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Monday, 10 October 2005

Do Your Own Thing

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. Forewarned 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 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. Thus does the invisible hand work its wonders in mysterious ways.


In New Orleans there would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that island in 2004, the Castro Government, abetted by neighbourhood citizen committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.5 million people, more than 10 percent of the country's population. The Cubans lost 20,000 houses to that hurricane - but not a single life was lost, a heartening feat that went largely unmentioned in the US press.


On Day One of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it was already clear that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans had perished 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 realise 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-marketeers like to say that relief to the more unfortunate among us should be left to private charity. It was a favourite 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 Katrina.


The federal government was nowhere in sight but the Red Cross went into action. Its message: "Don't send food or blankets; send money.' The Salvation Army also began to muster up its ageing troops. 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-publicised but totally inadequate shipment of canned goods and bibles.


By Day Three even the myopic media began to realise 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, more concerned with "crowd control,' which consisted of corralling thousands into barren open lots devoid of decent shelter, and not allowing them to leave.


And where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the $33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? By Day Four, almost all the major media were reporting that the federal government's response was "a national disgrace.' Meanwhile George Bush finally made his photo-op appearance in a few well-chosen disaster areas -- before romping off to play golf.


In a moment of delicious (and perhaps mischievous) irony, offers of foreign aid were tendered by France, Germany, Venezuela, and several other nations. Russia offered to send two plane loads of food and other materials for the victims. Cuba -- which has a record of sending doctors to dozens of countries, including a thankful Sri Lanka during the tsunami disaster -- offered 1,100 doctors. Predictably, all these proposals were sharply declined by the US State Department.



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