Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Big Sleazy

Via Presto Pundit, this AEI piece from Joel Kotkin identifies the source of New Orleans' poverty. Its politicians:

Like most cities, New Orleans sprang up for commercial reasons. French settlers founded the city in 1718 because it was situated at the mouth of the Mississippi, the most critical waterway in North America. Their new port created an industrial base that employed many working-class people, eventually including African Americans who migrated from the rural Mississippi delta after slave plantations and then sharecropping in that region faded. The development of this port complex, and the related energy industry, provided opportunities that raised poor Louisianians of both races from poverty.

But during the 1960s, the push for economic growth that created an upwardly mobile working class was replaced—in New Orleans as well as most other cities —by a new paradigm that emphasized politics. Political agitations promoted various forms of racial redress, and the rights of people to receive government welfare payments. By the late 1970s, African Americans in many American cities had gained more titular power than they’d ever dreamed of, including the mayoralty of New Orleans.

Urban liberalism fails the poor

The new political gains of black Americans were widely regarded as a major step toward an improved social status. This coincided with the rise of a new form of urban boosterism—which showcased downtown renewal districts and insisted that the dramatic decline of city quality of life during the 1960s and 1970s had been reversed in the 1980s and 1990s. Urban elites, including in New Orleans, burbled about the vigor of their cities. Right through last year’s Gallup poll, leaders and residents of the Crescent City had (along with San Francisco) one of the highest levels of municipal self-esteem in the country. That now appears sadly delusional.

The truth is that, rather than improving conditions for average residents of their cities, many urban politicians and interest groups have promoted policies that actually exacerbated a metastasizing underclass. Urban liberals tend to blame a shrivelling of Great Society programs for problems in cities. Observers such as former Houston mayor Bob Lanier have suggested, however, that the Great Society impulse itself is what most damaged many cities—by stressing welfare payments and income redistribution, ethnic grievance, and lax policies on issues like crime and homelessness, instead of the creation of a stronger economy.

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