes, From all the Media coverage I've seen, it doesn't look like many of these people are starving to death. Although dehydration might be a problem.


The discussion this week is full of assertions regarding what the federal government SHOULD provide to citizens. That "should" suggests some sort of legal and/or moral imperative.

While I think the federal government should use its resources to aid disaster relief (for instance, the military, its equipment and capabilities), I am uncertain whether the federal government SHOULD help with the reconstruction at all.

My uncertainty is not based on a cost-benefit analysis. It's based on my understanding of federalism and the way I'd like to see things work (my view of federalism might simply be what I think would be the the most beneficial arrangement to the nation as a whole -- ergo, a cost-benefit analysis).

I know the circumstances are dire, but I still think it is amazing (a) how much people WANT from the federal government and (b) either how much control they are willing to cede to the federal government or how ignorant they are of the implications of GETTING from the federal government.

Put simply: I don't want the federal government paying for my town's levy because (a) it's really not that important to them and (b) they will end up with even more control over my local community.

Of course, I recognize that federal dollars are used for all sorts of "local" projects and that the US Corps of Engineers is responsible for all sorts of levies, dams, etc. It's not, however, a situation I'm happy about or wish to perpetuate. It leads to stupid, childish remarks like, "We knew the levy was inadequate, but Washington didn't give us any money to fix it."

That thinking, that casuistry, leads exactly to what happened in New Orleans.

"But, Sam," you might say, "New Orleanians, like everyone else, pay a lot of federal taxes, and they just want their piece of the pie too. It's the plight of the commoner. Why should they have to pay for their levy when the feds paid for City X's levy, and, moreover, now that their levy broke, shouldn't the feds at least help rebuild their city?"

That's simply the cynical version of the same mind-set that led to the first failure.

And, now, to politics . . .

Whatever the rhetoric, neither party favors limiting the federal government. You Republicans with your shelves full of Friedman and Hayek and Nozick, it's time for some honest self-reflection.

Wes - My previous post referenced West Germany, "a republic in north central Europe on the North Sea; established in 1949" -- so I was not speaking of "what Germany did to Europe after the USA and friends imposed democracy following WWI."

Lauren Landsburg

The first comment on this article, ostensibly posted by "Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm" on September 4, is obviously a false posting by someone else.

Shirley Chisholm died January 1, 2005.


Lauren, We know that. That's why no one has really responded to it. Unless, of course, she has figured out some way to come back from the grave. Much the like the Phoenix or New Orleans.


One of the key reasons the Republican party has been increasingly successful at the national level is that people in the south have been transitioning from hating people of different ethnicities to hating people of different religions.So far, people in the south have seemed to value religious narrow-mindedness more than government competence: it's OK that the Bush administration has been so incompetent in its handling of the war in Iraq because at least it's beating on those nasty Muslims.It will be interesting to see whether people in the south still value religious narrow-mindedness more than government competence now that they have been personally affected by the Bush administration's emphasis on religious narrow-mindedness over government competence.I mean, sure let's leave humanitarian aid to poorly organized "faith" based "initiatives" while flushing hundreds of billions down the toilet beating on those nasty Muslims. Let's not even spend a fraction of those hundreds of billions on the infrastructure to deal with the situations where a lot of organized humanitarian aid is needed all at once by actual Americans.



Your argument relies on a trade-off between expenditures on the war, and expenditure on preventing and fixing NO. But the war is being financed by debt. In the longer term, the cost of the war will be repaid through some combination of higher taxes and less government expenditure than would have otherwise occurred, but this is of no obvious conseqence to NO today.

Without short run spending constraints and no shortage of funding to fix NO (unless you think $51B won't be enough), I can't see what Iraq has to do with this topic.

Re: "those nasty Muslims", wasn't Bush explicit in saying that the attack on Iraq wasn't against Muslims but the Iraqi leadership? What reason do Southerners have to not believe him?


Your argument relies on a trade-off between expenditures on the war, and expenditure on preventing and fixing NO.If there is a trade off between humanitarian assistance to Americans and the war in Iraq then the Bush administration has some very messed up priorities.If, on the other hand, as you assert, the government has unlimited financial resources then the miserable failure of the Bush administration to provide humanitarian assistance to the poor people of New Orleans in the aftermath of the flooding is even more troubling because it indicates either spectacular incompetence or even hostility toward poor people on the part of the Bush administration.

John Taupier

Mr. Posner mentioned nothing about the WHY of New Orleans. It is there, since it is at the mouth of the Mississippi and serves the port of entry and of exit for much of the imports and imports of the entire midwest. If it is abandoned, another city will take over this job - and have much the same vulnerabilities. Second, much is made of the "below sea level" argument. Since there is so much destruction, this would be a good time to revisit the Galveston precedent. When it was damaged in a previous hurricane, the entire island that it is on was raised up. It took 11 years, but we should be able to do better today.

Ken Judd

If you combine your numbers with the Army Corps of Engineers estimates for a storm of this magnitude, then cost-benefit analysis strongly supports the proposition that the levee system should have been substantially upgraded. I agree that $100 billion dollars is clearly an underestimate of the costs of this hurricane. The Army Corps of Engineers says that the probability of an event of this strength is about 1/2 per cent; see the interview with General Strock at


Cost-benefit analysis says that we should be willing to spend about $500 million per year if it would prevent a $100 billion disaster with 1/2 per cent probability, an amount that would certainly justify a $14 billion dollar project.

A more detailed analysis of the probability distributions of disaster costs and probabilities is needed but I would be surprised if a substantial improvement of flood control structures was not justified in the past 40 years. I would also be shocked if the cost-benefit analysis did not say that levee work in New Orleans was a better use of money than most of the other flood control projects in the U.S.


Judge Posner states that the decision cannot be a free market decision. I wonder...

Let's say $75b needs to be spent either way to clean up the toxic mess that is present day New Orleans. Then, you take the other $25b, and have a vote of New Orleans citizens. They could vote to get $50,000 in cash each but be forced to live elsewhere. or they could vote to get no cash but to have New Orleans get rebuilt properly with levees that could withstand a cat 5 hurricane.
My bet is the citizens, on average, would rather be given cash to relocate, rather than have the government rebuild their city.
At least I would if my annual income were $17k.


Bottom line! If Americans don't pay on the front end we will have to pay double on the back end.
Whatever decisions are made if they are not made during the prevention phase for the good of all mankind,everyone will have to get tripple taxed to clean up the mess of incompetent officials!
Our children to come will be born with a 1,500 dollar defict as a result of this hellbound administration. Charity begins at home and we have long neglected home and now we must pay!
Wake up and vote for the people not the dollar, not war and not injustice. The people will prevail but greed will fail.


I've yet to read all comments, but those I've read so far haven't mentioned one particularity of threat-prevention as regards natural threats, and specifically flooding and its cousins: that "hardening" can often negatively affect "mitigation." Hard, nonporous control systems increase the severity of threats they fail to control, both directly (greater-scale floods, and more catastrophic, ie taking less time to peak, ones) and indirectly (greater difficulties in clearing ground, evacuating people, more dangerous ground made economically useful, etc).


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