curious I am

I have absolutely no idea how much $$$ it would have taken to make the New Orleans levee system tolerant of category 5 hurricane. Maybe the money bag that Bush and friends diverted to Iraq would've been enough. Maybe it would have taken several pork barrels. In any case, within a few hours of the public identifying an actual public need, more money than would have been necessary to update the levees rolled into the coffers of various private charities. Unfortunately, that money now has to be used to fix people's lives instead of just an earthen dam.

Still, I wonder. Would the public have donated money to a fund designed to shore up the levees before the catastrophe? Are they also as penny-wise and pound-foolish as the federal government? While the government holds a monopoly on "public goods" I suppose not, but it sure would be neat to find out.


  1. Anonymous11:22 AM

    There is an easier solution uggested by a clever commenter on Tyler Cowan's blog:

    Sell off the levees as prime real estate!

    The point is of course that they all have uninterrupted views over water - which - as we all know - commands a huge premium.

    Once you have thousands of high value homes lining the tops of the levees, each owner will have a direct interest in preserving and maintaining his / her little bit of levee, quite irrespective of what anybody else does and indeed irrespective of what happens to other bits of levee.

    As far as I can see, this ought to solve the problem entirely, or at least far better than any competing solution, whether libertarian or statist.

  2. Anonymous11:29 AM

    This is url for the original post, by a chap called Tom Kelly:

  3. Oh, I'm always for making everything private but will the people go for that? Most of the levee system did work last week. All it takes is one bad spot to make the rest of the levee useless. I wouldn't take on that kind of responsibility even with insurance. I'd much rather share the costs (financially and emotionally) of a wall with my neighbors than take care of one spot myself. I also don't care about free riders as long as my needs are met. I'd also be concerned if one of those hill people lost their job and put off repairs and insurance for a year or five. Just declaring it prime real estate doesn't mean good, rich people will waltz in.

    Besides, my real point is that the people are willing to come together to solve problems that are of a community nature. They don't need government to do a poorer version of what they can accomplish by themselves.

  4. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Maybe you are right that voluntary contributions towards a collectively owned wall might work; but realistically, which wall are you more likely to maintain? The 50 yard stretch that holds up your house up, or your abstract one millionth share in the whole thing?

    As regards the hill people losing their jobs, this isn't a problem. The land would likely be leased on a network of covenants. The freeholder(s) would do the maintenance and the individual lessees would simply pay an annual service charge. If they failed to pay, they would forfeit their lease. Either way, the work still gets done.

  5. Anonymous5:57 PM

    As a resident of an affluent deed restricted community, I can assure you from experience that some people do not behave according to model. They let their properties go to shit, and foreclosures can take years.

  6. In Miami Beach, people pay over a million dollars for a small, empty, waterside plot. Since these are barrier islands, if you do not have a seawall the island will, grain by grain, move back into the sea, starting with your back yard. If you take a quick looksy, you'll see plenty of seawalls in desperate need of repair.

    Besides, if those leases are on levee land that, to me, makes it quasi-public land. Why would I take on that property if I can have constraint free land that won't harm others if I fail in my upkeep? That by itself will lower the value of the levee land.

  7. Anonymous8:44 AM

    Woody: I suspect that the difficulties with foreclosure are the product of over-zealous State regulation of landlord/tenant law.

    Margaret: (1) Are the plots in Miami beach actually on the seawalls? If not, then it is not a fair comparison. (2) You are right that the cost of levee maintenance lowers the value of levee land. But the fabulous views raise it. If the latter exceeds the former, then the model is workable. I have no idea what the numbers look like, but in England, water views can increase a property value by a factor of 3 or 4 - more than enough to make up for the cost of levee maintenance, I should think.

  8. These aren't jetties or piers these are walls that hold up your backyard. They run parallel to what would be the shore/beach. They would be between your dock and your land. If they break your back lawn goes into the water and eventually your house.

    A fabulous view of a garbage strewn canal on one side and a housing project on the other? The levees broke on side canals. The Mississippi side is already the high ground. Three to four times the value would not be enough for me to take on that responsibility in New Orleans. Miami, sure, it wouldn't be as expensive or deadly if I screw up. But who in the world wants to be the one thought responsible for calamity in New Orleans as we see it today?

  9. Anonymous4:01 PM

    Theory founders on the rock of reality then. Not the first time ;-)

  10. The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men...


  11. Mind you, I think levees can be privatized but it would be a different species of animal from housing properties.


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