The Army Corps of Engineers recently opened floodgates that will inundate small towns and farmland beneath 15 to 30 feet of water. They are doing this to forestall damage to Baton Rouge and New Orleans on the basis that the damage to these cities would be more severe in its sweep and more costly in restoration afterwards.
Is this: 1. a legitimate tradeoff? 2. a legitimate function of government? 3. a sacrifice of some men's property to protect others? 4. an instance of the ethics of emergencies?
Would any of these answers change if the Mississippi basin were privately owned?
asked May 17 '11 at 15:35
Also keep in mind that government subsidized insurance makes it economical to live in a frickin' flood plain. And to build giant metropolises on top of it!
I wonder if it weren't for the government if that dam would even exist.
So not only are we looking at an emergency situation here, we are looking at a problem where the root is not a conflict between individuals but a systemic problem brought on by government intervention.
Now, what would be the ethical course of action in a situation where people would loose their property if a private dam were to open the floodgates? Considering that in this situation that people directly carried the burden of their risks rather than the taxpayers?
This is definitely an example of an emergency. It is not possible for men to live under conditions of a massive flood, and therefore the normal application of ethics has to be altered to account for the extraordinary circumstances.
I'm afraid I don't know the full facts of the situation, but as presented in the press, it seems like the actions of the Army Corp of Engineers are consistent with the principle of preserving human life. They are releasing the water on a controlled schedule, in a way which is relatively predictable (compared to the dikes bursting), to a much less densely populated area, and so that people can safely be evacuated. The alternative would be to have the dikes burst unpredictably, in a densely populated area, where people may or may not be able to be evacuated. Unfortunately, they simply don't have the choice of not damaging property; they merely get to choose the circumstances under which they do so. In this case, it seems they choose the best possible manner.
answered May 19 '11 at 12:36
Andrew Miner ♦