Saturday, May 27, 2017

Shifting Sands: Government in the Service of the One Percent

David Owen, writing in this week's New Yorker, offers, almost inadvertently, a perfect example of how government serves the very rich, out of sight, significantly and on a scale which dwarfs food stamps.

This is an article about geology, "The End of Sand/ Annals of Geology" actually, and there is much in it to fascinate the least political among us.  
Who knew so much was known about the microscopic properties of sand, the shapes of grains and what this means for asphalt roads, beach volley ball, concrete skyscrapers?  Just on an intellectual basis alone, it is worth reading. Makes you appreciate how much mankind knows, how he can use minutia to build vast metropolises or to preserve them.

But from the political angle, there is enough here to outrage people from either end of the political spectrum, everyone from Howard Zinn to the New Hampshire Free Staters, who  would, I expect,  howl to hear how our government has dedicated itself and billions of dollars in an open ended effort to preserve the million dollar summer homes along the East Coast, in particular New Jersey.  
After Hurricane Sandy, Congress appropriated billions in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.  What this funded was a massive Army Corps of Engineers project which was contracted out to a company called Great Lakes Dredge & Dock.  This company, a perfectly legitimate enterprise, started around Brigantine, New Jersey and worked its way up Long Beach Island, a twenty mile long island no more than three blocks wide, shifting sand from the ocean bottom to at twenty foot sand dune designed to protect the million dollar summer homes lining this island.  (Some of the beneficiaries complained because the dune blocked their ocean views.) 
As Owen notes, these barrier islands over the millennia formed and reformed, the ocean side washing toward the continent and then back out, but with houses on the islands, this cannot be permitted. 
The federal government has made coastal second, third, fourth and fifth homes possible by the simple expedient of funding flood insurance, but this new effort is something else again.

At the same time President Trump aims to cut food stamps, Medicaid and every program he can find to force the undeserving desperate and poor from the government teat, Congress has sent billions upon billions to mow the lawn, shore up and protect of the nation's richest citizens. 
And, of course, the owners of these homes feel absolutely entitled to this government largess. It's disaster relief, after all.
The disaster, of course, is not just Hurricane Sandy, but the best Congress money can buy bowing and scraping back in Washington. 
The argument can be made this coastal development pumps billions into the economy, as the building trades and the services and businesses connected to seaside homes and vacationers profit.

But whatever happened to the "free market?" If people want to enjoy coastal homes, why should citizens in the interior or who are simply too poor to afford ocean front homes pay for this extravagance?  If the free market actually operated in America, the homeowners would pay for these dredging operations.
Living on the East Coast, I can certainly appreciate the aesthetic joys of living on the ocean, and one can say the more people who spend time near the ocean, the more people will have a vested interest in protecting the oceans. 
But this effort should be front and center whenever anyone complains about the federal government spending money on the undeserving poor. 
Why are the rich so much more deserving? 
One might ask the same question about the ultrarich mega industrial farm corporations which get billions in federal dollars for farm subsidies. 
I'd bet, if I were better at Google, I could churn up more programs of government welfare for the rich, except, of course, when those dollars go to the rich, it's not welfare.
 It's investment. 
Or disaster relief.

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