I already mentioned Bob Kuttner’s piece on the new fiscal choice revealed by Superstorm Sandy, but it deserves a wider reading.

One of the casualties of Hurricane Sandy is the premise that America’s biggest economic problem is deficit reduction. That’s because the United States just became a much larger version of the Netherlands […]

As events like Sandy become more common, and the ocean levels rise even in the absence of hurricanes, the communities of the Eastern and Gulf seaboard will increasingly be at risk of regularly being underwater—unless we build a massive system of seawalls, dikes, levees, storm-surge barriers, and pumping facilities, as the Dutch have done for centuries.

The immediate damage from Sandy will cost upwards of $50 billion. But looking forward, America’s seaboard cities will need to spend serious money not just on seawalls, but on public improvements to prevent flooding of subways and electric power stations and the swamping of water and sewer systems. Low-lying communities will need to be elevated, and some will simply need to be rebuilt on higher ground […]

The new normal is here, the legacy of our denial of the reality of climate change. The federal government needs to do a comprehensive assessment of the public investment necessary to protect our coasts, which will run into the trillions of dollars.

It’s impossible for this to be more right, and the images of New York City inundated can only buttress this in the minds of an East Coast-centric media and political establishment. I heard about Chuck Todd saying today “it’s climate change, folks.” Elites don’t want to attach a cost to that reality in an era when they want to focus on reducing debt. But the nation’s biggest city has now revealed itself as a larger version of New Orleans, and we have to improve the public infrastructure to protect this city and all along the seaboard from the catastrophic physical and economic damage from rising seas and more frequent disasters.

Kuttner proposes “flood-prevention bonds,” sold at our current low rates, to fund infrastructure improvements along the lines of floodgates and storm surge barriers and seawalls and pumping stations. There’s an added economic benefit of putting hundreds of thousands of construction workers, a depressed sector, back to work to build all this. This will spur growth and create strong prosperity to break us out of our not-so-bad, not-good-enough economic cycle.

Most of our most venerable cities exist close to navigable seaways, and all are vulnerable to this kind of damage. We have one chance to protect and defend them, with a benefit not only in preventing similar damage in the future, but boosting the economy to boot.

David Dayen

David Dayen