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Catastrophe Economics: The National Flood Insurance Program

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  • Erwann O. Michel-Kerjan

Abstract

Hurricane Betsy, which hit Louisiana September 9, 1965, was one of the most intense, deadly, and costly storms ever to make landfall in the United States: it killed 76 people in Louisiana and caused $1.5 billion in damage—equal to nearly $10 billion in 2010 dollars. In 1965, no flood insurance was available, so victims had to rely on friends and family, charities, or federal relief. After that catastrophe, the U.S. government established a new program in 1968—the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)—to make flood insurance widely available. Now, after more than 40 years of operation, the NFIP is today one of the longest standing government-run disaster insurance programs in the world. In this paper, I present an overview of the 40 years of operation of the National Flood Insurance Program, starting with how and why it was created and how it has evolved to now cover $1.23 trillion in assets. I analyze the financial balance of the NFIP between 1969 and 2008. Excluding the 2005 hurricane season (which included Hurricane Katrina) as an outlier, policyholders have paid nearly $11 billion more in premiums than they have received in claim reimbursements over that period. However, the program has spent an average of 40 percent of all collected premiums on administrative expenses, more than three quarters of which were paid to private insurance intermediaries who sell and manage flood insurance policies on behalf of the federal government but do not bear any risk. I present challenges the NFIP faces today and propose ways those challenges might be overcome through innovative modifications.

Suggested Citation

  • Erwann O. Michel-Kerjan, 2010. "Catastrophe Economics: The National Flood Insurance Program," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(4), pages 165-186, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:24:y:2010:i:4:p:165-86
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.24.4.165
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.24.4.165
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kenneth A. Froot, 1999. "The Financing of Catastrophe Risk," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number froo99-1, April.
    2. Kunreuther, Howard C. & Michel-Kerjan, Erwann O., 2011. "At War with the Weather: Managing Large-Scale Risks in a New Era of Catastrophes," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262516543, January.
    3. Warren Kriesel & Craig Landry, 2004. "Participation in the National Flood Insurance Program: An Empirical Analysis for Coastal Properties," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 71(3), pages 405-420.
    4. Erwann O. Michel-Kerjan & Carolyn Kousky, 2010. "Come Rain or Shine: Evidence on Flood Insurance Purchases in Florida," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 77(2), pages 369-397.
    5. Carolyn Kousky, 2010. "Learning from Extreme Events: Risk Perceptions after the Flood," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 86(3).
    6. E. D. Attanasi & M. R. Karlinger, 1979. "Risk Preferences and Flood Insurance," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 61(3), pages 490-495.
    7. Kenneth A. Froot, 1999. "Introduction to "The Financing of Catastrophe Risk"," NBER Chapters,in: The Financing of Catastrophe Risk, pages 1-22 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Dwight M. Jaffee & Thomas Russell, 1996. "Catastrophe Insurance, Capital Markets and Uninsurable Risks," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 96-12, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
    9. Browne, Mark J & Hoyt, Robert E, 2000. "The Demand for Flood Insurance: Empirical Evidence," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 20(3), pages 291-306, May.
    10. von Ungern-Sternberg, Thomas, 2004. "Efficient Monopolies: The Limits of Competition in the European Property Insurance Market," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199268818.
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    Cited by:

    1. S. Surminski & J. Aerts & W. Botzen & P. Hudson & J. Mysiak & C. Pérez-Blanco, 2015. "Reflections on the current debate on how to link flood insurance and disaster risk reduction in the European Union," Natural Hazards: Journal of the International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards, Springer;International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards, vol. 79(3), pages 1451-1479, December.
    2. Bai, Y., 2015. "Essays in empirical banking," Other publications TiSEM 1dfac126-8206-4aca-a15d-5, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    3. Erwann Michel-Kerjan, 2013. "Finance des risques catastrophiques. Le marché américain est en plein bouleversement," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 64(4), pages 615-634.
    4. Atreya, Ajita & Ferreira, Susana & Michel-Kerjan, Erwann, 2015. "What drives households to buy flood insurance? New evidence from Georgia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 153-161.
    5. repec:bla:jrinsu:v:84:y:2017:i:3:p:819-850 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Benjamin L. Collier & Daniel Schwartz & Howard C. Kunreuther & Erwann O. Michel-Kerjan, 2017. "Risk Preferences in Small and Large Stakes: Evidence from Insurance Contract Decisions," NBER Working Papers 23579, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Laure Cabantous & Denis Hilton & Howard Kunreuther & Erwann Michel-Kerjan, 2011. "Is imprecise knowledge better than conflicting expertise? Evidence from insurers’ decisions in the United States," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 42(3), pages 211-232, June.
    8. W.J. Wouter Botzen & Howard Kunreuther & Erwann Michel-Kerjan, 2015. "Divergence between individual perceptions and objective indicators of tail risks: Evidence from floodplain residents in New York City," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10(4), pages 365-385, July.
    9. Robert Meyer, 2012. "Failing to learn from experience about catastrophes: The case of hurricane preparedness," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 45(1), pages 25-50, August.
    10. Frimpong, Eugene & Petrolia, Daniel, 2016. "Community-level Flood Mitigation Effects on Household Flood Insurance and Damage Claims," 2016 Annual Meeting, February 6-9, 2016, San Antonio, Texas 230129, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    11. Erwann Michel-Kerjan & Paul A. Raschky & Howard C. Kunreuther, 2009. "Corporate Demand for Insurance: An Empirical Analysis of the U.S. Market for Catastrophe and Non-Catastrophe Risks," Working Papers 2009-10, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    12. Swenja Surminski & Paul Hudson & Jeroen Aerts & Wouter Botzen & M.Conceição Colaço & Florence Crick & Jill Eldridge & Anna Lorant & António Macedo & Reinhard Mechler & Carlos Neto & Robin Nicolai & Di, 2015. "Novel and improved insurance instruments for risk reduction," GRI Working Papers 188, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    13. James R. Meldrum, 2016. "Floodplain Price Impacts by Property Type in Boulder County, Colorado: Condominiums Versus Standalone Properties," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 64(4), pages 725-750, August.
    14. Howard Kunreuther & Erwann Michel-Kerjan & Nicola Ranger, 2013. "Insuring future climate catastrophes," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 118(2), pages 339-354, May.
    15. repec:eee:jeeman:v:87:y:2018:i:c:p:150-164 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Daniel R. Petrolia & Craig E. Landry & Keith H. Coble, 2013. "Risk Preferences, Risk Perceptions, and Flood Insurance," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 89(2), pages 227-245.
    17. Michel-Kerjan, Erwann & Raschky, Paul A., 2011. "The effects of government intervention on the market for corporate terrorism insurance," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 27(S1), pages 122-132.
    18. Botzen, W.J. Wouter & de Boer, Joop & Terpstra, Teun, 2013. "Framing of risk and preferences for annual and multi-year flood insurance," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 357-375.
    19. Justin Gallagher, 2014. "Learning about an Infrequent Event: Evidence from Flood Insurance Take-Up in the United States," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 206-233, July.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy

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