Out of Control Policy Blog

New Orleans: Libertarian Laboratory?

Tech Central Station's James Glassman opines on the rebuilding of New Orleans today:

    My view is that a revival of New Orleans must proceed on three fronts:

    Infrastructure: Higher levees won't be able to stop another hundred-year storm. Future hurricane damage can, however, be contained. The lowest areas of the city and its surroundings, Davis and others believe, should revert to wetlands and flood plains -- grand natural parks. The city also needs substantial flood walls to compartmentalize the high water and stop it from inundating a majority of neighborhoods and massive surge barriers such as those that protect London from the Thames and Venice from the Adriatic.

    Society: Americans got a taste of the violence and misery that infests large swaths of the city when they saw the horrors at the Convention Center, much of whose post-hurricane population came from the Iberville Project up the street. New Orleans has neglected its poor, educating them in rotten schools, giving them only intermittent police protection and warehousing them in despair.

    Nicholas Lemann, whose family moved to the city in 1836, wrote in The New Yorker that New Orleans is "the opposite of a city that works. It perennially ranks near the bottom on practically every basic measure of civic health." He's right, and the world got a taste of that dysfunctionality, too, during the storm. Corruption, squalor and stupidity do not equal charm. As we have seen, they can kill.

    Renewal: Yes, rules should require the preservation of the historic city, but, beyond that, the revival should be as spontaneous as possible. The inevitable commission that will oversee the rebuilding must realize that the world's best designers, developers and innovators will be drawn to the city only if they are relatively unrestricted. New Orleans could become a laboratory for ideas like tax-free commercial zones and school reform. This is the ultimate libertarian city, and the last thing it needs is top-down planning. Many of the city's great attractions -- the Jazz Festival, D-Day Museum and blackened redfish, for example -- are of recent vintage.

    I'm optimistic. New Orleans has a unique chance to make a fresh start and, in fact, become more like cities that do work (Chicago and Phoenix come to mind) while retaining its spirit of mystery, absurdity, beauty and decadence.

He makes some great points. I'm optimistic too, at least in the long-term, but I wouldn't underestimate the difficulty of changing the mental maps of local leaders reared in an atmosphere of rampant patronage and complacency with systemic government inefficiency.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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