Magazine | August 16, 2010, Issue


Acceptable Risk?

In his article “Preferred Risk” (July 5), Iain Murray states that “the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which encourages building in high-risk areas, [exposes] taxpayers to huge liabilities.” I disagree.

While it may seem that offering people flood insurance will encourage them to build in areas that are subject to flooding, just as having collision coverage encourages reckless driving, the NFIP is actually set up to discourage development in flood-prone areas. And while the NFIP ran into the red after Katrina, it is supposed to remain solvent. Whenever NFIP is solvent, people with flood insurance are paying the full cost of the risk they’re taking.

Homeowners can purchase flood insurance only in communities that participate in the NFIP. In order to participate, a community must adopt base ordinances from FEMA that encourage sound development. Residents in communities without these ordinances may construct within flood-prone areas anyway, and in a manner less than sound: bridges that do not allow sufficient flow of water, acting as dams during floods; septic systems; propane tanks. The result is that when a flood does occur, other property owners face higher waters filled with hazardous materials.

The only way to fully prevent development and construction in flood-prone areas would be to extinguish development rights on those properties. If a community does this without purchasing the properties (which few communities can afford to do), the property owners could sue. By implementing FEMA’s requirements for development within the floodplain, communities can ensure sound development.

Justin Gindlesperger

Boulder, Colo.

Iain Murray Replies: The NFIP may appear to be designed to encourage “sound development,” but in practice it hasn’t worked that way. There are several studies on the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s website that explain the problems with the NFIP in great detail. This quotation, from Eli Lehrer’s July 2008 paper “Reforming the National Flood Insurance Program after 35 years of failure,” summarizes this particular issue:

A study from the National Wildlife Federation describes the dimensions of this problem. Many properties, including some supposedly located in “safe” areas, have sustained loss after loss with almost no end in sight. David Conrad, the report’s author, put it well in a conversation with the author: “Even if it were enforced properly, the ‘100 year flood plain’ standard would mean that a home would have about a one-in-four chance of flooding in the course of a mortgage.”

As for the funding, the program has cost taxpayers billions of dollars despite promises that it would sustain itself. The NFIP is broken and is in need of serious reform.


Mario Loyola’s “Beyond the Spill” (August 2) stated that Richard Epstein is a University of Chicago law professor. Epstein is now employed at the New York University Law School. Also, the Obama administration’s original offshore-drilling moratorium affected 33 drilling projects, not 100.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

Sheriff McCain

As his fellow incumbents drown in a tea-party wave, Sen. John McCain somehow remains afloat. On August 24, McCain squares off against J. D. Hayworth, a former congressman, in Arizona’s ...


Politics & Policy

A Clash of Opposites

Not long ago, two friends were talking about the current election season. Both of them are conservative, but one especially dislikes the McCain-Feingold law (which restricted campaign finance and political ...
Politics & Policy

Ban the Burqa

Istanbul – I moved here five years ago. In the beginning, I was sympathetic to the argument that Turkey’s ban on headscarves in universities and public institutions was grossly discriminatory. I spoke ...

Books, Arts & Manners

The Straggler

On Thy Silver Wheels

The recent political ructions over the extension of unemployment benefits brought Norman Tebbit to my mind. Tebbit was Margaret Thatcher’s secretary of state for employment in the early 1980s. There ...
Politics & Policy

The Drive to Create

In a castle in Newcastle, complete with reflecting pool, dappled woods nooked with marble sculptures, and pastures lowing with cattle, Matt Ridley, dean of British science writers and author of ...


Politics & Policy


ADVERTISEMENT FOR “LET’S PRAY” Choreographed by Thandumzi Moyakhe, performed by Nqaba Mafilika and Bathembu Myira, Johannesburg, South Africa They dance there with outrageous zest, Kneeling and swaying without rest, White crosses painted on their chests. Hour after ...

Captain Post-America

You can imagine the fist-pumping and broad grins that went around Hollywood when it was announced they were making a movie about Captain America — and the subsequent dismay when ...
Politics & Policy


Acceptable Risk? In his article “Preferred Risk” (July 5), Iain Murray states that “the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which encourages building in high-risk areas, [exposes] taxpayers to huge liabilities.” I ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Congress has an 11 percent job-approval rating. Who knew there were so many trial lawyers? ‐ Midterm elections are generally referenda on the party in power, and that is especially ...
The Long View

Therapist’s Notes

Patient: Andrew Breitbart First Session: Therapist greets patient, who arrives with three BlackBerrys. Patient is pleasant and good-humored, seems aware of his surroundings, is able to carry on simple transactional conversations. Patient, ...

Most Popular

White House

Rachel Maddow’s Turnberry Tale

To a certain kind of Rachel Maddow viewer, there are few more titillating preludes to a news segment than the one she delivered Monday: “If you have not seen it yet, you are going to want to sit down.” Maddow’s story began, as many of her stories do, with President Trump, this time focused on his hotel ... Read More

The Problem with Pete Buttigieg

In a 2018 midterm election that didn’t give Republicans a lot to laugh about, one development that no doubt left them smiling was watching progressives across the country donate $80 million to Beto O’Rourke, in a Texas Senate race that was always going to be a steep uphill climb. Democratic party leaders can ... Read More