Commentary: Because Wealth is Limited, Future Katrinas Always a Risk
- From: "Scott M. Kozel" <kozelsm@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 06 Sep 2005 19:20:44 -0400
"Commentary: Because wealth is limited, future Katrinas always a risk"
Web Posted: 09/05/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Lee P. Rodgers
Nothing could compare to the differences between the hip-hop celebrities
at the MTV Video Music Awards recently and the masses of people wading
through the chaos of New Orleans in the days that followed.
On one side, you had some of the best-coiffed, best-dressed and
richest-fed beautiful people on the planet. On the other, you see people
who haven't looked in a mirror in days ? and could care less because
they may not have eaten in the same time.
The Diddys and Madonnas of the world don't stand in line for anyone. The
common folks around the Superdome stand because they have no place to
This contrast points to a central truth about the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina. In the end, much in life comes down to money. If you have
enough money, you have access to everything. Even if your mansion in one
city is destroyed, you can relax in one of your other homes while it is
repaired. You never have to worry about what you will eat. You don't
have to be concerned about security. Someone will take care of it
(that's why they are on the payroll).
The rest of us have a different existence. We live as well as we can
with what we have. We buy the car we can afford and the house we can pay
for and enjoy the security that our taxes allow. Yes, we could live in a
better house, but that would require cutting corners on our kids'
education. We could buy a nicer car, but that means we can't take that
trip to Disneyland this year. Our security, fire department and the
education of our children are all based on the taxes we are willing to
The disaster in New Orleans is bringing out all the normal complaints
that the government could have done this or it should have done that.
Why weren't we better prepared for this storm? Why didn't we build
stronger levees? Why aren't we doing more to help evacuees?
The short answer is that we could have done each of the things
suggested. But contrary to the beliefs of some utopians and those who
think that somehow this storm was part of a Halliburton conspiracy, we
can't take risk out of life. And we don't have unlimited cash to prevent
every potential disaster.
You want a stronger levee? Fine. Unfortunately, to pay for that, we will
have to forgo rebuilding public schools. That's not acceptable? Then I
guess we could postpone that sports arena you needed to attract a major
league team. Not good either? Well, I guess we need to "increase
revenues," which means raising taxes, which will slow down the economic
growth that the city needs to create jobs.
So you make compromises. What's the worst case scenario ? a Category 5
hurricane? When is the last time one of those came through here? Never?
Well, maybe we shouldn't spend all our wealth to protect us from
something that has never happened. Maybe we should build levees to stand
up to a Category 3 hurricane. It should be enough in most cases. If a
Category 5 comes through, we are in deep trouble, but based on history,
that shouldn't happen.
For most of my adult life, I worked for the federal government. One of
the truths we lived with was that you could do anything you wanted ? but
you had to get it done with the money that was in the budget. There were
only two ways of increasing your resources. You either had to convince
people that your project deserved the money more than anybody else's
project. Or you had to get everyone to agree the projects were so
important that the only solution was to increase the amount of money
pulled out of taxpayers' pockets. Neither was simple or easy. The
solution usually came down to searching for ways to accomplish more with
the same (and often less) resources.
Fixing New Orleans will be one of the biggest undertakings our country
has faced. It will test our wills and our will to pay. But that is all
in front of us. Americans from all over the country will be involved, if
only because of the indirect effect it will have on the cost of
everything we buy.
Trying to score points by Monday morning quarterbacking the past and
current leaders of our communities is a waste of energy and doesn't put
one brick on top of another. Until we find a way to create unlimited
wealth, we will always face situations where people will say, "If only
they had ..."
Lee P. Rodgers is medical director at TerraHealth Inc. in San Antonio.
He earned his M.D. at Tulane University in New Orleans and served in the
U.S. Air Force for more than 31 years.
[end of article]
Scott M. Kozel Highway and Transportation History Websites
Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. http://www.roadstothefuture.com
Philadelphia and Delaware Valley http://www.pennways.com
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