On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was responsible for the flooding of New Orleans, because of bad design decisions in the city’s levees and floodwalls. As you will recall, the mainstream media had blamed the Bush Administration, but CNN and the BBC could not be reached, and so it is not known if they will issue formal apologies to the president.
I haven’t read the 6,000-page report issued by the Corps, but it sounds like they’re being a little hard on themselves. New Orleans has been slowly sinking into the earth for a long time, and it will continue to do so. Hurricanes will keep forming in the Gulf of Mexico, barring some drastic change in the Earth’s climate. Those two facts militate against any “solution” to the city’s long-term survival.
But it isn’t “nice” to ask whether it’s prudent to spend tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on rebuilding a doomed city. In the past, the Corps has occasionally asked whether a proposed project made economic sense. It shall repent from this violation of the Gospel of Nice:
Thursday’s report urged the Corps to shift its formulaic cost-benefit approach on how it decides what projects are worthwhile. The agency was urged to look at potential environmental, societal and cultural losses, “without reducing everything to one measure such as dollars.”
There are certainly cultural landmarks that are worth spending an “irrational” amount of money to save. If the Washington Monument were about to topple over, it would be worth spending millions to fix it, but surely that shouldn’t be the normative way to decide if a public-works project is worthwhile.
According to the Gospel of Nice, we are supposed to ignore such scruples. Once you start measuring flood losses by “societal and cultural losses,” get out the Federal checkbook and don’t put it away. Nevermind that by the time New Orleans is rebuilt and the flood defenses are strengthened, the Feds could have bought a new house on high ground for each of the displaced families. No, President Bush has already pledged “whatever it takes” to rebuild, and Congress is always happy to spend obscene amounts of money.
This Gospel abets so many evils in the world — and this is a comparatively minor evil of misusing public money. Members of the Church are certainly not immune to it. Niceness dictated that bishops should not punish priests for heterodoxy or homosexual molestations. It continues to damage the Body of Christ by encouraging Christians not to live lives of heroic virtue, but rather embrace a fuzzy, non-judgmental credo of never giving offense to anyone.