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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is Every New Orleanian Deep Down a libertarian?

Posted on Thu, May 22, 2008 at 5:22 PM

by Sam Winston

click to enlarge 30orleans600a.1.jpg
According to this latest assessment of the Recovery by the national policy magazine, City Journal , New Orleans and its rebuilding successes show that...

"restoring neighborhoods is a job far better suited to citizens and organizations than to government. " - City Journal

The piece goes on to explain where it thinks government should be more of a leader in areas like blighted properties and crime.

I've always found it fascinating how the battle of ideas constantly influx in Washington squared off time and time again in New Orleans over the last three years. From charter schools, to charity, to housing, and to law enforcement, it was a non-stop fight. Now, it seems some ideas are clearly winning out.

This piece is a classic example (see Paul Vallas and charter schools for another).

I'm honestly not ready, however, to declare a winner or a loser, much less who I agree with more. I would point out that its only natural for the people of New Orleans who have been failed by government so catastrophically on multiple levels to lean towards the concepts of self-reliance and remain skeptical about government effectiveness in certain areas. Yet, that doesn't mean we should all be ready to make New Orleans into Paulville either ( btw this is actually not a joke).

The glaring hole in the City Journal piece was a complete omission of the New Orleans communities that are still struggling (aside from a 'yay for Brad Pitt'). It is likewise the glaring hole in the libertarian-esque argument championed by these prevailing policies and ideas in New Orleans schools, housing, and law enforcement. Why haven't these great virtues of self-reliance, free-market forces, and choice worked as well for those communities ie for everybody? Before we can declare these ideals as universally superior over their competitors, it would seem to me that would need to be addressed. That or we would need to admit that these principles aren't actually universal, mainly in those communities like most of New Orleans East, the Lower 9th Ward, and Central City.

My guess is that the answer lies somewhere in the subtler parts of the City Journal piece.

"True, a strong government role was necessary at first to set the stage for New Orleans’s progress. Federal agencies, especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers, worked with contractors to clear millions of tons of debris from lawns and streets, unclog waterways, and provide trailers so that New Orleanians could live in their driveways while fixing their houses. They also repaired levees and are working on upgrading flood-control infrastructure in general—crucial steps in making homeowners more confident about weathering future hurricanes. But government, while critical for acute recovery, hasn’t driven the long-term rebuilding work."

Mainly that one can embrace a shift in his/her relationship with government for a particular circumstance without embracing an entire political philosophy whose blueprint doesn't ever provide a perfect fit for the real world. That goes either way, whether its libertarianism or big government liberalism.

Because while it may be a battle of ideas in Washington or in the City Journal, this stuff is real life in New Orleans.


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