Thursday, August 16, 2007

Local is Better

Fire of Liberty

Amity Shlaes has a good column on post-Katrina New Orleans which points out a study that shows how various communities in the Crescent City are far better at coming together under the own initiative to recover and rebuild their neighborhoods while politicians sit there in D.C. and blow hot air. Here's a sample:

What about the rebuilding record? The scholars found wonderful stories, all local. Broadmoor in New Orleans was part of the city hardest hit. A month after the hurricane, it was still 10 feet underwater. The Broadmoor Improvement Association managed to rebuild three-quarters of its structures by joining with non-profits, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and other companies.

Rallying Point

In New Orleans East, the Vietnamese-American community rebuilt its Catholic church, providing a rallying point for a healthy return of citizens from Texas and elsewhere. One priest from the church drove around the South showing Katrina refugees pictures of fellow parishioners to lure them all back.

In neighboring Mississippi, small and large businesses were crucial in the reconstruction drive. Though the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outlet in Waveland was destroyed, the company opened a temporary shop under a tent in the parking lot. The citizens began to feel they could find their own way to recovery. Mercatus calls this supply-side strategy ``build it and they will come.''

``There was nothing that was even halfway resembling normal,'' a woman told study interviewers. ``When businesses open up and they start being full, operational, it reminds us what normalcy used to be like.'' Speaking of a Rite Aid drugstore that opened after the storm, she said: ``I didn't go in to buy anything. I just went in to walk around and be normal.''

Steering Clear

In other words, these little communities steered clear of the kind of civic malady described above.

The scholars found that reconstruction ordained from above had less positive results. The much-publicized ``Road Home,'' a state-federal program that provides cash to rebuild damaged homes, has completed contracts with less than a third of the 180,000 applicants. The complex program requires third-party involvement and much paperwork.

As someone who lives in a small community and a great admirer of Edmund Burke's "little platoons," I place greater trust in my neighbors, local government, and the State government are far better at solving a problem that might pop up than the sclerotic federal government. The sooner we embrace this idea and shy away from feds the better off we will be.

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