A lesson in reckless journalism and a symptom of American Discordance.
Omri Ben-Shahar, no stranger to editorials perforated with sensationalized journalism (just do a quick Google search on his no-show debate with Jay Edelson), recently published a Forbes piece titled “Don’t Rebuild the Florida Keys.” The article is not only a reckless abandonment of facts and humanity. It also reminds us that Shahar, and Forbes for that matter, play a larger role in America’s current state of divisive discord.
If you live in the Keys, you likely missed the article altogether. It was published just two days after Hurricane Irma’s impact. While most of us focused on our homes, families and neighbors’ well-being, Shahar unsympathetically called for hundreds of years of history, a booming economic generator, a premier naval training facility and one of the nation’s most prized environmental playgrounds to shut down, based on a personal crusade to end the financial hazards of subsidized insurance programs.
Setting Shahar’s callous timing aside, the article, which is littered with blatant inaccuracies, is surprisingly careless on several levels. Shahar boasts a doctorate in economics from Harvard and is a professor at the University of Chicago law school (meaning he should be a seasoned practitioner of thorough dissertations and facts); the piece reads like a narrative we have come to expect from the academic elite – with little regard for basic humanity and far removed from everyday Americana.
To argue with Shahar over the economic fallacies in his article would be like trying to disprove rapper B.o.B.’s claims that the earth is flat. Sure, it’s a fun assertion to toss out there, but one has to ignore some overwhelming facts to bolster the notion with a straight face. In this case, we’ve made a small box to highlight a few inconvenient items that Shahar could have discovered with a simple Google search — let alone actual research.
But Shahar’s chronic gripe is subsidized insurance, which he positions as the inevitable doom of locations like the Florida Keys — unless we stop acting as parasites suckling government subsidies for survival. Or as he writes:
“Or, we can begin a gradual hundred-year process of migration inland. People may contest scientists’ predictions that low lands will ultimately be flooded. But if they had to pay true cost of insuring against this risk, reason will triumph over ideology.”
“Reason over ideology.” An ironic choice of words. But, for Shahar and others who have completely lost touch with the American mainstream, humanity has become conveniently expendable in order to politicize their beliefs. In this case, a disaster in the Florida Keys became a podium of opportunity for Shahar’s crusade, while ignoring hundreds of overwhelming facts (and over 70,000 lives) to perpetuate his argument.
Yet in doing so, Shahar blindly contributes to the undercurrent of an American crisis. If our last election taught us anything, it is that Americans have lost touch with one another, as fractionalized portions of the population have increasingly divided into a dangerous game of “us” versus “them.” The danger in this game is that we have become frogs in boiling water — tolerating unqualified leaders because they are the lesser evil.
I have so many questions for Mr. Shahar. Like whether he thinks Puerto Rico is worth salvaging after a second hurricane decimated the island? And what about California? Not only are earthquakes an inevitability, they have wildfires to contend with as well. Or whether he shares similar views about tornado-ravaged Oklahoma towns, flooded cities like New Orleans and Houston and other coastal cities that operate near or below the flood plain (like Forbes’ office in New York)?
Or would he be open to a comprehensive comparison between the per capita tax burden between residents in his hometown and the Florida Keys — and whether his views on government subsidies apply to cities like Detroit or bailouts for cities potentially doomed by pension burdens (see “Which American Cities Will File Bankruptcy Next” on ZeroHedge.com and you might be surprised to see who leads that pack)?
But here we go again. That’s the “us” versus “them” mentality that is so alluring to the argumentative senses—but rarely offers long-term solutions. Instead, I would like to take a different approach and invite Shahar to the Florida Keys. And instead of working to change his mind with facts and figures—allow one of the greatest stretches of land of the face of the earth the opportunity to change his heart.
And most of all, I hope Shahar will feel welcomed, whether he leaves with the same opinion he arrived with or not. Because after all, we are “one human family” here in the Keys—and Shahar (whether I agree with his views) is a welcomed member. So Mr. Shahar, we will be here waiting, because I can assure you – the Florida Keys are not going anywhere.
Monroe County is a donor county, meaning we dramatically pay out more in flood and wind insurance premiums that we collect in claims—thus we subsidize many other areas of the state.
Shahar claims 25 percent of Florida Keys homes were destroyed. The BOCC recently estimated that 15,000 of 55,000 homes in the Keys were only affected by Irma. With a far smaller number deemed uninhabitable.
Shahar draws comparisons using the Keys and Dauphin, Alabama. Dauphin has 1,300 residents. The Keys have 70,000.
The Florida Keys contribute more than $200 million in annual sales tax revenue to the state of Florida.
The Florida Keys maintain an average marketing budget of $55 million derived from bed taxes (spent in places like Chicago).
Only a third of the county’s 55,000 homes use Citizens Insurance (with a many of them paying more on insurance than property taxes).
Not long after the storms of 2004 and 2005, Citizens Insurance showed profits of more than a half billion dollars. They are projected to maintain healthy yields well after Irma.
The Florida Keys are subject to some of the strictest, if not the strictest, building codes in North America.