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Tale of two New Orleans highlights reformers task

It can’t really be a tale of two cities in physical terms because they’re in the same city. But it might as well be in terms of attitude, and the wide gulf that separates two illustrate the challenge that Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal and other reformers will face statewide over the next four years.

Recently in New Orleans Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot premiered on an outdoor stage in an area largely unreconstructed over two years after flood water pooled in it. There, former residents and others were heard to likening the “waiting” in the play to that which they say they have faced in their experiences with government, that they wait on government to provide for them in order to get things rebuilt. In the meantime, little gets done.

Meanwhile, only a short distance down the road, some people didn’t wait on others. The largely Vietnamese community radiating around the Michoud Blvd. and Chef Menteur Highway intersection not long after having their homes flooded got together didn’t wait on anybody to start rebuilding. As much of the rest of New Orleans east residents complained about not having things done for them, these people got to work, helped themselves, and now the Village de l’Est area is almost completely rebuilt.

Where Louisiana needs to be is adopting the mindset of those that didn’t wait, not where it is which is too many people waiting because they wanted somebody else to do it for them, and then blame others for it not getting done. It’s the difference between a dependency inculcated by a governing philosophy that posits big government as the solution for everything and government as the tool by which resources are distributed, and the independence that comes from getting government out as much as possible out of people’s lives, a government that does not take too much from people to disable their sense of independence and to encourage dependency.

Louisiana’s historical problem, why the state underachieves so much, has been big government that either saps people of initiative, interferes too much to allow them to exercise it, or both. Reformers like the Republican Jindal articulate the different vision but those who benefit from aggressive use of government as a means of resource distribution will fight them strenuously. It will take much effort by them to cause the cultural paradigm shift that is necessary for Louisiana to improve its quality of life in any way, and they need to be prepared to fight to do it.

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