New Orleans: Paving the Streets With Gold

A fiscal hurricane was brewing in President George W. Bush’s speech to the nation in New Orleans. “We will rebuild this great city,” he declared. “No matter the cost.” Congress readily authorized an appropriation of $62 billion to address the flood-disaster needs.

Politicians are already talking about two hundred billion dollars for the net expenditure. Some say it will go much higher.

Two hundred billion dollars! Does anyone in the federal government realize how close this comes to paving the streets of New Orleans with gold?

The appalling political cynicism of this relief effort is revealed with a simple arithmetic calculation. Just divide two hundred billion dollars in reconstruction money by the one million residents of the city, and you get two hundred thousand dollars for every man, woman, and child in New Orleans!

For a typical suburban family of four, this means an expenditure of eight hundred thousand dollars. You could not only rebuild their home – but raze it and rebuild it, raze it and rebuild it – and then, raze it and rebuild it. And still you would have money left over!

It’s easy enough to understand where the floodwaters went, but just where is this flood of money going?

Let’s pretend that we’ve mutated into socialists and our sense of guilt compels us to upgrade everyone’s living quarters. But come on – million-dollar homes for welfare mothers with four children? Even the looniest Swedish Social Democrat wouldn’t go there!

So will the money be invested instead in the infrastructure of the streets outside the homes?

Well, here’s one truly ‘golden’ way of picturing it.

If you allow that an ounce of gold can cover a square foot of pavement, and that gold is currently costing about four hundred dollars an ounce, then for two hundred thousand dollars per person, you could cover five hundred square feet. This is twenty-five feet of suburban street front. A family of four would be accorded a hundred feet of street front. That would be enough to span the street frontage of a typical suburban home lot.

Thus, by asking for two hundred billion dollars, President Bush is coming within an order of magnitude of literally paving the streets of New Orleans with gold.

If paving with gold doesn’t impress you, how about high-end consumer products? For two hundred billion dollars total and thereby two hundred thousand dollars per person, and at a cost of $25,000 per vehicle, you could buy every man, woman, and child in New Orleans not just one but eight SUVs! So forget gold; for two hundred billion dollars, you could pave not only the streets but the entire city with SUVs!

Are we to believe that a thin layer of asphalt would be more expensive? And you thought the price of oil had risen excessively under Bush!

Two hundred billion dollars is a lot of money, even to rebuild an entire city. Just where is the money going?

Will the people of New Orleans now receive two-hundred-thousand-dollar debit cards? Hardly.

Will they live in palatial estates and luxury condos? Ho ho!

Will they walk on streets paved with gold? Snort!

If you followed what happened to ‘nation-building’ in Iraq, you know what will happen here as well. The impoverished locals will see next to nothing of the largesse. After deducting the cost of bureaucratic (mis)handling, most of the ‘reconstruction funds’ will be sucked into a financial black hole of corporate political campaign donors, courtesy of no-bid contract awards. Based on what we’ve witnessed in Iraq, we can call this federally-subsidized disappearing act, ‘The Halliburton Effect.’

For two hundred billion dollars, the federal government could almost pave all the streets of New Orleans with gold. But the public would see the waste and be outraged. So instead, the federal government will pour the gold into the pockets of political cronies. And without a picture to fixate on, the visual-minded public will merely yawn when the bill for this blatant corruption is tallied to the federal deficit.

And if you dare to protest the absurdity of the cost – why, you must be a racist!

When you’re done shedding a crocodile tear for the golden folk of New Orleans, how about weeping for the American taxpayer? Two hundred billion dollars divided by seventy million taxpayers equals approximately three thousand dollars per taxpayer. Politicians are saying the final cost could run much higher . . . and so a cost of five thousand dollars per taxpayer is not unlikely.

Unrealistic, yes. Unlikely, no.

So if you’re a middle-class American taxpayer, say good-bye to that trip to Europe. Or your kid’s college education. Or maybe the mortgage payments on your own home.

And if the streets of your own city become paved with potholes, you’ll know where the tax money went. And it wasn’t to pave the French Quarter with streets of gold.

September 22, 2005