The Media Never Disappoints

An old Reagan-era joke that can be endlessly updated goes as follows: Scientists announce that the world is going to end tomorrow. How will the news media cover it:

Wall Street Journal: World to End Tomorrow: Markets to Close Early. (See page A8 for details.)

USA Today: World to End Tomorrow—But We’re Grinning and Bearing It

New York Times: World to End Tomorrow: Women and Minorities Hardest Hit

Washington Post: World to End Tomorrow: Reagan Policies Blamed.

Well, in another case of life imitating art, here’s the Washington Post today:

Why this brilliant insight qualifies as news is something only an elite media denizen can explain.

One of the remarkable things about this extraordinary catastrophe is how low the death toll has been—less than a dozen. A flood of this magnitude in the developing world usually kills tens of thousands. The 1900 Galveston hurricane killed over 6,000 people; adjusted for population change in the region, that would probably be something like 100,000 today.

It is not individual wealth that has made the difference, though as with all things individuals with more assets are always able to survive and recover from disasters better. It is the collective wealth—both social and material—of our society that has kept the death toll from Harvey at an astonishing minimum. (Our social capital may be more important than assets in the bank at moments like these, as we’ve seen with the remarkable scenes of spontaneous self-help going on in Houston.)

One other remarkable thing. I spoke yesterday with a former high ranking public official from Texas who points out the following: While 10 million people live in the coastal areas hit by the brunt of the storm, only 300,000 lost electricity. The resiliency of the Texas grid has been remarkable. Partly that is the result of Texas deregulating its electricity market much more seriously than any other state, and investing well over $10 billion over the last 15 years to upgrade its transmission infrastructure.

Wonder when the media will get around to reporting on that?

P.S. And as for helping the poor in Houston, economist Phil Magness makes a great point:

Prediction: Houston’s lack of zoning will immensely HELP the city’s recovery from this disaster by reducing the regulation-imposed transaction costs of rebuilding, and by fostering a real estate market that is both less expensive on average and has a greater number of available choices on the market than most other major cities. The primary beneficiaries of these effects will also be people with lower incomes who were the storm’s most vulnerable victims and who likely would have had to relocate had this happened in almost any other similarly sized city in the United States.

Don’t expect the media to report this angle either.

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