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 warning
that 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
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
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 fewer
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're
lazy 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 years
now, 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 relief
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? the
shelters 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 Supreme
Rescuer 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) and
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:
And for those about to embark on the vacation that is college:
by Michael Albert
In the U.S. summer is winding down. Soon U.S. students will trek back to
school, including college. Would that I was one of them, not because it
would mean I was forty years younger - though that would be a nice turn
of events - but because this is the first Fall semester in thirty years
I have felt the desire to be scaling ivy walls and prowling campus
What's coming to NYU, Wisconsin, SF State, MIT, Howard, Pepperdine,
Morehouse, Purdue, Loyola? What's coming to Drake, Kansas State,
Rutgers, Boston University, University of Chicago, Duke, Berkeley, Kent
State? What's coming to Reed, Bucknell, Colombia, Vanderbilt, Austin,
Evergreen, Concordia, Yale, Jackson State - and all the rest?
Tumult, turmoil, tension, and resistance? Rejection and revolt? That's
what ought to happen. It's what I hope will happen.
Flash back to May 1970: Richard Nixon announced the invasion of
Cambodia. Already intense campus unrest dramatically escalated. National
guard shot to death four students at Kent State University. Campuses
erupted. Two were killed and twelve wounded at Jackson State. About
2,000 students were arrested in the first half of May 1970. Campuses
were declared in a state of emergency in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and
South Carolina. At least a third of the nation's nearly 3,000 colleges
had strikes. Over 80% of all colleges and universities had protests.
Approximately four million students, half the country's total, and
350,000 faculty members actively participated in strikes. Buildings were
shut down. Highways were blocked. Campuses were closed. Nixon's Scranton
Commission reported that roughly three quarters of all students
supported the strikes. Pollsters reported that within campuses alone
over a million people claimed to favor revolution and called themselves
revolutionaries. In early 1971 the New York Times reported that four out
of ten students, about three million people, thought a revolution was
needed in the United States. This upsurge and the civil rights and then
black power movement, the women's movement, the antiwar movement, and
the youth rebellion behind it, together threatened the very fabric of
society and thereby helped end a war and turn the country's mentality
inside out and upside down. Racism was under seige. Sexism was in
retreat. Suburban culture was tottering. A gigantic war machine felt
shackles. Even capitalism had cracks. But the desire to attain a better
world did not last sufficiently long or grow sufficiently wide to
replace Washington's White House and Wall Street's corporations which,
instead, went on producing greed and domination. Capitalism's
institutional persistence slowly eroded and even devoured my
generation's aspirations for solidarity and self management.
Flash forward thirty five years to next week: Imagine students back on
their campuses. Do they discuss what courses to take? Ways to hook up
with new guys or gals? Upcoming athletic seasons? I'd be surprised if
not, but I hope students' also focus on war and peace. I hope they focus
on New Orleans, and why calamities afflict the poor so much worse than
all others. I hope they focus on why life in the world is so much less
than it could be for the starving, the bombed, the unemployed, and for
those working at jobs that rob dignity, stifle creativity, and subject
so many souls to stupefying rule by others. I hope they even talk about
working at elite jobs and having no time to live, no space to be humane,
and no meaning beyond the next dollar. I hope students' main topic this
Fall is what they want out of life, spiritually, emotionally,
intellectually, and yes, materially, and how they are going to get it
consistent with their working hard for everyone else getting it too.
Imagine students asking why their curriculums produce ignorance about
international relations, ignorance about market competition's violations
of solidarity, sagacity, and sustainability.
Imagine students deciding enough is enough. Maybe one particular student
who wears a funny hat and has a history of being aloof, or perhaps one
who looks straight as a commercial and was high school class most likely
to have a million friends, will write a song about masters of the
universe - and unseating them. Maybe another student will write about
floods drowning people's hopes, and about a rising tide of our own
compassionate creation lifting people's prospects. Maybe another student
will write about resurgent racism and sullying sexism, and then about
combative communalism and feminism and their time finally coming. And
maybe students will hum the new tunes and sing the new lyrics - and
rally, march, sit in, occupy, all while waving a big, solid fist.
Imagine students not just sending out emails to their friends and
allies, but entering dorms and knocking on every door, initiating long
talks, communicating carefully-collected information and debating
patiently-constructed arguments that address not only war and poverty,
but also positive prospects we prefer.
Imagine students earmarking fraternity and sorority members, athletes,
and scholars, for conversation, debate, incitement, and recruitment.
Imagine students come to see their campuses as places that should be
churning out activists and dissent and come to see themselves as having
no higher calling than making that campus-wide dissent happen.
Imagine students schooling themselves outside the narrow bounds of their
colleges, learning that there is an alternative to cutthroat competition
and teaching themselves to describe that alternative and to inspire
others with it, to refine it, and especially to formulate and implement
paths by which to attain it.
Imagine students, now sharing many views and much spirit, angry and also
hopeful, sober and also laughing, sitting in dorms and dining areas
forming campus organizations, or even campus chapters of a larger
encompassing national community of organizations - perhaps something
called students for a participatory society this time around - or even
students for a participatory world - and maybe even having each chapter
choose its own local name. Dave Dellinger SPS. Emma Goldman SPS. Malcolm
X SPS. And for that matter, Rosa Luxembourg SPS, Emiliano Zapata SPS,
Che Guevara SPS. And so on.
Imagine, in short, students rising up with information, relentless
focus, and some abandon too, becoming angry, militant, and aggressive,
but keeping foremost mutual concern and outreaching compassion.
Imagine all this pumping into the already nationally growing U.S.
dissent against war and injustice, pumping into the neighborhood
associations and union gatherings and church cells and GI resistance, a
youth branch willing to break the laws of the land and to push thoughts
and deeds even into revolutionary zones. Imagine students singing,
dancing, marching, and law breaking up a storm.
That is something the antiwar movement, the anti corporate globalization
movement, the movement for civil rights and against racism and sexism,
the movements for local rights against environmental degradation, the
movements for consumer rights against corporate commercialism, and the
labor movement too, all need.
We need youth.
Imagine young people, with time, energy, heart, and mind, discerning
that they are being coerced by society most often to become passive
victims, sometimes to become passive agents, occasionally to become
active perpetrators but only as cruel and rich beneficiaries of
society's injustices. Imagine students seek more and other. Imagine they
hunker down for the long haul, much better equipped and much better
oriented than my generation ever was.
I think, I hope, students are about to not only reject statist war and
corporate greed, but to carry that rejection into positive advocacy and
anger that gives entire campuses and not small sub communities sustained
commitment. That will be a ticket to a new world for everyone, a ticket
much better than old style graduation into the morally decrepit world
all around us. This trip is long. But why not embark now?
Update: Ken Rufo has excellent more here and here, as does Alphonse. And must say, Lenin's Tomb is looking better all the time.