“Stemming the Rise of the Oceans”

John Cochrane writes:

Yes, infrastructure is crumbling, as a few New Yorkers may have figured out when their power went off, while their politicians—and the Times—instead of talking about burying electric lines and putting in a modern grid, wished instead to stem the rise of oceans and sugar in their soft drinks. But infrastructure spending is a tiny component of the Federal budget; we could support anyone’s wish list without a Federal income tax.

Cochrane has got to be the last person in America not to see the connection between the rise of oceans and the power outage caused by Hurricane Sandy. I mean, sure, he can argue that current policies aren’t doing a good job of stemming the rise of the oceans, he can criticize politicians and newspaper editors all he likes, but here he seems to be missing the connection entirely.

I’m guessing that, living so far inland as he does, Cochrane just thinks of “stemming the rise of the oceans” as something frivolous, to be mentioned in the same off-the-cuff way that he mocks sugar subsidies. To him, taxes are serious business, infrastructure is serious business, but sea level rise is a big joke. Thus he could view Hurricane Sandy entirely as a problem of the power grid and not even catch the relevance of the sea level to a flood.

P.S. As commenters noted, it can make short-term and medium-term sense to fix infrastructure, whatever is done regarding long-term regarding sea-level rise. But the job of politicians is not just to deal with today’s floods; they are supposed to head off long-term problems as well. I was not disagreeing with Cochrane’s advice to spend on infrastructure, I just thought he missed the point when he criticized politicians for working to stem the rise of the oceans. They should be doing both.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.