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Stephen Mihm

America's Self-Defeating Cycle of Floods and Federal Aid

A century of disaster relief has left too many people in harm's way.
Rising waters, rising costs.

Rising waters, rising costs.

Photographer: Hulton Archive

After two weeks of nonstop coverage of massive hurricanes, the blame game has only begun, beginning with climate change and unregulated growth -- for good reason. But the situation would not be nearly so dire without decades of well-intentioned but deeply flawed federal programs. 

It was impossible to purchase insurance policies to cover floods until 1895. This offered some protection until 1927, when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks across several states. Firms walked away from the business entirely.