Hurricane Sandy Generates Economic Activity at the Expense of those who Lost Their Homes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 25th, 2012

Week in Review

Hurricane Sandy left a swathe of destruction in its path.  But it turns out there is a silver lining to this death and destruction.  It’s providing an economic stimulus.  A regular Keynesian stimulus bill.  Only without the messiness of having to get a majority vote in Congress.  Something the politicians can really get behind.  If only they could get a hurricane generating machine (see Sandy Seen Boosting U.S. With as Much as $240 Billion Rebuilding by Jeff Kearns, Susanna Pak and Noah Buhayar posted 11/23/2012 on Bloomberg).

John Cataneo is working his 20 employees overtime and still can’t keep up with demand from customers who need plumbing repaired after superstorm Sandy. He says he’s hired two new workers and may need more…

Cataneo’s experience shows how the storm is giving the U.S. Northeast — and the rest of the country — an economic boost that may eventually surpass the loss of business it caused. Reconstruction and related purchases and hiring may range from $140 billion to $240 billion and increase U.S. economic growth by 0.5 percentage point next year, assuming $50 billion in losses, according to Economic Outlook Group LLC, a Princeton, New Jersey-based forecasting firm.

Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?  Up to $240 billion in new economic activity.  Wow.  Guess hurricanes are good things.  A blessing.  Providing new jobs.  Injecting new money into the local economy.  Why, there hardly is a downside.  Except for this (see After Sandy damage, insurance adjusters may bring more bad news by Ben Berkowitz, Michelle Conlin and Jonathan Allen posted 11/23/2012 on Reuters).

After another day of pumping out their swampy, moldy houses, neighbors in Breezy Point in New York City huddled at the quaint generator-powered firehouse Wednesday night, stamping their feet to stay warm. Neighbors picked at food from tin cans and sipped soups from Styrofoam cups as they lamented the growing holes in a safety net they thought they had: homeowner’s insurance.

“They’re covering five shingles and a piece of gutter, and that’s it,” says Kathleen Valentine, a fire alarm dispatcher who spent the night of Superstorm Sandy working while her house filled with water and dead fish. Her insurance agent from Narragansett Bay Insurance Company said her policy would pay only for wind damage. She is still waiting for someone from the federal flood insurance program to show up…

The trouble is, many homeowners don’t read those policies closely enough to realize that most don’t cover flooding. They don’t always get both homeowner’s insurance, usually provided by a private company, and flood insurance provided through the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Only 14 percent of homeowners in the Northeast hold flood insurance policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Federal law requires flood insurance to mortgage any home in a designated high-risk floodplain. But once the initial policy, usually for a year term, expires, no law says you have to renew it, and many people don’t because banks don’t make them.

In New Jersey, only 231,000 of the homes in the 20 coastal counties had flood insurance, according to FEMA.

There’s a reason why private insurance companies don’t sell flood insurance to people living in high-risk floodplains.  The cost of the policies would be so high to cover the losses in the event of a flood (pretty much rebuilding all houses in the area) that no one would buy the insurance.  So why bother?  Which is why the federal government provides flood insurance.  So they can spread the cost of flood claims to people who don’t live in high-risk floodplains.  Something insurance companies can’t do.  Because they don’t have the power to tax or print money.  But even the policies the government sells are too expensive for 86% of the people living in high-risk floodplains.  So they don’t buy them.  And suffer the consequences when the flood comes.

So that blessing of Keynesian-like economic stimulus?  The money to pay for it comes from in part insurance companies who can’t invest that money elsewhere.  In part from the federal government, further increasing the federal deficit which is ultimately paid by the taxpayers.  But mostly from the people who lost everything and have to pay out of pocket to rebuild their lives.  This is the blessing of that economic activity.  The destruction of lives so other people can prosper.

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