August, 2008

The Political Economy of Post-Katrina Recovery: Public-Choice Style Critiques from the Ninth Ward, New Orleans

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This paper provides an account of the political economy critique residents and other stakeholders in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward communities hold of the post-Katrina policy environment.  Of particular interest are policies that restricted access and delayed delivery of municipal services to some Ninth Ward neighborhoods, the city-wide redevelopment planning process, and Louisiana’s Road Home rebuilding assistance program.  We argue that the criticism emanating from Ninth Ward communities is similar in significant ways to the public choice critique of the state, particularly in its affinity with rent seeking explanations for why government response has been so disappointing.  The qualitative analysis presented here challenges the view that poor predominantly African-American communities devastated by post-Katrina flooding limit their explanations of government performance to race-based explanations alone.  We consider why, despite the nuanced critiques of government inaction manifest within the interview data, so many respondents still held out hope that government policies and programs might bring about recovery.  We argue that this puzzle is addressed, at least in part, by an overestimation of government’s capacity (if not inclination) to successfully re-engineer societies from the ground up.