[OPE-L] How the Free Market Killed New Orleans

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat Sep 03 2005 - 06:32:52 EDT


September 03, 2005

How the Free Market Killed New Orleans

By Michael Parenti

The free market played a crucial role in the destruction of New
Orleans and the death of thousands of its residents. Armed with
advanced warning that a momentous (force 5) hurricane was going to
hit that city and surrounding areas, what did officials do? They
played the free market.

They announced that everyone should evacuate. Everyone was expected
to devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means,
just as the free market dictates, just like people do when disaster
hits free-market Third World countries.

It is a beautiful thing this free market in which every individual
pursues his or her own personal interests and thereby effects an
optimal outcome for the entire society. This is the way the invisible
hand works its wonders.

There would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as
occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that
island last year, the Castro government, abetted by neighborhood
citizen committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.3
million people, more than 10 percent of the country's population,
with not a single life lost, a heartening feat that went largely
unmentioned in the U.S. press.

On Day One of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it was
already clear that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American lives had
been lost in New Orleans. Many people had "refused" to evacuate,
media reporters explained, because they were just plain "stubborn."

It was not until Day Three that the relatively affluent telecasters
began to realize that tens of thousands of people had failed to flee
because they had nowhere to go and no means of getting there. With
hardly any cash at hand or no motor vehicle to call their own, they
had to sit tight and hope for the best. In the end, the free market
did not work so well for them.

Many of these people were low-income African Americans, along with
fewer numbers of poor whites. It should be remembered that most of
them had jobs before Katrina's lethal visit. That's what most poor
people do in this country: they work, usually quite hard at dismally
paying jobs, sometimes more than one job at a time. They are poor not
because they're lazy but because they have a hard time surviving on
poverty wages while burdened by high prices, high rents, and
regressive taxes.

The free market played a role in other ways. Bush's agenda is to cut
government services to the bone and make people rely on the private
sector for the things they might need. So he sliced $71.2 million
from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent
reduction. Plans to fortify New Orleans levees and upgrade the system
of pumping out water had to be shelved.

Bush took to the airways and said that no one could have foreseen
this disaster. Just another lie tumbling from his lips. All sorts of
people had been predicting disaster for New Orleans, pointing to the
need to strengthen the levees and the pumps, and fortify the

In their campaign to starve out the public sector, the Bushite
reactionaries also allowed developers to drain vast areas of
wetlands. Again, that old invisible hand of the free market would
take care of things. The developers, pursuing their own private
profit, would devise outcomes that would benefit us all.

But wetlands served as a natural absorbent and barrier between New
Orleans and the storms riding in from across the sea. And for some
years now, the wetlands have been disappearing at a frightening pace
on the Gulf coast. All this was of no concern to the reactionaries in
the White House.

As for the rescue operation, the free-marketeers like to say that
relief to the more unfortunate among us should be left to private
charity. It was a favorite preachment of President Ronald Reagan that
"private charity can do the job." And for the first few days that
indeed seemed to be the policy with the disaster caused by Hurricane

The federal government was nowhere in sight but the Red Cross went
into action. Its message: "Don't send food or blankets; send money."
Meanwhile Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting
Network---taking a moment off from God's work of pushing John Roberts
nomination to the Supreme Court---called for donations and announced
"Operation Blessing" which consisted of a highly-publicized but
totally inadequate shipment of canned goods and bibles.

By Day Three even the myopic media began to realize the immense
failure of the rescue operation. People were dying because relief had
not arrived. The authorities seemed more concerned with the looting
than with rescuing people. It was property before people, just like
the free marketeers always want.

But questions arose that the free market did not seem capable of
answering: Who was in charge of the rescue operation? Why so few
helicopters and just a scattering of Coast Guard rescuers? Why did it
take helicopters five hours to get six people out of one hospital?
When would the rescue operation gather some steam? Where were the
feds? The state troopers? The National Guard? Where were the buses
and trucks? the shelters and portable toilets? The medical supplies
and water?

Where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the
$33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? Even ABC-TV evening
news (September 1, 2005) quoted local officials as saying that "the
federal government's response has been a national disgrace."

In a moment of delicious (and perhaps mischievous) irony, offers of
foreign aid were tendered by France, Germany and several other
nations. Russia offered to send two plane loads of food and other
materials for the victims. Predictably, all these proposals were
quickly refused by the White House. America the Beautiful and
Powerful, America the Supreme Rescuer and World Leader, America the
Purveyor of Global Prosperity could not accept foreign aid from
others. That would be a most deflating and insulting role reversal.
Were the French looking for another punch in the nose?

Besides, to have accepted foreign aid would have been to admit the
truth---that the Bushite reactionaries had neither the desire nor the
decency to provide for ordinary citizens, not even those in the most
extreme straits. Next thing you know, people would start thinking
that George W. Bush was really nothing more than a fulltime agent of
Corporate America.


Michael Parenti's recent books include Superpatriotism (City Lights)
and The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), both available in
paperback. His forthcoming The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press)
will be published in the fall. For more information visit:

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