Because of the horrible events all week in New Orleans and the Gulf, I'm reprinting Michael Parenti's article.
An article Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, in the LA Times said that lots of news media had run stories predicting a disaster for New Orleans: in 2002 the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, the largest newspaper in Louisiana, ran a 5-party story about disaster could could happen to the city which won numerous awards; National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" in 2002 laid out how New Orleans was at risk; the New York Times ran an article saying thousands of lives were at risk. After the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran its 2002 story, it ran 9 more stories "reporting that the combination of tax cuts, the war in Iraq, and the demands of homeland security had led President Bush's administration to repeatedly reject urgent requests from the Army Corpos of Engineers and Louisianas's congressional delegation that it allocate the money to save New Orelas." Also, all of New Orleans' people could have been evacuated just like Cuba evacuated 1,300,00 people in 2004 and housed in tents before Hurricane Karina hit--saving thousands of lives.
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. Armed with advanced
warningthat 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 as
the free market dictates, 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. This is the way the invisible hand
works its wonders.
There would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as
occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that island
last year, the Castro government, abetted by neighborhood citizen
committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.3 million
people, more than 10 percent of the country's population, with not a
single life lost, a heartening feat that went largely unmentioned in
the U.S. press.
On Day One of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it was already
clear that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American lives had been lost
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 realize 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
fewern 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'relazy but because they have a hard time surviving on poverty wages while
burdened by high prices, high rents, and regressive taxes.
The free market played a role in other ways. Bush's agenda is to cut
government services to the bone and make people rely on the private
sector for the things they might need. So he sliced $71.2 million from
the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent
reduction. Plans to fortify New Orleans levees and upgrade the system
of pumping out water had to be shelved.
Bush took to the airways and said that no one could have foreseen this
disaster. Just another lie tumbling from his lips. All sorts of people
had been predicting disaster for New Orleans, pointing to the need to
strengthen the levees and the pumps, and fortify the coastlands.
In their campaign to starve out the public sector, the Bushite
reactionaries also allowed developers to drain vast areas of wetlands.
Again, that old invisible hand of the free market would take care of
things. The developers, pursuing their own private profit, would devise
outcomes that would benefit us all.
But wetlands served as a natural absorbent and barrier between New
Orleans and the storms riding in from across the sea. And for some
yearsnow, the wetlands have been disappearing at a frightening pace on the
Gulf' coast. All this was of no concern to the reactionaries in the
As for the rescue operation, the free-marketeers like to say that
reliefn to the more unfortunate among us should be left to private charity. It
was a favorite 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."
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-publicized but totally inadequate shipment
of canned goods and bibles.
By Day Three even the myopic media began to realize 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. It was property before people, just like the free
marketeers always want.
But questions arose that the free market did not seem capable of
answering: Who was in charge of the rescue operation? Why so few
helicopters and just a scattering of Coast Guard rescuers? Why did it
take helicopters five hours to get six people out of one hospital? When
would the rescue operation gather some steam? Where were the feds? The
state troopers? The National Guard? Where were the buses and trucks?
theshelters and portable toilets? The medical supplies and water?
Where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the
$33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? Even ABC-TV evening news
(September 1, 2005) quoted local officials as saying that "the federal
government's response has been a national disgrace."
In a moment of delicious (and perhaps mischievous) irony, offers of
foreign aid were tendered by France, Germany and several other nations.
Russia offered to send two plane loads of food and other materials for
the victims. Predictably, all these proposals were quickly refused by
the White House. America the Beautiful and Powerful, America the
SupremeRescuer and World Leader, America the Purveyor of Global Prosperity
could not accept foreign aid from others. That would be a most
deflating and insulting role reversal. Were the French looking for another punch
in the nose?
Besides, to have accepted foreign aid would have been to admit the
truth---that the Bushite reactionaries had neither the desire nor the
decency to provide for ordinary citizens, not even those in the most
extreme straits. Next thing you know, people would start thinking that
George W. Bush was really nothing more than a fulltime agent of
> Michael Parenti's recent books include Superpatriotism (City Lights)
> The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), both available in
> paperback. His forthcoming The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press)
> will be published in the fall. For more information visit: