Poverty Issues

Navigating the Topography of Inequality Post-Disaster

By December 29, 2016 No Comments

A Proposal for Remedying
Past Geographic Segregation during Rebuilding

In this chapter, I argue that New Orleans’ history of geographic segregation mandates that the burden of restoring the city be shared by all United States citizens. One useful method for implementing this nationwide burden sharing would be to levy a uniform one to two percent tax based on individuals’ income. This uniform tax would be minimal and would be consistent with other taxes raised for the public good, such as the security taxes levied on air travel post September 11, 2001. The funds accumulated from levying the taxes can be used to address some of the financial needs of individuals in disaster stricken areas. This proposal is consistent with the theory of burden-sharing based on ability to pay, which is sometimes used to allocate proportional responsibility among diverse and differently situated individuals. In the international realm, this principle has sometimes been applied in the face of a need “for nations to share in joint and sometimes costly projects for the common good.” (See Daniel A. Farber, Disaster Law and Inequality, 25 Law & Ineq. 297, 320 (2007) (stating: “Social disadvantage can kill in very obvious ways during a disaster” and noting President Bush’s statement that “the poverty of so many in the region ‘has roots in a history of racial discrimination’”).

Consistent with this practice, the burden-sharing based on ability to pay “rests on equal sacrifice notions and implies either proportional or progressive tax schedules.” (Id. at 313–314 n.14). Comprehensive disaster insurance is one of the solutions that have been advanced to alleviate financial needs in times of disaster. This solution, however, because it shifts the burden of remedying the financial woes caused by disaster onto the disaster stricken individuals, does not fully achieve equity. In shifting the burden of providing remedies to the would-be-harmed individuals, the comprehensive disaster insurance proposal does not account for the role that residential and occupational segregation have had on individuals’ choice of geographic residence. This burden should be shared as a way of holding the other cities and states accountable for their silent ratification of these types of geographic segregation. Furthermore, this model of burden-sharing should not be limited to the restoration of New Orleans. It should be implemented in all instances where we can demonstrate that certain groups have historically been pushed out of geographically safe and desirable regions of the United States, being forced to live in precarious and dangerous areas. This chapter is divided into three parts. In the first, I investigate the ways in which cities have been geographically segregated and continue to be so today through various land-use related municipal decisions. In the second, I consider how geographical segregation has caused disproportionate harm in New Orleans. In the third, I argue that remedying New Orleans’ geographical segregation should be one of the primordial goals of the rebuilding efforts and I enunciate a standard that can be used to determine whether rectifying geographical segregation should play a role in disaster prevention as well as in post-disaster rebuilding plans.


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