Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
September 105+5 , 2005


Armchair relocation

Now that everyone has seen how devastating the hurricane and – more dramatically – the response was, and now that everyone has been locked into watching at least one charity benefit concert, calls to “relocate” the city of New Orleans have sprung up among the casual watchers.

Let me make this clear: what they are really calling for is not moving the city and all its inhabitants on charter busses as far as the eye can possibly see – we saw how well that worked for the evacuation of the Superdome last week. They are advocating that the city be declared “off-limits” and that its former residents be told never to come back.

For many of these armchair policymakers, their first mistake is making such rash statements before even understanding the city. They think that the entire metropolitan area was spared the wind of Katrina, then was flooded to the roof. Well, that was true for a non-trivial portion of New Orleans: the city proper. (For those in Cincinnati, saying the city proper is really like saying Hamilton County proper, since the City of New Orleans and Orleans Parish are under the same government.)

Not all of the metro area, though, was even hit. Besides Orleans Parish, much of St. Bernard Parish (east of NO), parts of East Jeff (northern Jefferson Parish), Slidell (on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain), and scattered portions of the Westbank (south of NO) were flooded. But since New Orleans is a big city, that leaves a vast area that wasn’t hit so hard. Parts west and south of the city were for the most part spared. In fact, Westwego (on the Westbank) is far from a ghost town: residents are coming back and staying now. Some restaurants on the Westbank were open for business the very day after Katrina went through.

For many of the “relocators,” however, their bigger mistake is that they are looking at the situation from either a purely civil engineering aspect or a purely economic one. Sure, New Orleans and vicinity are vulnerable. So is half of California. So is Tornado Alley. So is Florida. For that matter, if you’re not living in a cave, you’ve vulnerable. Oh wait; I momentarily forgot about the vast caves of Yucca Mountain.

Sure maintaining the complex system of levees and floodwalls of New Orleans is costly. So is maintaining the wall-surrounded “International Zone” of Baghdad. So is maintaining the high salaries of scantily-qualified personnel. So is maintaining the coal industry by promoting various methods of using oil and coal to produce fuel for producing fuel, and touting them as “clean, alternative energy.” Maybe you see where I’m going with this?

Anyways, why should cost matter when it comes to protecting and investing in others? Does it irk us simply because we aren’t the ones being helped? I have a few pet peeves, and one of them is clearly the attitude that, “if it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care.” People are actually doing cost-benefit analyses. We already saw how well that worked. Building an effective floodwall way back when was just too costly.

But that’s just refuting the arguments made from the economist camp. What about the people who simply don’t think New Orleans is worth protecting, and therefore should be evacuated permanently? Here’s my response: try to tell a New Orleanian that they should abandon all they ever knew and head for, say, Cincinnati. Good luck; I’ve tried. Southerners, by the way, think that it snows perpetually Up North – seriously.

You know, everyone seems to think that New Orleans’ only industries are tourism and shipping and refining. While those certainly are prominent industries there, other important businesses are stationed in New Orleans as well. The employees of these businesses have to stay in New Orleans, after all. And my guess is that, if you decided to somehow permanently move all of New Orleans’ residents, except for those that work with important industries/businesses, you’ll have only moved the previously unemployed. The residents lived there for a reason, and many of them will come back no matter what the clueless bloggers or politicians say to the contrary.

And so ends a very poorly-written rant, on an issue that others clearly understand very poorly.