September 1, 2005

Nothing will change...

Some hard truths from Nicole Gelinas at City Journal...

....And the locals and outsiders who try to help New Orleans in the weeks and months to come will do so with no local institutional infrastructure to back them up. New Orleans has no real competent government or civil infrastructure�and no aggressive media or organized citizens� groups to prod public officials in the right direction during what will be, in the best-case scenario, a painstaking path to normalcy.

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah�s. But the city�s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within....

....How will New Orleans� economy recover from Katrina? Apart from some pass-through oil infrastructure, the city�s economy is utterly dependent on tourism. After the city�s mainstay oil industry decamped to Texas nearly a generation ago, New Orleans didn�t do the difficult work of cutting crime, educating illiterate citizens, and attracting new industries to the city. New Orleans became merely a convention and tourism economy, selling itself to visitors to survive, and over time it has only increased its economic dependence on outsiders. The fateful error of that strategy will become clearer in the next few months.

Sure, the feds must provide cash and resources for relief and recovery�but it�s up to New Orleans, not the feds, to dig deep within itself to rebuild its economic and social infrastructure before the tourists ever will flock back to pump cash into the city�s economy. It will take a miracle. New Orleans has experienced a steady brain drain and fiscal drain for decades, as affluent corporations and individuals have fled, leaving behind a large population of people dependent on the government. Socially, New Orleans is one of America�s last helpless cities...(Thanks to Orrin Judd).

I would be delighted to find out that this is wrong, but I've seen nothing to contradict it. We've seen this sort of urban death spiral before (I won't make certain observations that would be politically partisan, this isn't the time.) Unfortunately it is not politically correct to take it into account when making plans for recovery. The Bush Administration and everyone involved will be forced to act like New Orleans is just a normal city, and only needs a helping hand to get back on its feet. No one will be allowed to say that the patient was dying before the accident.

And no one will be allowed to demand reforms before trillions of dollars are poured into recovery efforts. That would be "heartless."

Posted by John Weidner at September 1, 2005 6:39 PM
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