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BNOB report makes good economic, political sense

Maybe I should term this the “Between the Lines Echo Effect?” The Bring New Orleans Back commission plan modified by city Mayor Ray Nagin contains very sensible ideas that will maximize New Orleans’ recovery from the 2005 hurricane disasters – as well as maximize Nagin’s chances for reelection.

Most importantly, the plan calls for minimal government involvement in the use of land. Nagin resisted an earlier commission suggestion for tighter government control on who could rebuild where. The marketplace should be given as wide latitude as possible so that individuals can decide. They’ll be best able to look at resources (including government funding) and information (flood map levels, general economic activity, etc.) to derive the optimal decision of whether to build, much better than a collective entity such as government could rule for them.

Wisely, Nagin helps in the provision of data for these disparate decisions by issuing the appropriate warnings, even going so far as to caution that city services may be curtailed in some places. Despite all of this, some complain this means that areas of the city that were disproportionately poorer would be unable to sustain the return of their former residents. Oddly enough, these critics champion the cause of poor people to live in flood-susceptible areas. If these people want to live in New Orleans, they can relocate to other areas of the city. And if they can’t afford that, nobody is putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to live in New Orleans: there are plenty of other places near and afar where they can reside, and get compensation for any property they leave.

In fact, a number of them displaced from these neighborhoods probably are better off where they are living now because of New Orleans’ multitude of societal problems – another issue presciently addressed by the plan. It identifies political and educational hurdles to overcome in order to create an environment that reduces such problems.

For example, it recognizes that New Orleans’ Byzantine, bloated government must get trimmed and recommends citizens being given the opportunity to express their preferences on the matter through a referendum. It correctly gauges the necessity of sweeping away the previous failed educational system in the city wholesale and replacing it with a transitional, appointed commission to reestablish public education in a way that gives it a much better chance of producing excellence.

Finally, it is a politically astute document. It recognizes that it asks for aid from a skeptical American public, and through oversight and self-monetary-help provisions allays fears that the liberal/populist mentality that has plagued Louisiana for so long, and New Orleans in particular, will inefficiently, if not entirely waste, federal assistance.

It may appear odd that a document such at odds with this kind of political culture which trumpets government as the solution to all ills could emerge from this environment. It did because it was not driven by the state power elite, but by concerned citizens. And Nagin is wise to embrace it in principle, both for the pragmatic reasons already stated, but also for political reasons dealing with his attempted reelection.

Nagin is the only major black candidate in the race and thus can attract a good chunk of that vote. However, problems loom for him in the electorate with reform-minded voters that previously supported him. Backing a plan that has reform so thoroughly written all over it cannot help but reassure this bloc to support him again in a race that should prove to be very competitive.


Anonymous said...

As a former student of your's, I have to say that this is possibly one of the most insensitive pieces of crap I have ever read.

Jeff Sadow said...

How is beyond me and, I suspect, practically anybody else who is sentient.