> Humongous traffic jams and then the bus disaster call into question the
> assumption that things would have been much better in NOLA if people had
> evacuated as they were instructed.
No one is questioning the evacuation order this morning. If the bus accident killed 20 people, the order probably cost more lives than it saved. But what does "costing lives" mean?
If you cannot "put a value on a human life," then you can not put a value on an hour of human life (approximately 1/640,000 of a human life). However, the loss of life hours is never counted. If you add the bus accident, the loss of human life (hours), and the destruction of property (e.g., gasoline), the evacuation was probably a bigger disaster than all but a few hurricanes.
The only fault I can find with the officials involved with Rita or Katrina is that they put themselves in position where they needed the knowledge and intelligence to do the correct thing for millions of individuals. No one has enough knowledge or intelligence to make a single decision for another person correctly. That's pretty much my disagreement with you and 99.99% of the population. You think you can make decisions for other people and the decisions will increase other people's happiness and the other people will thank you. (If you're out there Dewey, that's a belief that leads to cynicism.) Of course, with the exception of a few people, I don't care if anyone lives or dies and I don't pretend to care.
> Despite all the pitfalls you mention, it is still the responsibility
> of experts to make judgement calls concerning the best way to
The experts are the weatherpeople and they did as good a job as expected in predicting where the hurricane would hit. I'm talking about the politicians and officials who ordered the evacuation of Houston. They have no more expertise than I do at meteorology. Apparently, they don't realize that Houston is above sea level and that New Orleans is below sea level. Their expertise lies in the area of public relations. Because of Katrina, they made the political calculation that they should "do something." It turns out that the evacuation of Houston cost 20 (?) lives. I'm not sure whether that figure is correct because no one is reporting it. And that's the point: the story is
"Officials Proactive This Time."
Despite your belief that an expert can give a right answer, there is no way to calculate, even in hindsight, the cost of the evacuation against nonevacuation. First you would have to identify what actions were changed by the evaucation. Then you would have to assign some sort of dollar cost to all these actions. (I am not entitled to assign a cost to other people's time or property because I believe in the subjective theory of value.) After this you could determine the cost of evacuation vs. nonevacuation.
But wait. I'll assume you can make negative estimates of what would have happened (WWHH) without the evacuation order; but you have no way of knowing the positive side of WWHH. The state is always trying to frighten us with WWHH. I have no idea why the mass of people will not imagine a positive WWHH. But the trick always works.
> If the decision to evacuate was largely a political calculation,
> that would be shameful.
I wouldn't say it was a political calculation so much as a reaction to the present common wisdom.
I'm rather dubious about the expertise of those who made the decision, but for the sake of argument, I'll grant it. The problem is that they were looking at things from the point of view I mentioned in my original e- mail: "you can't put a value on a human life." Therefore, anything is justified in keeping people from dying in the hurricane. As it turned out, 24 people died in the evacuation. The 4 or 5 super killer hurricanes of the last couple of decades have typically killed 50 to 100 people. The exceptions have been Katrina and another category 2 hurricane that caused some kind of unexpected flooding.
I can't estimate what would have been without the order to evacuate Houston, an order that was murky (no one enforced it nor did anyone think it would be enforced). What I am struck by is the way the press is able to overlook the fact that 24 people died because of the evacuation. One of the Florida hurricanes last year killed no one, but 2 people were killed in the evacuation. Somehow, these deaths don't count even though "you can't put a value on a human life."
Here are the points the evacuation order makes me think about:
1. Facts never reach the consciousness of the average person unless they are propelled by one of the political parties.
2. Experts are only as useful as their premises. The astronomers of the middle ages knew more about the movements of heavenly bodies than any one before them, but they didn't know that the Sun was the center of the planets and that fixed stars were other suns at a great distance. I know those two things and so my judgments are better than theirs (despite my ignorance). In fact, Newton did not understand the law of the conservation of energy (I wonder how he missed it) and so I (much more ignorant than Newton) could have saved him the years of labor he devoted to finding something like a perpetual motion machine. (It's interesting that if anyone had said the words "conservation of energy" to him, he would have understood immediately. It's sort of like the concept of "passive aggressive": once the words are spoken, people get it and free themselves from guilt and domination.)
3. No expert can argue with someone else's subjective value. I've heard people say that Prohibition was a success because the consumption of alcohol decreased. Prohibition was a success [to them] because it pleased them to have people drink less. It was obviously not a success to those who wanted to drink. I measure what people value by what they do. Everyone is an expert at two things: what he wants to do and what he wants to have done. The only good an expert can do is provide information.