[GegenStandpunkt Index]

How free enterprise in New Orleans has operated once again

[Translated from the analysis of GegenStandpunkt Publishers on Radio Lora Munich — September 12, 2005]

Without a free market economy, a category five storm certainly would not have been prevented, but only with one could death and destruction on the south coast of the United States have come to such a magnitude. Actually, the responsible government agencies had rather early information that a hurricane of force five was moving on the Louisiana coast. And how did they react to this? As convinced democrats and fans of the economic order suitable to this system of rule, they didn’t just bank completely on free enterprise, but also enforced it in their dealings with the population of New Orleans.

They called on all inhabitants to evacuate their city. According to the rules of free enterprise, they took it for granted that everyone had to organize his own escape privately according to his distribution of property in money and means of transport. Of course it is precisely the beauty of this economic system that every individual is allowed to follow the dictate of his private interests unhindered by state planning, and that the best of all possible worlds should be the result. Therefore, there was none of your “collectivist” or “state-regimented” evacuation, like the evacuation of 1.3 million poor Cubans carried out last year by Fidel Castro’s “police state,” so that that hurricane of the same force caused not a single death, and so also provoked hardly a furor in the free press. It doesn’t happen like this in a free market economy. There, it was estimated just the day after the passage of Katrina that possibly hundreds of American citizens left in the city lost their lives. Two days after the storm, it was determined that apparently more than 100,000 people remained in the city despite the call for evacuation. Out of “obstinacy” or plain “narrow-mindedness,” many had refused to heed the well-meant appeals to their private initiative for an escape organized on free enterprise lines.

Meanwhile, in the reporting by journalists who have arrived on location, a few additional reasons are being offered as to why, strangely enough, almost exclusively poor people — among them mostly Black Americans — sought out the football stadium and conference center for shelter from the storm. Apparently, they had too little money and therefore no adequate means of transport, and above all abhorred the prospect of leaving their dwellings without money and all the necessities for survival. Where else should they have sought refuge without sufficient means of payment, without which in a free market economy one is stuck even without a storm front coming. It is only inherent to the system that have-nots, who get nowhere in a free market economy, also draw the short straw in natural disasters! They count among that breed of humans without which a free market economy is not to be had, even though they personally get nothing from it but hard work, little money and a permanent struggle for survival, not just from the danger of flooding.

The American and foreign media now notices in its business section of all places, where the superior growth figures for U.S. capital are otherwise always mentioned, that “the number of poor in the United States … has risen four years in succession — to 37 million people” and that right in New Orleans, one fifth of the population earns less than ten thousand dollars per year. No wonder that many of the 27,000 families that officially live under the officially determined “poverty line” had neither money nor car to seek timely refuge. In a free market economy, the fine products of Ford, GM and Chrysler just don’t serve the need for vehicles to escape from disaster areas, but rather exclusively needs backed by payment! And the ability to pay is the last thing the pauperized section of the population in New Orleans has at their disposal. Even if the inhabitants of the slums had jobs before the storm, it consisted of lousy paying donkeywork in the service sector, in the tourist business and on the surrounding farms. The vital necessities of the “American way of life” often require such people to hold more than one low-paying job at the same time, such as trash collection in the morning and flipping hamburgers during their “free” time. In addition, in order to promote the free market, the Bush regime has reduced or eliminated all kinds of contributions to social programs, instead sharply raising the fees for services provided, because this strengthens the market — read: creates new profit opportunities for investors — even hospitals are subjected to the principle of profitability. For that reason, many southern-state Americans are forced as an economic reaction to travel to Mexico for dental work due to a shortage of cash, reacting to the progressive privatization of formerly publicly provided services by no longer claiming them.

And Katrina revealed a fine bit of free enterprise from yet another side: due to the reduction of the “government’s share” to the bare necessities continually demanded by the apologists of the market, so that free market enterprises have less taxes to pay and consequently more to invest, funds for the Corp of Engineers responsible for securing the levees protecting New Orleans were reduced last year by 44%, and the plans for building up the levees made after the last catastrophic hurricane ultimately dropped. Furthermore, the responsible authorities permitted the draining of parts of the system of reservoirs along the Gulf coast in order to reclaim land for housing investments. These installations served as catch basins for storm surges from the open sea should have prevented flooding of inhabited districts. Following the laws of the free market, the state enabled businessmen and speculators to pursue their private interest in profit with complete abandon despite possible negative effects on nature. It is therefore wonderfully fitting for a free market economy when Bush, flying over the nation’s flood plains courting political approval, for which only success counts and not the truth, can tell the brazen lie live on television that nobody could have foreseen a “disaster of this magnitude,” and without running any risk of being politically shot down by impeachment at the hands of the people’s representatives.

In the days immediately after the breach of the levees, the Bush administration continued to abide strictly by the rules of free enterprise in the matter of assisting the victims; whose champions stipulated that aid for the less fortunate in this system should not come predominantly from the state, since that would hamstring “their own initiative.” In especially tragic cases then, what is called for is above all the private charitable initiatives of those not affected. For that, the President had his father George “no W” and his successor as chief American, Bill Clinton, appear on television to beg — but otherwise left the collecting of donations to the business acumen of the national networks, who from their competition for market shares already know what kind of share a natural disaster in their own county brings: they mobilized the nation’s entertainers for benefit concerts, in which they — with one exception — did what they always do in such needy cases: sing their hits and sincerely read sympathetic text off the teleprompter preformulated by television writers, so that the moved audience would fill up the donation coffers and never once in a thousand years get it in their heads to ask why in God’s own free market economy natural disasters like this always turn into completely different disasters for those affected by them.

As widespread hunger and illness became apparent three days after the flooding, because aid was still not reaching New Orleans, the government resolved to act. Faced with government-equipped reception camps in which the survivors vegetated, threatening to become democratically accountable concentration camps, and a mixture of helpless damage to property due to the struggle for survival and criminal exploitation of an emergency, the state moved to “resolute action.” According to the fundamental law of a free market economy, that the protection of property has to take first place over all other acts of state, the National Guard and Army combat units entered the city before any food, medicine or clothing to take care before anything else of the most important thing in the life of a bourgeois democracy: law and order! Then it finally came to a small breach of economic ideals: precisely those people who had managed to survive storm and flood with their belongings in their houses were now forced to evacuate because the democratic state discerned its “emergency” and now resorted to its loftiest “argument,” the use of force.

While in the business section of the newspapers, the question of how Katrina will effect the economy continues to stay in the foreground — a “slump” in the business cycle or a “growth spurt” through reconstruction — on the facing pages the usual question of “political responsibility” is being flogged to death:

Whoever raises and answers the question of the causes of the disaster in this manner doesn’t want to know anything about why in our famously best of all possible modes of production by far, it regularly turns out afterwards where natural disasters are concerned that the limited calculability of natural phenomena is just one side of the story. Through the indifference of business and the state that promotes it to the rather calculable effects of tsunamis and Katrinas, an indifference inherent to the system, the real disaster falls first and foremost on the economy’s human inventory. Afterward, the disaster is lamented by the public, while the political opposition accuses those in power of “failure.” In the meantime, and for this reason, business has to get going again until once more it’s business as usual.