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Opportunity From Crisis

Who Really Benefits from Post-Disaster Rebuilding Efforts

Stairs, which are all that remain where a house once stood, are pictured in Waveland, Mississippi, August 26, 2015.  Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill is credited for having once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This saying can carry both positive and negative connotations: If Churchill said it (it cannot be found in his recorded speeches, personal notes, or his books), he was probably using it in a wartime context, such as the Battle of Dunkirk. But when then–Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel said it in 2008, he added an explanatory extension, “What I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” Neither Churchill nor Emanuel were talking about natural disasters, but they very well could have been.

Indeed, the optimism that great good can come in the aftermath of disaster—whether it is natural, military, financial, or otherwise is universal, deeply held, and has deep roots. Almost every mayor, governor, senator and president has said something to the

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