Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Disasters, Debt and Public Dissatisfaction

In a recent Gallup poll showing that 20% of Americans feel that the most important problem facing the US is the Federal deficit.  Dissatisfaction with government was listed as a top concern by 18% of Americans.  Gallup explains that concern for the deficit is heavily associated with those that identify as being Republican and concern about government is more of a democratic phenomenon.  Both concerns have been demonstrated recently by the difficulty Congress has demonstrated in assisting New York and New Jersey in dealing with "Superstorm" Sandy.  Congress passes about $10 billion; $60B was originally requested.

Money that pours into disaster stricken areas, it has been argued, generally serves to boost the economy and therefore, addresses 21% of Americans who are primarily concerned with the "economy in general" and 16% of Americans concerned with unemployment.  Likewise, it can be argued, that such short term investments benefit the nation in the long run in the form of jobs, GDP, and taxes (e.g. property). For instance, consider that between 1981 and 2005, New York and New Jersey paid out far more in federal taxes then they received in Federal spending.  The nation benefited from concentrated wealth and development in these areas.

But the reluctance of Congress to keep dishing out money for disasters seems to indicate, perhaps, a growing distaste in the population for using real estate development or certain types of development as a means to produce national wealth.  There is an indication that the public feels that they do not benefit enough from this activity or certain aspects of this activity.  After all, development along shorelines tends to be pricey, driving up local cost of living and reduces the public's accessibility to the natural environment.  A recent NYTimes opinion, argued that land management decisions has violated the public's right to the shoreline.  As well, recent experience with the housing market collapse has left many Americans feeling negatively about the real estate industry.

Given that aspects of the economy can benefit from disasters and that the public is concerned about the economy but doesn't seem too keen on disasters generally nor for paying their ever increasing costs, good political leadership should look towards policies that would both decrease vulnerability and stimulate the economy.  Extensive environmental and engineering science, land management and building funding and administrative systems are available- only a new direction is needed.  For the added bonus, such change would likely go a long way with those that are dissatisfied with government's ability to make meaningful decisions.  

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