Commentary Forum 5/24/11

Playing God with People’s Lives

By Mark Luedtke

Mark Luedtke

This may come as a shock to federal bureaucrats, but every few decades, the Mississippi River floods, big time. Every century or so, it floods even more impressively. For the entire history of humanity, people have known how to deal with floods. Individuals who chose to live and work along rivers reaped the rewards and accepted the consequences of flooding. They prepared. When the river flooded, they grabbed what they had prepared, and they got out of the way. They incurred the cost of whatever damage the flood did to their property, and they made the decision whether to rebuild or not based on what was in their best interests using their own resources. By applying this simple wisdom, men adapted to changing nature, tamed rivers, prospered and advanced civilization while minimizing the damage from floods.

Until a century ago. That’s when governments became so powerful that politicians decided to play God with rivers and the lives of people who live by them. You don’t have to go all the way to the Mississippi to see this. You can see it in downtown Dayton, where two worse-than-worthless dams make the Great Miami River unusable. It’s mind-boggling the people of Dayton allowed the government to steal their money to build the dams that rendered the beautiful river through Dayton unusable. We can’t swim. We can’t boat. We can’t tube. Dayton’s rulers only allow us serfs to use the river in the government-blessed paddle-boats at Riverscape, which are almost never available.

But government playing God with the Mississippi is wiping out lives. Nearly a century ago, people recognized that the Mississippi was changing course. Every year more water was flowing through the Old River into the Atchafalaya River. In the natural course of things, less water would have flowed through Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and more would have flowed down the Atchafalaya to Morgan City, La. People would have adapted by developing new businesses or migrating from Baton Rouge and New Orleans to Morgan City and other locations along the new route. Human advancement would have continued. Civilization would have progressed.

But government is the enemy of progress. It’s the enforcer of the status quo. By early this century, the big government created by Woodrow Wilson and funded by the newly created income tax and Federal Reserve thought itself omnipotent. It was ready to play God with the river and the lives of people who lived along it. So government stole billions of dollars from the people, and the Army Corps of Engineers built a monstrous system of locks and levees on the river to prevent the natural progression of nature and man. It was doomed to fail.

In addition, the U.S. government implicitly insures densely populated segments of rivers with a bailout called “disaster relief.” This implicit insurance lowers the price of the land below what it would cost in a free society so more people crowd into harm’s way, causing more casualties when disaster strikes. Many people living under risk of flood don’t bother buying insurance because of the government’s implicit guarantee of insurance. We saw some of the consequences of this moral hazard after Hurricane Katrina.

The federal government created a ticking time bomb on the Mississippi, and it’s exploding on the Cajuns right now. The Detroit Free Press reports, “In an agonizing trade-off, Army engineers said they will open a key spillway along the bulging Mississippi River as early as Saturday and inundate thousands of homes and farms in Louisiana’s Cajun country to avert a potentially bigger disaster in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.” Baloney. The decision to flood out the poor Cajuns to save the rich people in Baton Rouge and New Orleans – rich people subsidized by the federal government to live and work along the Mississippi River – was made nearly a century ago. It was made because politicians always sell our money and power to the highest bidder, and rich people on the river bid higher than poor Cajuns. That’s the nature of government.

Government playing God isn’t limited to the Mississippi.

USA Today explains: “’The levee system, maintained by the Corps, has narrowed some channels of the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers to as little as one-third of their original widths,’ said Nicholas Pinter, a geology professor at Southern Illinois University who spoke Wednesday on a conference call organized by the wildlife federation. ’The Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers are largely man-made constructs,’ Pinter said. The narrowing of the Mississippi creates higher flood levels and faster flows of water as it gushes into farmland, communities and spillways designed to handle overflows, the federation said. Faster rushing floodwater causes more damage to land and to buildings.”

And we wonder why floods seem more destructive today than in the past. Government intervention in our lives endangers and kills. After the 1913 flood, the people of Dayton, led by captains of industry, secured the city from all but the most massive floods. If we want real security, we need to get government out of our lives.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at

Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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