Puerto Rico’s Unfinished Business After Hurricane María

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It has been a little over a year since Hurricane María fractured Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and its demographic and economic landscape. Currently, all the critical infrastructure—electricity, water, telecommunications, schools, and hospitals—is functional. The enormous effort and the amount of hard work put into removing millions of cubic yards of debris; patching up the electrical grid and the water treatment system; putting hospitals in working order; temporarily fixing damaged housing; among a host of other emergency response activities, sometimes under conditions dangerous to life and limb, should be acknowledged and recognized by one and all.

However, a year after the storm a kind of nervous normalcy prevails in the island and while the amount of work that has been done since last year should not be dismissed, it is important to understand the magnitude of the task at hand and the challenges that lie ahead. The island’s economic fundamentals remain fragile, the electrical system is unstable, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority still needs electrical generators to back-up critical water pumps, and despite an effort from all sectors to be vigilant and prepared for another natural disaster, there is significant uncertainty as to how well equipped the central government and its municipalities are to face another storm.

Furthermore, federal funds allocated thus far will not be sufficient to successfully rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), using a model designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has acknowledged that total damages could add up to approximately $90 billion in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By the end of the 2018 federal fiscal year, estimates of funds appropriated for Puerto Rico disaster relief still range anywhere from $33 to $45 billion, or about half of what is anticipated to be necessary. And when compared to the total funds allocated to address the 2017 natural disasters, the amount obligated by FEMA’s individual assistance programs for Hurricane Maria’s disaster victims has been significantly lower than the portion obligated for victims of Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma.

As noted throughout the report, Puerto Rico’s current situation is extremely complex, a fact that should be considered and addressed early in the recovery process, before making decisions that could have permanent and damaging social and economic implications. Fully understanding the current lay of the land is important because Puerto Rico is the only jurisdiction, to the best of our knowledge, tosimultaneously go through a bankruptcy procedure, a twelve-year economic recession, a fiscal and debt crisis managed under the purview of a congressionally-mandated oversight board, and a large-scale recovery process after a massive natural disaster.

In sum, the report seeks to frame Puerto Rico’s recovery process by providing a snapshot of where the island is today and how much federal money has been allocated, casting light on some of the reconstruction challenges, and igniting a discussion on the options available for a sustainable recovery. It is the first of a series that CNE intends to produce with the goal of educating policymakers about the nuances and complications they will face when designing long-term solutions for the island.


My first Publication CNE-Policy-Paper_-Puerto-Ricos-Unfinished-Business

Who Will Remake Puerto Rico for the 21st-Century Social Economy?


@giorodriguez:  It’ll take more than just a village.  But here’s a snapshot of the villagers

source: Wikipedia


[UPDATE, June 2:  I got lots of comments and suggestions for people and organizations to add to this article, and I will be making additions periodically.  If you have a recommendation, let me know in the comments].

In late 2011 — a year that helped me take a major turn in my career — I visited Puerto Rico to speak at a conference.   I hadn’t thought about it too much before I got there, but when I did, it struck me:  last time I set foot on the island (or archipelago, as my savvier Puerto Rican friends like to say), was 1972.   Yes, it had been forty years (40) since my last visit.  I was confronted – no, assaulted – with a number of things to think about. What’s new? What’s different? What’s the opportunity today for people who care about Puerto Rico, a club that’s much bigger than one might think.

Puerto Rico today is facing so many challenges. Things have been difficult – desperate — before, at various moments in Puerto Rican history.  But as I have written several times here, what’s different today is the degree to which the archipelago is teetering on financial collapse, and the degree to which a wide range of social services — education, healthcare, crime prevention, just to name a few — are under stress.  One result:  more than ever, people are fleeing the homeland. Consequence:  a massive brain drain that further adds stress to the infrastructure. Continue reading “Who Will Remake Puerto Rico for the 21st-Century Social Economy?”

Policy and Development Challenges of the Internet Economy

There are two approaches to assessing the impact of the Internet. Cyber-optimists claim that the Internet is one of the most important innovations of the last century (or ever!) and will revolutionize the U.S. and world economies. Cyber-optimists tend to live in places like Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, near Route 128 around Boston and in the Dulles Access corridor near my home in Washington, D.C. By and large, cyber-optimists are already plugged into the Internet world, and they think that if you are not also then you are not “with it”.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Internet skeptics, those who believe that the Internet is important, but no more important than any other part of the much larger telecommunications and computer revolution. One of the best known skeptics is Professor Robert Gordon of Northwestern, who has written a number of very influential papers. The most recent, which is scheduled for publication in the winter issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives (in fact already published at the time this talk has been edited), argues that one cannot yet detect the impact of the Internet in the economic growth figures. Moreover, looking to the future, Gordon is skeptical that the Net will make that much of a contribution to productivity growth – certainly not as much as electricity, the automobile, or air conditioning, to name a few of the many other innovations of the past century that he deems to be more important.


Or view the full report: