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January 26, 2006


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Stephen M. Griffin

Without meaning to comment directly on the idea of a "market for aid," let me suggest that the New Orleans perspective would be that we shouldn't have to make a case for anything, given that the failure of the levees was a forseeable consequence of the federal government's negligence in their construction. That puts a different spin on the situation. The Nola perspective is that what happened was the federal government's fault and that government has to make good.

I'll be talking about some of these issues at Chicago tomorrow when I speak to the ACS around noon.

Steve Griffin
Professor, Tulane Law School

Mike Felder

Professor Griffin's concern that the federal government may in fact have been partially responsible for the occurrence of the Katrina/New Orleans disaster, of course, presupposes that the proper role of the federal government is to facilitate every exercise of the will of select groups of individuals to inhabit (or, in the case of New Orleans, to continue to inhabit) what may in a modern society be a less than ideal locale for habitation, particularly in light of freely chosen patterns of development that lessen the natural barriers that protected against disasters like hurricanes.
In a case like modern day New Orleans, the federal government instead appears to have been artificially supporting an area that, while culturally significant, was no longer economically worth supporting, and as such may have been better off if allowed to reach that fate without the artificial support of federal aid.
As such, it is rather disingenuous to suggest that it was the fault of the federal government to provide this support.
With respect to a market for aid, just as Congressional aid distribution reflects the influence of political power, so too will the better connected recieve aid at a level senior to some less connected areas. It seems that the best solution is indeed to take a wait-and-see approach, selecting with some degree of hindsight the areas that appear to be strong enough to generate interest in rejuvenation without artificial federal aid and to then inject selective amounts of aid into those areas.


Even assuming negligent construction, it would be surprising (and probably but not surely) unwise to expect this sort of deviation from old sovereign immunity. If the government had to pay for all its policies gone wrong (with negligence, but there is always some of that!), it would be yet harder to get these interventionist policies in place at the outset. Imagine government responsibility for poorly designed or executed welfare programs. How much of a chance would the next welfare program have of passage? A passion for New Orleans should not lead to a presumptive policy about government negligence. And why ignore local and state government "negligence?"
In any event, if only half the population returns, it is not obvious that government payments should go only to those who return, and that was the starting point of the original post.


I hope that the post katrina efforts have brought back life to the area.

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