From the New Yorker, James Surowiecki writes:
There is no dearth of promising ideas out there, such as building a seawall beyond the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (the Dutch engineering firm Arcadis has proposed a movable barrier, like the Rotterdam one), burying power lines in vulnerable areas, and elevating buildings and subway entrances. The question is whether we can find the political will to invest in such ideas. Although New York politicians like the City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, and Governor Andrew Cuomo have called for major new investment in disaster prevention, reports from Washington suggest that Congress will be more willing to spend money on relief than on preparedness. That’s what history would lead you to expect: for the most part, the U.S. has shown a marked bias toward relieving victims of disaster, while underinvesting in prevention. A study by the economist Andrew Healy and the political scientist Neil Malhotra showed that, between 1985 and 2004, the government spent annually, on average, fifteen times as much on disaster relief as on preparedness.
We need to update and expand our nation’s infrastructure for two reasons- to save lives, and to save money. Like, lots of money:
Meaningful disaster-prevention measures will certainly be expensive: estimates for a New York seawall range from ten to twenty billion dollars. That may seem unreasonable at a time when Washington is obsessed with cutting the federal deficit. Yet inaction can be even more expensive—after Katrina, the government had to spend more than a hundred billion dollars on relief and reconstruction—and there are good reasons to believe that disaster-control measures could save money in the long run. The A.S.C.E. estimates that federal spending on levees pays for itself six times over, and studies of other flood-control measures in the developed world find benefit-to-cost ratios of three or four to one. The value for money is even higher in poor countries, where floods obliterate weak infrastructures. And a 2005 independent study of disaster-mitigation grants made by fema found that every dollar in grants ended up saving taxpayers $3.65 in avoided costs.
Whenever I read a story like this, I’m reminded of Japan. Japan was able to become an international power by going abroad and studying how other nations operated, and then copied what worked. If the United States is to remain competitive, then we need to start looking at what other nations are doing, and adapt it to suit our needs.