The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Further Tragedy of Hurricane Harvey

All right, this is bad, and yes, climate change is almost certainly a factor because hotter temperatures allow air to hold more water and increase the likelihood of higher winds, but I want to talk about what will happen afterwards.

When Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, it sucked, but the real damage happened afterwards. Poor people couldn’t afford to fix their homes and were forced out. In New Jersey, beach front properties owned by poor people, which had been in their families for generations, wound up on the market to be bought up by rich people.

Aid was systematically diverted from poor people to their “betters” and the poor parts of town were allowed to rot.

Every disaster like this is an opportunity. When New Orleans was hit, the aftermath was used to destroy public education and bring in charter schools, for another example.

When disaster strikes, the vultures are ready. Harvey will be used to buy up poor people’s property for cents on the dollar and force them out.

That, in America, is what disasters are for.

It is nice to see everyone getting together to help, but the real co-operative action we’ll needed when the government fails (as it will) will be that of people helping each other survive and keep their homes against the efforts of those who want to take advantage of their misery.

And, American civil society being as weakened as it is, except for some efforts on crowd-funding sites and a few overwhelmed community orgs, that cooperative action will not occur on nearly a wide enough scale.

And the rich will get richer, and the poor, poorer.

This is a long-term dynamic. It has been de-facto government and social policy since Reagan.

And it will only change when neoliberalism falls, and only IF it is replaced by something better.

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  1. Shh

    True, but in areas on the coast, only the most foolish richy riches will buy. Water front property is a risky purchase these days. I’m waiting to see if the refineries finally relocate. Maybe next year…

  2. Adam Eran

    Sorry, New Orleans already had extensive private schools to avoid integration. I’m not a fan of the (union-busting) charter schools, but the New Orleans I knew (40 years ago at least) was adept at side-stepping the integration moves so controversial elsewhere.

    Anyway…I’m sure that the poor people moved out of New Orleans were at a disadvantage, and the cultural treasure that is that city was damaged by the failure of the Corps of Engineers that led to the flooding (no, it wasn’t Katrina…see Harry Shearer’s “Big Uneasy” film), and the city’s own malfeasance.

    On the bright side, Mayor Landrieu removed the confederate statues on his own…so there’s that.

  3. David H

    @Shh — The Richy Riches will continue to buy waterfront property so long as federal flood insurance, at low premiums is, available. And so long as they continue to buy Congress, that insurance will indeed be available.

  4. Mary M McCurnin

    Adam Eran, you are right about the Army Corp of Engineers. And you are almost right about the private school system. People also sent their kids to private schools because they would have gone to the worse school system in the country. (LA and MS schools constantly battle it out over who is the worse school system in the country.)
    Also, the well off do nothing about the crap schools because black kids go to them.

    80,000 people have not yet returned to New Orleans since Katrina. Mostly it is the middle class blacks who didn’t come back. They found life better outside of the deep south.

  5. Mary M McCurnin

    And where there are no disasters, there is massive, over-priced gentrification that strips the rights and safety of even middle class people. See the Bay Area. Or even New Orleans to an extent.

  6. Bill Hicks

    It’s worth keeping a close eye on this situation as it is a real disaster that has been dropped in Trump’s lap as the pending fiscal disaster of the debt ceiling increase fight and a potential default is coming to a head as well as the battle over Trump’s 2018 budget. Throw in a shaky economy one shove away from a deep recession, a highly overvalued stock market that could crash instantly upon a federal default, college kids returning to school with the Antifa and Alt-Right among them spoiling for a showdown, and all the potential war flash points around the globe and you have an extremely combustible mix just waiting to explode.

    The whole world might look far different by the start of 2018–and definitely NOT for the better.

  7. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend “The Shock Doctrine,” subtitled “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” by Naomi Klein. I think some of her points are a little bit of a reach, but there are many solid examples of just what Ian Welsh points out here.

  8. I can see you are going to feel more of Trumpism – the result of the revolt against globalism. The are 2 causes of globalism, none are the result of nationalism:

    1. There are no replacement jobs for those be globalized. There are actually jobs there: green energy, for one.
    2. Distribution of wealth. Which is always a problem.

    Nationalism was on display in Charlottesville – it’s racist, and no special pleading is going to get around this. Fortunately, there are ways to do something about this. They are not easy – but they are not complicated.

  9. subgenius

    Green energy, in it’s current form, is a boondoggle…a more subtle version of Tesla, but basically the same.

    Nationalism is a refusal to see connections.

    In my opinion the human race has been won by the lowest common denominator.

  10. subgenius

    Shock doctrine is good. Limits to growth and future shock also worth a read.

    And everything by Adam Curtis should be viewed. Mostly it’s available at“Adam+Curtis”

  11. The Stephen Miller Band

    Great post, Ian. I agree completely.

  12. The Stephen Miller Band

    The Gulf of Mexico is transforming into one giant Deep Water Drilling Rig from Coast to Coast. Considering stronger, more Catastrophic Storms, what could possibly go wrong?

    I sure hope The Rich enjoy the smell of Oil (and Napalm) in the morning, because soon enough, that’s what they’re going to get with their prized Beach Front Property.

    Soon enough, The Gulf of Mexico will look like this. Signal Hill (and Smoke) on The Water. Fire In The Night.

    Mean Age Wasteland

  13. subgenius

    That’s an epic photo, tsmb!

  14. Tom

    Addick Dam is now Overspilling.

    Barker Dam is also in Danger.

  15. Tom

    Levee has breached. Harvey forecasted to move soon on Louisiana.

    Mayor of Houston may have had been right to order a stay in place. Had the roads jammed when this hit, millions would have been trapped with no way to maneuver and potentially hundreds of thousands killed.

  16. A1

    Houston is inland – not exactly on the coast. Don’t worry about the refineries – they are where they need to be and are built up with trained people and equipment.

    Funny that in the global warming debate we are advised not to confuse weather with climate or storms with climate unless it support the global warming thesis. Next cold snap another ice age Ian? It will be according to your logic.

  17. Billikin

    Good post!

    As far as potential government default is concerned, I doubt if the present Congress is stupid enough to let that happen, especially as they don’t have Obama to kick around anymore. And Trump knows that the US never needs to default, at least, he has said as much before. But is he crazy enough to veto a budget or continuing resolution that would avoid default? Quien sabe?

  18. cripes

    Where the hell is the national guard, the military, FEMA? WTF?

    All I see is feel-good video about citizen rescues and small boats pulling people and pets out of their homes. This is good when there is no government assistance, and the national guard would likely refuse to take the pets. But WTF?

    My local station had a piece featuring some simpering lady who wrote a book about people doing little favors for other people, buying Christmas trees for veterans and so forth, blathering on about tolerance and diversity and how good Americans are. WTF?

    We are experiencing disaster after disaster, and the populace is left to fend for themselves. Poor people dispossessed and thrown out of their homes, their neighborhoods, their cities and scattered to other states. Gentrification grinds on, jacking rental prices up and reducing millions to the equivalent of Victorian-era labor struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

    As I write, another story on some millionaire baseball player who donates 3 million to help pay medical costs for sick kids. WTF?

    If I was cynical I would think we are being trained to think there is no government, only charity at the sufferance of the rich or your increasingly impoverished neighbors.

  19. cripes

    Oh, and Trump will helicopter into Houston, say how great everything is going and applaud the citizen boat flotillas, and fly away.

    And no one on your television will say anything different.

  20. cripes

    Beyonce is talking with her pastor “to implement a plan to help” Houston.

    “On Monday, she posted an Instagram tribute to Houston, telling residents they were in her prayers, while posing with a Texas flag.”

    I see a new FEMA Director in the making. I’m sure she’s qualified.

  21. Lindy

    Beyoncé, Illuminati puppet. There’s plenty to go on at this site if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

  22. The Stephen Miller Band

    As a Former CPA, I’d love to audit all this Charitable Giving and see who really receives it. The results of that audit would be illuminating & validating but not necessarily surprising.

    Some woman from CNN just got chewed out by a n evacuated woman with her two children. It was Live and the evacuee excoriated the CNN Reporter for her insensitivity. Amen to that. I cheered this woman on. More people need to do the same.

    A large part of the problem is The Mainstream Media treating everyone as pawns in their Spectacle Breaking News Coverage. Their ONLY concern is Ratings which translate to Profit. It’s just another way The Rich FEAST on Disaster.

    When are The Little People going to see it for what it is and surround the headquarters of all the Mainstream Media Outlets and shut them down FOR GOOD? Never, probably, but it’s a Great Notion. One that would render some tangible, positive results.

  23. The Stephen Miller Band

    Houston is pretty much a prodigious Superfund Site at this point. A Toxic Swamp. This is the way we are ALL going down — stewing, and rotting, in the Fall-Out of an Abominable Lifestyle.

    Humanity is too clever for its own good and the good of the planet. How did nature go so wrong by spawning its own Poison Pill, Human?

    Harvey Triggers ‘Unbearable’ Pollution as Refineries Spew Cancer-Causing Chemicals

    Air pollution is one of the unseen dangers of the storm.

    I think The Rich should be required to drink the polluted water and breath the polluted air for the rest of their Born Days as atonement for what they have done. We were never given a choice. They created this System in their image for their benefit. We are Slaves to it and Collateral Damage when it goes terribly wrong like it is now.

  24. Tomonthebeach

    It is sad to consider how disasters are always more disastrous for the poor. However, Ian did not touch upon how the Houston disastERS (there have been a barrage of them) have impacted the not-so-poor; the people who wittingly or unwittingly created the Great Houston Drowning Pool.

    Houston is a monument to Texican independent-mindedness. “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to build or where to build it!” Thus we have an urban area of about 6M people, more than half of whom cannot escape natural disaster because the roads out of town are what created the disaster. Houston is the largest US city bereft of a city master plan, zoning, or building regulations. This week both the city mayor and state governor asserted that evacuation of Houston is impossible.

    After 3 catastrophic floods, the idiots who manage(?) development in Harris county refuse to acknowledge that the flooding is not due to an act of God (and His global warming), but rather due to their gross incompetence and arrogant stupidity – doubtless encouraged and supported by the oil industry which dominates the city.

    There is a surprisingly steep trend in recent years away from petroleum-fueled autos, and integrating cottage solar and wind to lower household grid dependence (regardless of fuel source). Thus, the Houston economy was at risk of decline even before a series of disastrous floods. It is not inconceivable that 15 years from now, Houston will join Detroit as a city filled with green pastures where once stood the homes of the upper middle class. I wonder if they will be able to reverse the trend before that disaster evolves.

  25. Hugh

    Houston is the confluence of climate change driven by its own greenhouse gas industries, unrestricted development in what anywhere else would be called a swamp, and failure to maintain and update what flood control protections, such as dams and reservoirs, that it has. Seriously, what could go wrong?

  26. Hugh

    OT on the ongoing soap opera at Naked Capitalism, I visited the site for the first time in a few days yesterday and lambert had a mewling post in his Water Cooler about unsettled times and how exhausted he, Yves, and somebody else were moderating comments, blah, blah, blah, and so they would remain off for the forseeable future. I am reminded that at FDL they had much higher volumes of comments and that they used volunteer moderators to manage the load. Apparently the NC strategy is to drive sufficient traffic away from the site so that when they ever get around to re-opening their comments, they will have far fewer commenters, or visitors, to worry about. It is a kind of back asswards approach that seems strangely in keeping with our times.

  27. realitychecker

    @ Hugh

    Maybe the only smart strategy is to ban anyone who ever triggers anyone else’s need for a safe space lol.

    Then we could all have ‘choice’ about what flavor thoughts we would like to see others have.

    We don’t need no stinking marketplace of ideas! (h/t The Mexican bandit in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948)


  28. atcooper

    I’m not sure you can call Houston inland. It was all swamp before they put the city there, and it’s a low part of the plains, and there is a canal to the gulf. So no, it’s not strictly coastal, the gulf is barely ocean, etc etc

    It’s long term viability is a little better than Miami’s. Most of it will be permanently underwater in 50-100 years.

  29. Peter


    Do you really think the moguls of Miami an Alpha-World City will sit and watch all they have built drown? At the current sea level rise rate they would need to deal with about a foot of water in the next hundred years but even if it is much more there are remedies such as dikes and sea walls.

    Look at what the Dutch have done and continue to do to beat the sea. They are reclaiming the zuiderzee which is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

  30. atcooper

    Many homes are washing to sea right now. Maybe they can save future resorts with these engineering techniques mentioned. They’d best get to work. Like they should have twenty, forty years ago.

  31. Peter


    To believe that ‘many homes’ are washing to sea you need to believe the catastrophic Warmer predictions about SLR. These predictions like many others they have made have been shown to be false narratives.

    Modern human civilization is more capable of modifying the environment to meet our needs than anytime in our history. SLR is a problem that will be dealt with as it has been for the last thousand years in the Netherlands. Moderate GW will open up huge areas in Russia for agricultural production to help feed ten billion people a population made possible by man’s ability to control and modify the environment.

  32. Willy

    The moguls of Miami an Alpha-World City should start trucking in dirt now from the trailer trash towns upstate. They’s nothin more than tornado magnets anyways.

  33. atcooper

    There are pictures, right now, showing homes being washed out to sea. I’m not asking for analysis of current climate science. I’m asking for the use of one’s eyes.

    truely, it shouldn’t be too controversial using ones senses to gather information about the world

  34. atcooper

    To be clear, Houston is drowning. I hope that’s not too controversial?

    Miami, well, they need to get started. They should have done so decades ago

  35. Peter


    Houston is built on reclaimed swampland that has been drowning for thousands of years. Houston is draining now and the people will return as they always do to rebuild and continue to live in their conveniently located swampland. This seems to be common throughout the US and is why we have a Bureau of Reclamation. I live at 5000 feet elevation in the mountain west on reclaimed marshland in a flood zone.

    I’m sure the people of Miami appreciate having someone to remind them about what they need and should be doing about SLR.

  36. atcooper

    I remember learning about a theater fire in Chicago back in the day. The one where because the doors didn’t open outwards, everyone’s rush to the doors caused a crush whereupon everyone burned. I was astonished by this story the first I heard it.

  37. Peter

    I reread this post and have watched the continuing meme in the chattering cases that there is certainty that Harvey was an example of the GW caused climate catastrophe they have long been predicting. Bernie Sanders has joined Naomi Kline along with other believers in parroting their ignorant version of what real scientists have written on this subject. These scientists have been very careful to keep certainty out of their statements which is wise because there is no evidence that GW is causing more or stronger hurricanes.

    This post then produces a creative fiction about Klein’s disaster capitalism expose of the aftermath of the Indonesian tsunami being applicable to these poor third world US cities. The government ‘failed’ after Sandy by only spending $50 billion on recovery while the Corp of Engineers rebuilt the beaches and dunes that help protect these beachfront properties. This included complete new infrastructure and direct aid to homeowners for repairs and flood protection upgrades.

    Dragging poor people into this fantasy is cruel because as a rule poor people don’t own property and especially not beachfront property. The people who inherited what are beachfront estates may not be wealthy but their somewhat affluent working class parents weren’t poor. No poor people were forced to sell their beach estates for pennies on the dollar. The local government did buy some properties paying between $250,000 and $600,000 for often vacant lots. Wealthier people are buying these properties and building much larger beach homes but the people that sold the properties profited from the recovered land value.

    Government aid money is already starting to flow into Huston to begin the cleanup but few poor people own these homes so they will find other rentals to live in and may even ease their poverty by working on the massive cleanup and rebuilding.

  38. nihil obstet

    The mid- and upper-Atlantic states must have endowed their counties and municipalities with some really bizarre powers if local governments can buy private property from one person to sell to another for the same type of use. Any disaster buyout that involves federal funds requires that the land be kept in floodplain-compliant uses in perpetuity.

  39. Peter

    There was no mention of federal funds being used for buying these properties but some were used for the floodplains you mention. The infrastructure replacements of water, power, roads, sewers and communication seems to have used up the federal monies.

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