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Religion, Politics and World Events They make great dinner conversation, don't you think? plus Political Film

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Old 09-14-05, 03:37 PM   #1
grundle
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Past experience shows better recovery from floods without federal aid.

http://www.nationalreview.com/nrof_c...0509140845.asp

September 14, 2005, 8:45 a.m.

A Deluge Instructs

The Mississippi flood of 1927, and its lessons for 2005.

By John Tamny

With the $62 billion that’s been approved for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts set to run out in the coming weeks, a competition between the Democrats and Republicans has seemingly begun over which party can be more generous with the peoples’ money. So far, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg is the leader of this spending movement, having “bid” $200 billion last week. The initial outlay of $62 billion already is a record disbursement for a U.S. natural disaster, and arguably has its roots in the unprecedented federal response to the 1927 Mississippi River flood that similarly crippled New Orleans and much of the South.

The 1927 relief effort was unparalleled. According to historian John Barry, who wrote the 1997 book Rising Tide, there was at the time “a fault line in American thought about the role of government and how much responsibility it had for its citizens.” Before 1927, this fault line had not been crossed.

Indeed, in 1887 President Grover Cleveland vetoed a $10,000 appropriation for drought victims in Texas based on his contention that the federal government had no “warrant in the Constitution … to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds.” In 1907 the federal government demanded that banks in New Orleans put up $250,000 before the surgeon general would help fight the yellow fever epidemic there.

Despite the fact that the 1927 flood left 1 percent of the U.S. population homeless, had an estimated death toll in the thousands, and burdened the Red Cross with nearly 700,000 refugees to feed, there was great reluctance on the part of Southern leaders to initiate federal action. When President Calvin Coolidge refused to call Congress into session to respond to the flood, they backed him.

The consensus during that era was that government should do nothing in times of a localized natural crisis. This was in particular true of the federal government. According to Barry, “direct aid had always been considered charity, and charity stigmatized recipients.” When a 1922 flood in Tennessee left 35,000 homeless, Gov. John Parker refused all outside help — even from the Red Cross. In the aftermath of the ’27 flood, Tennessee Gov. Austin Peay similarly refused aid given his belief that “the people in the local communities should be expected to provide for themselves, rather than depend on outside assistance.”

Commenting on the events of 1927, the Chicago Journal of Commerce stated that if “relief of sufferers were to become a government task, the self-respect of recipients of funds would be decidedly damaged.” A New York Times editorial said it was fortunate “there are still some things that can be done without the wisdom of Congress and the all-fathering Federal Government.”

Still, the federal government did involve itself in the local disaster of ’27, and Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover’s unprecedented relief efforts arguably won him the White House the next year. Notably, federal relief was mild by today’s standards, and none of it was direct. Instead, Hoover created government reconstruction corporations that created $13 million in credit for flood victims. At the time the federal government was running a budget surplus of $635 million.

But slopes are slippery, and by 1928 Congress passed a flood-control bill for the Mississippi River that was “the greatest expenditure the government has undertaken except in the World War.” The Mississippi River was now a national problem, and U.S. taxpayers were seemingly for the first time on the hook for expenditures made to fix a problem that was local in nature. Not unlike spending estimates that are made today — though the total cost for the federal flood-control plan was $300 million — the consensus was that it would run to $1 billion. About the bill, Barry noted that it “set a precedent of direct, comprehensive, and vastly expanded federal involvement in local affairs.”

Despite this massive flow of taxpayer funds into the South, its economies did not boom. New Orleans, formerly the richest city in America, actually declined.

Sen. Gregg (among others) should take note. Massive aid has never worked to do more than temporarily patch an injured economy, and it won’t work this time. More important, it has to be asked whether or not today’s federal bidding wars between the political parties are examples of “moral hazard” at its worst.

This is not meant to minimize the truly awful impact of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana and Mississippi. But if U.S. taxpayers are going to pay each time a natural disaster strikes within our borders, won’t there be less incentive on the part of states, municipalities, and builders to plan and construct cities and housing developments with local hazards in mind? Just as the existence of the IMF makes it possible for private banks to make bad loans, can it be said that the ability of the U.S. government to tax its citizenry makes city and state governments less cautious, and less mindful of the potential for disasters?

Americans have been extraordinarily generous in Katrina’s aftermath, but has their generosity been tempered by the federal response? What about local leadership? Absent the existence of federal outfits such as FEMA and the Department of Defense, does anyone honestly think that the voters of New Orleans and Louisiana would have elected such obvious incompetents as Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco?

The latter question is especially important as our leaders in Washington look to the break the bank with relief funds. Not only is it not compassionate to spend other peoples’ money, if the disaster in Louisiana tells us anything, the existence of the “benevolent” federal government means that ineffective local responses to local disasters will arguably increase in frequency.

While it’s certainly not compassionate to say the federal government should finally put its foot down and stay out of local relief efforts, it’s perhaps the right thing to do. It may be the only thing that insures better local response the next time something as awful as Katrina strikes.
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Old 09-14-05, 03:43 PM   #2
Red Dog
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It is no coincidence that Cleveland and Coolidge are 2 of my favorite presidents.
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Old 09-14-05, 03:49 PM   #3
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grundle doesn't care about black people.


There...I said it.
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Old 09-14-05, 03:51 PM   #4
classicman2
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1927
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Old 09-14-05, 03:58 PM   #5
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My late grandfather lived through the flood of '27 and had a photograph he or his dad took from the hayloft of their barn showing everything just below the doorway completely underwater. Pretty crazy stuff.

It was his contention that that flood of '27 and the Republican governments reluctance to act (particularly to help poor black southerners) which caused the black vote to switch almost completely from Republican to Democrat.

Given the times I think most would admit that it is hard to separate the resistence to providing aid due to honest idealogical concerns and down-home racist hatred. Considering that at the time there would be a decent number of people living in the south who actually remembered being slaves themselves, it seems rather apparent how they took it.
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Old 09-14-05, 03:58 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by classicman2
1927
You got something against 1927?
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Old 09-14-05, 04:02 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Myster X
You got something against 1927?

I think it was the year he retired
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Old 09-14-05, 04:05 PM   #8
classicman2
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No, I'm just rather amused with the comparison between governmental action in 1927 and 2005.
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Old 09-14-05, 04:05 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by classicman2
1927
No.

Mississippi 1927.
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Old 09-14-05, 04:06 PM   #10
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Hey, grundle - this thread reminds me of a book I read last week: The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Have you ever read that? If not, I definitely think you would like it.
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Old 09-14-05, 04:07 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kvrdave
grundle doesn't care about black people.


There...I said it.
And midgets.
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Old 09-14-05, 04:07 PM   #12
Red Dog
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Quote:
Originally Posted by classicman2
No, I'm just rather amused with the comparison between governmental action in 1927 and 2005.

Except when it comes to state-sponsored religion, right?
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"A question for you. Would you rather Bucknell make the NCAA's once every 20 years or so and get ass raped by teams like Kansas in the first round or have them drop down a rung to a confernce where they can compete for a title?"
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Old 09-14-05, 04:10 PM   #13
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There's been a very subtle shift in the balance of power between state and federal governments in the last 78 years.

I doubt Louisiana or Mississippi would have the wherewithal - specifically, tax money - necessary to fund relief in a non-geological timeframe.

- David Stein
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Old 09-14-05, 04:10 PM   #14
classicman2
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I'm certain, if you really put your mind to it, you can fathom the difference, can't you?
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Old 09-14-05, 04:28 PM   #15
Red Dog
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Quote:
Originally Posted by classicman2
I'm certain, if you really put your mind to it, you can fathom the difference, can't you?

Sorry, no. I don't use the same-way-for-150-years argument selectively like yourself.
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"A question for you. Would you rather Bucknell make the NCAA's once every 20 years or so and get ass raped by teams like Kansas in the first round or have them drop down a rung to a confernce where they can compete for a title?"
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Old 09-14-05, 05:21 PM   #16
classicman2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sfsdfd
There's been a very subtle shift in the balance of power between state and federal governments in the last 78 years.

I doubt Louisiana or Mississippi would have the wherewithal - specifically, tax money - necessary to fund relief in a non-geological timeframe.

- David Stein
I know they wouldn't have the money. I heard some estimates just a few minutes ago that the initial cost of reconstruction would exceed the amount spent on the Iraq War.
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Old 09-14-05, 05:45 PM   #17
grundle
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kvrdave
grundle doesn't care about black people.


There...I said it.
That's true.

But I don't care about white people either.
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Old 09-14-05, 05:47 PM   #18
grundle
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Dog
Hey, grundle - this thread reminds me of a book I read last week: The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Have you ever read that? If not, I definitely think you would like it.
I've read about it, but I haven't read it. Thanks for telling me about it.
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