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So this is partly a regurgitation of a hastily-written comment I wrote earlier today, but with some key added explanation.

I think that disaster relief funding should be provided, in the end, at the state and local level rather than at the federal level.  This isn't because I'm a fan of states' rights or otherwise a closeted right-winger.  It's simply that I think that we should not only adopt policies that ensure that people get aid when disaster strikes, but also adopt policies that make it less likely that people will need such aid in the first place.

Here goes.

This was the comment I made earlier today on Governor Crotchitch's refusal to accept federal disaster aid:

This actually isn't really on-point here because of the nature of tornadoes.  But actually, as a general matter, I don't like national-level disaster relief in rich world countries, including ours.  In general, this is one of the areas where I think the costs are more sensibly borne by the state and local governments.  Because in many cases, the types of disasters are foreseeable for the locality in question.

If people choose to live or set up an apartment complex in an earthquake zone or along a river that floods all the time or along a coast that gets hit by many hurricanes, they should know that there's a good chance their house will be destroyed by an earthquake or a flood or a hurricane.  Someone will end up having to pay for the consequences when it happens.  By rushing money off whenever there's a disaster, society is basically subsidizing people to live in dangerous places.

Tornadoes are different, obviously.  You can't know that someone's house in Ohio (or even in Oklahoma) will be affected by a tornado with the confidence that you can be sure someone's house in Riverside will be affected by an earthquake during a given 50 year period.

The continuation of global warming is going to make this more of an issue.  Sea levels well rise, and coastlines will retreat.  If we know with substantial certainty that a particular house is going to get swallowed by the sea in the next 50 years, we should be discouraging people from living there.

Like I said, not directly on point.  But this sort of thing will be happening more and more in the future.  We should be trying to discourage people from moving into hurricane/flood zones as the incidence of those events increases during the next few decades.

Actually, now that I think about it, tornadoes should be a part of the equation too in the aggregate - you may not be able to predict with the same confidence that a person in Tulsa's house will be hit by a tornado as you can that a person's house in Miami will eventually be hit by a hurricane, but you can say that the Tulsan is more likely to be tornado-affected than someone living in, say, Salt Lake City.

Anyway, in response to my post, a number of people got up in arms and basically missed the point of what I was saying.  For instance:

There is no place that is not subject to the whims of nature. Would you have humans abandon Los Angeles and San Francisco? Most of the west coast? All of tornado alley? All of Florida? Most of the east coast? All of the Mississippi river valley? All of the Gulf Coast? Most of the northern tier of states? Alaska? Hawaii? Seattle? Seriously, where would you have people live?
This misses the point.

I never said people shouldn't live in places where disasters are likely.  That's impractical.  Nor did I say "every man for himself" or even "no government aid."  That's immoral.  What I saying was that state and local government aid should be the source of disaster relief.  It's one of the few areas where I actually believe that's a better approach than federal funding.

Why?  Because having fewer people moving to places where earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters are particularly likely would be a good thing.  Fewer people would die and less economic damage would occur when disasters do strike.

How might this be accomplished?  Pass a federal law requiring states to maintain disaster relief pools sufficient (either in the form of cash or insurance policies) to cover 150% of projected disaster relief needs - which actuaries are remarkably good at projecting.  Have a federal reinsurance program that provides no-interest loans to states whose pools ultimately prove to meet actual needs when they arise.  But that way, the tax burden (and therefore overall cost of living) along the San Andreas fault will be appropriately higher than in, say, Boise.

The New York Times actually did a story last year after the last of the mega-tornado-outbreaks that had a map showing that we can, in fact, predict this:

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As I said, I'm not suggesting that right NOW with the CURRENT regime of disaster relief, that states should shun disaster relief funds.  I'm saying that GOING FORWARD, we should adopt policies that require states and localities to fund such aid rather than the federal government.  That way, money would still be there when disaster strikes.  But the higher tax burden would mean that people would be less likely to move to places that are more disaster-prone.  Fewer people would die.  Disasters would become less costly.

What's wrong with that?

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