Allow me to quote liberally – it’s not often that I find an editorial in USA Today or another major outlet which basically paraphrases everything I’ve ever said about natural disasters and socialized “insurance.” Note: Bad copy has not been edited.
Butone thing that the wildfires share with Katrina is that both naturaldisasters were made worse by the propensity of people to build homes inhigh-risk areas. Katrina’s economic impact was magnified by developmentalong the vulnerable Gulf Coast. Similarly, the wildfires have beenparticularly brutal in newly developed communities in fire-pronescrublands and dry pine forests.
A USA TODAY analysis Thursday found that 55,000 people have moved into new communities hit by the fires — just since 2000. Building in fire-prone areas has been running at twice the state average. And one devastated community in Orange County has tripled its population in the past seven years to 22,329.
Something is obviously wrong here. Public safety is one of the most important functions of state and local governments, which can and should do more to discourage people from moving to dangerous areas, and minimizing the consequences when they do.
To some degree, market forces can help address the problem. Higher homeowners’ insurance rates discourage building in unsafe areas. But this approach only goes so far.
In the Gulf, it’s impossible to even talk of market forces because they have been distorted by the federal flood insurance program, which encourages people to build in flood and hurricane-prone areas by offering them insurance and rates well below what is necessary to cover the costs of catastrophes…
And so on. If you’ve read my posts on this sort of thing, USAToday will all sound vaguely familiar to you.