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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Don't give away personal responsibility

Schroeder posted an entry on his blog this morning about an editorial at the Washington Post. (Note: he was pretty mad. Strong language warning.)

Since that post went up, he and I have been debating a bit in his comments section about the following excerpt:

Congress should therefore do the right thing: Drop the plan to pay for flood insurance for those who don't have it, since that will discourage others elsewhere from taking out flood insurance.

One could argue for the moral response to New Orleans’ unique situation: levees built by the federal government did not perform “as advertised”, thus causing the profound destruction throughout most of the city. Yet placing all the responsibility for protecting personal property on the government (imho) effectively removes all individual liability – and I can’t go there.

When one has a mortgage, the holder of the loan requires the property to be protected. Obviously, that requirement is there to minimize the risk of potential loss, which would leave the bank (or whoever) left with nothing. In the case of properties in designated flood zones, that protection necessarily includes flood insurance in addition to “usual” hazards. However, once that mortgage is paid off, the homeowner is the party at risk, and insurance – all of it – is optional.

As it happens, I totally understand how someone might end up in a position where they would drop the coverage. There is a member of my immediate family who could not afford to pay for it for a while, and even though she understood the potential risk, she dropped the hazard insurance. Ultimately, the fear of losing everything trumped some other necessities, and she paid the back premiums, thus reinstating her coverage.

One could argue that in some cases, there is nothing to “give up” to afford the insurance. That’s certainly a sad, but true, situation sometimes, yet unless the goal is dependence on the government for everything, we cannot start down this path – no matter how unique Katrina was. Furthermore, everybody who flooded in New Orleans was not poor - and I am not talking about Lakeview. The 9th Ward is actually (mostly) middle class.

Flooding has to have been expected in NOLA. I was stunned, in fact, that so little occurred in Algiers, because we used to take our canoe into the streets there after a tropical storm. However, some houses in Algiers did have some flooding – totally unrelated to the levee breaches. Did they have flood insurance? Dunno, but they should have.

I have to agree with the WaPo editorial here. If the government pays for non-insured flood damage , there’s little or no incentive for anyone to take personal responsibility for their own potential losses. Why would they?

Personally, I don’t want to live in a country where people can totally absolve themselves of personal responsibility via total dependence on a government, nor do I want a government that attempts to handle millions of cases on an individual basis.

The mind absolutely boggles at the scale of bureaucracy - the sheer size required for such a path, and if we’ve learned nothing else from FEMA’s example, we need to get this: nothing can replace individual action.


  • At 11:25 AM, Blogger westrom said;

    i am sorry, but i strongly disagree. it is not about personal responsability or having insurance or not.
    it is about the government being responsible and reimbursing people for their employees professional mistakes. if they were a private company, they would have had liability insurance, and would have been sued.
    the levees failed due to flawed design. It is the 21st century, people were on the moon decades ago, before these levees were built if i might mention, and it is unacceptable that the most technologically advanced country in the world doesn't hire engineers who can make soil boring tests and include fluid mechanics and computer models for soil erosion in their levee design. did anyone hear that the dutch did just that? or for that matter, on a smaller scale, the germans, the egyptians, and others? why were they able to do it and we weren't, since we are larger, richer and more powerful?
    how can we not hold the government accountable when it makes value engineering decisions at the peril of its taxpayers, but carelesly spends billions on no-bid military contracts and the rebuilding of other countries?
    I came here as an immigrant years ago, and perhaps the main reasons i left my country and decided this is the country i want to be in were equal opportunity and accountability, none of which were working in my home country at the time. I still hope they will work here and now. there are too many eyes on our rebuilding; we cannot not start the reconstruction with accountability and retribution. we all learn from mistakes, and we can only avoid this happening again if we eliminate what caused it. like misdirected priorities, engineers and department chiefs instated through nepotism and political maneuvering, ignoring the whistleblowers... (the engineering firm who said 17' below sea level is not enough, the homeowners with water puddling in their levee-adjacent backyards, the environmentalists decrying the loss of wetlands and the global warming)
    contrary to what many said, this "is the time to cast blame"! it's overdue since august 29th.


  • At 11:37 AM, Blogger Polimom said;

    Hi Vlad,

    Actually, the US Army Corps of Engineers has been sued in the past - and I fully expect them to be sued now. Gonna be a class action suit to put anything we've ever seen to shame.

    But that's a separate thing (to me) from the flood insurance - a common sense hedge in any area that floods.

    Just a few minutes ago, some news came out that the federal goverenment is now agreeing to rebuild the levees to at least the levels they were supposed to have been pre-Katrina. (I wrote about it here.) They're committing to the entire former footprint of the city, too. Will that mean that NOLA will never flood again? Of course not. It always has, to some degree or another.

    I'm absolutely thrilled beyoond words that they're going to commit to protection for all neighborhoods, but when people come back, should they have insurance?

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