For Politicians, an Ounce of Disaster Preparation Is Worth Nothing

New York's flooded Lower East Side in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shankbone/8139657077/sizes/m/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Flickr/Shankbone</a>

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Political science research shows that natural disasters can be a boon or an albatross to incumbent politicians. It all depends on how they react. Strangely enough, however, there’s evidence that politicians don’t get credit for spending money preparing adequately for a potential disaster—just for spending to alleviate disasters’ effects. 

That dynamic sets up some “perverse incentives,” according to Stanford professor Neil Malhotra, who co-authored a 2009 study with Loyola Marymount professor Andrew Healy on the politics of natural disasters. “The government might under-invest in preparedness measures and infrastructure development in exchange for paying for disaster relief, since there are no electoral rewards for prevention,” says Malhotra. “Since 1988, the amount of money the U.S. spends on disaster relief has increased 13 times while the amount spending on disaster preparedness has been flat.”

The worst part is that preventative spending, Malhotra says, reinforces the old Ben Franklin saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It really is more effective to spend money on getting ready for a natural disaster than trying to mitigate its effects after the fact. “We estimated that $1 in preparedness spending is worth $15 in relief payments in preventing future disasters,” Malhotra says. 

That’s something to keep in mind as Mitt Romney hastily rebrands his campaign events as “hurricane relief” rallies and Barack Obama sends out photographs of himself coordinating the federal government’s hurricane response: Politicians get much more credit for their reaction to disasters like Sandy than they do for trying to ensure disasters don’t cause so much damage in the first place. 

 

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate