Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Peril Of Subsidies

Anne Applebaum raises some good, and uncomfortable, points in her op-ed in today's Washington Post. Putting aside the fact she uses a convenient target, the "notorious" Senator Trent Lott, the question arises: Is Ms. Applebaum willing to pursue her logic to its intellectual headwaters?

She laments, and not without reason, the fact that massive governmental involvement in the recovery of the Gulf Coast is little more than another subsidy program. I agree with her completely, particularly when the professed aim of such a program is to rebuild the same type of structures in the exact same spot where they were so recently destroyed. This area lies in the heart of hurricane country and will suffer the same cruel and capricious fate again sometime in the future. Hurricane Camille, which struck much of the same region in 1969 and cost $1.42 billion dollars, would have cost, in constant dollars and not factoring the growth in the area, $75 billion dollars today. In 35 years from now if yet another hurricane strikes the same area, and the inflation and growth factor from 1969 to the present are roughly the equivalent, that hurricane would cost $3.45 trillion. That is almost a trillion dollars more than the entire federal budget for 2006.

These numbers do not, and cannot, take into account the human toll of the disaster. Our hearts go out to all of those who have lost everything, but must we be forced to proffer our wallets as well? If the answer is yes, how many more times?

Hurricane Katrina has thrust upon us disquieting questions that deserve open and honest debate. Concurrent with this discussion should be the efficacy and fairness of other subsidy programs as well, many of which are legacies from Roosevelt's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society. Will Ms. Applebaum and others like her welcome that colloquy?

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