Jim Miller has a nice couple of quotes from Michael Barone’s biannual Almanac of American Politics, discussing Louisiana as America’s “banana republic”. This ties well into the discussion we have been having about the contrast between New York and Louisiana, cities founded by the Dutch and French, respectively (here and here). See also this post from Mr. Barone, which notes inter alia that “Louisiana ranks No. 50 among states in measures of social connectedness.” Weak civil society leads to high crime, low productivity and all kinds of social pathology. Katrina did not disclose some kind of universal American shame, it merely disclosed what many already knew, or should have — that Louisiana is a Caribbean-style culture and polity lodged onto the North American continent.
And while I’m at it, Joel Kotkin discusses here the rebuilding of San Francisco after the earthquake and fire in 1906. He is not too optimistic that a viable New Orleans will rise from the slime:
New Orleans today, sadly, does not much resemble the confident California city that arose from the 1906 quake. Instead, it is in a multi-generational, not too genteel decline. Public corruption and inefficiency — all too obvious in the preparation for and aftermath of Katrina — have been persistent problems.
Kotkin anticipates that New Orleans will continue to shed its functional economy to Houston, leaving only a funky tourist zone, with poverty-line jobs in hotels and restaurants for what remains of the workforce.
In this sense, New Orleans could be seen as a “Third World San Francisco” — an impoverished exemplar of the contemporary San Francisco model of an ephemeral economy based on cultural taste, lifestyle preference and tourism. Such an economy — with its emphasis on style over substance — tends to cut down the rungs of upward mobility by chasing away the middle class, particularly those with children, and exacerbates gaps between rich and poor, black and white.
This all sounds plausible. But if the long-run destiny of New Orleans is to be a simulacrum of a city, with its pretty and its raunchy sectors so that all tastes are served, that won’t be much of a surprise, either. Katrina will only have accelerated a process that had been long underway.