Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Mississippi River Flooding, Diaster Response & Economic Theory

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, May 16, 2011

The opening lyric to Hank Williams, Jr.‘s – aka “Bocephus” – 1982 song “A County Boy Can Survive,” is “And the Mississippi River she’s a goin’ dry.”

At this juncture, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Mississippi River has flooded to such an extent that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to open floodgates and allow excess water from the river to flow toward the Gulf of Mexico through alternate routes.

Weeks of heavy rains and runoff from the melting of an extremely snowy winter have raised Mississippi River levels to historic proportions. Over 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of farmland in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas along the river have been flooded, evoking memories of floods in 1927 & ’37.

On Saturday, the Corps opened two of 125 floodgates at the Morganza Spillway, and opened two more today (Sunday, 15 May 2011). The spillway is 45 miles northwest of Louisiana’s capitol, Baton Rouge. The Corps hopes that by opening them, it will channel water away from the already-flooded Mississippi River, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and direct it toward the Atchafalaya River basin. The last time floodgates were opened was in 1973.

Complicating that decision is the fact that along that potential floodplain lie houses, farms, a wildlife refuge and a small oil refinery.

No matter what happens, there’s bound to be significant loss.

However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

The losses caused by excessive flooding could be ameliorated.

Yes, the losses suffered by farmers, homeowners, businesses and others could be lessened.

How?

Through a National Water Infrastructure, water – much like electricity is directed in a network – could be redirected to where it is needed, could be used, stored or distributed to lessen the impact upon directly affected areas.

Imagine what it could be like if excess water – like we’re experiencing now – could be channeled through huge pipelines out toward drier climes, such as the desert Southwest, California farmland, or any other locale nationwide where water is in short supply. Even in the Southeast, Atlanta continues to suffer from inadequate water supply. Excess water could be used to generate electrical power. Imagine what a surplus of electrical power would be like. It’s that way in the Northwest, even now. Excess water is being used to generate electrical power, so much so, that wind turbines are being closed down.

There is one caveat in that case, however. The capacity of power grids has not kept pace, and grid operators say they have run out of capability to sell the surplus electricity, store the water or shut down gas, oil, and nuclear plants.

The essence of the statement is that our nation’s infrastructures are in sore need of updating.

The CIA World Factbook identifies one of our nation’s long-term problems as “inadequate investment in economic infrastructure.

To be certain, economic infrastructure is comprised of several elements, but perhaps the most prominent and readily recognizable categories are water management, transportation, power production and distribution, sanitation, and communications systems. Additional components include general education (including related forms of classical culture), science and technology (for households, agriculture, and industry), and health-care delivery systems necessary for private medical professionals and their business and family-household clienteles. Those all comprise elements of economic infrastructure.

Again, while most would think of specific physical facilities such as roads, rail, ports, airports, reservoirs, reticulated water, sewerage, levees, drainage and irrigation facilities, telecommunications, power generation and electricity and gas distribution as parts of economic infrastructure – and they are – they may be more broadly categorized as mentioned above: 1.) Water Management; 2.) Transportation; 3.) Power Production and Distribution; 4.) Sanitation; and 5.) Communications Systems.

Investment in economic infrastructure is not without cost, neither is it absent benefit. It is, at its heart, an expense. And every investment has associated costs. Every investment requires a purchase, and includes a hope for an expected or anticipated return.

In governance, investment in economic infrastructure provides opportunity for more people to prosper – not just fiscally – and contributes to, and promotes the general welfare of the nation and her citizens. Those investments are paid for with, by, and through taxes.

Any time that tax rates are changed, economic events happen. True, there are events affecting the nation’s economy – even a regional, state, or local economy – over which we have no control. Such events are typically climatic or weather-related natural disasters, such as the catastrophic events wrought by hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, snow & ice storms, drought, flooding rains, avalanches, earthquakes, etc. And yet, a catastrophic event’s effect upon a market is gauged not just by loss, but by the resiliency of the people in the face of disaster. Do they rebound, how quickly do they act, how pervasive are recovery efforts, what planning is done to prevent or ameliorate suffering and destruction for future events? Those are all questions, the answers and responses to which motivate not just Emergency or Disaster Response, but money handlers and the market itself.

At the point in time when we neglect to maintain or expand infrastructure – expansion, as well as contraction, is an element of maintenance – we begin to sow the seeds of our own self destruction.

And yet, the purpose of money is as a tool, a vehicle for the accomplishment of activities. By itself, it has no value – no intrinsic value exists, save for what is represented by what it can be used for. On a desert island, a satchel full of $100 bills is worthless, save perhaps, for being used a kindling to start a fire, or some other purpose useful and germane to a remote and isolated existence.

In stark contrast, in a community, money has value because it represents a variety of activities that characterize and comprise the collective community, and the value or worth assigned to those activities by the community itself.

The value we assign to ourselves – to we the people – will determine how we spend our money. If we value ourselves, we will create opportunities for all. If we value a select few, we will discriminate for them, excluding others.

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