The flood surge from Sandy has once again placed in sharp relief the complex and interconnected character of modern society and the need for rational and socially-driven planning.
Damage estimates range from $50 billion to $70 billion. US insurance companies cover only a half or less of damages from a hurricane. They do not compensate homeowners for flood damage. As was the case with Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, many of those who have been financially ruined by this week’s storm will never recover.
What is required is a huge allocation of resources—in the tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars—to restore power and mass transit as quickly as possible, repair the infrastructure damage, make families that have been hit by the storm whole, and launch a comprehensive program to upgrade and modernize anti-storm and flood-control systems, mass transit, and the electrical generation and transmission system.
This, however, is made impossible by the existing, capitalist system. Private ownership of the means of production and the subordination of economic life to corporate profit, the foundations of capitalism, at every point cut across the mobilization of social resources in the common interest.
In the teeth of the storm, the nostrums of the “free market” and “small government” were set aside as all eyes turned to Washington for aid. Thus, the hard-right Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, lavished praised on Obama—only days before the election—for quickly declaring a state of emergency in his state and freeing up federal recovery funds.
But in the storm’s aftermath, the watchword in the media and the political establishment is the existence of so-called “fiscal constraints” that supposedly preclude any large-scale, centrally organized effort to recover and rebuild from the storm, and take the steps needed to minimize both the frequency of extreme weather events and the damage they cause.
President Obama, even as he pledged to provide “all available resources,” declared, “It is not going to be easy for these communities to recover.” Similarly, New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said that the destruction wrought by Sandy “is going to be felt for quite some time.”
The Wall Street Journal wrote that “local, state and federal taxpayers will likely take the lead in financing repairs to subways, roads and other infrastructure.” In other words, there will be no serious national response.
In a society whose basic productive forces are owned by private interests, those interests dictate the priorities of politicians and governments. Thus, all necessary resources were deployed to get the New York Stock Exchange up and running by Wednesday, while Bloomberg warned working class residents of public housing projects and blacked out communities in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens that it might take days, or even a week or more, to restore electricity to their homes.