The real idiocy of conservative free-market theory is being put on display in New Orleans.


At last count, the administration and the Republican Congress have pledged to throw $200 billion into New Orleans to "rebuild" the city. The money will allegedly go to all sorts of private enterprise projects designed to rebuild infrastructure, rebuild schools and hospitals, repair sewer systems, etc.


Meanwhile, however, several hundred thousand poor New Orleans residents who were flooded out of their city and who lost everything, are scattered across the whole country, where they now live on handouts, or welfare if they can get it. Most have little prospect of finding work.


In New Orleans itself, the city, desperate for workers to restore services, is laying off 3000 workers because, with no tax base, it is de facto bankrupt.


Now it should be obvious to anyone with a lick of sense that the logical thing for the federal government to do right now is to get those people who lost their jobs and their homes in New Orleans back into the city and at work restoring their storied metropolis to life. It should be equally obvious that you can't rebuild a city that is bankrupt and laying off its workforce, so clearly there should be a subsidy to the local government in lieu of lost property taxes, which could cover the rehiring of city workers.


The amount of money it would take to do all this would be far, far less than the $200 billion Bush and Congress are talking about spending, but it would do much more than all their money will. Consider this: Hiring 100,000 people full-time for a year at $10/hour would cost $2 billion dollars--just one percent of Bush’s princely promise. Hire them for the next five years, and you’ve still only spent $10 billion. Hiring back 3000 city workers, even at $50,000 a year per worker, would be $150 million, or $750 million over the next five years. Even if you throw in the cost of the materials that will be needed to clean and /or rebuild the housing in the city, we’re still talking single-digit billions of dollars. This is all chump change to a federal government that is spending at least $5 billion a month on the war in Iraq and that is talking about spending $200 billion on New Orleans.


Meanwhile, with a federal project based upon hiring the displaced citizens of New Orleans, we’d be eliminating all the welfare payouts to the evacuees, as well as a good deal of the Medicaid payments that the federal government will end up repaying the states for.


What New Orleans really needs, in other words, is a kind of combination TVA/Citizens Conservation Corps-type program—a federal project to build Dutch-style levees that will withstand a Category 5 hurricane, to rebuild the whole city for everyone who wants to return, and to do it the the maximum extend possible with local labor.


This is all so obvious it shouldn’t even need saying. And yet…


It’s not what’s happening, and nobody, including the brain-dead and soulless Democrats, is calling for it.


For the Republicans in power, ideology trumps logic. The last thing they want to see is government doing something successfully.


Much better to let the evacuees stagnate and suffer and become a burden on already strapped host communities across the nation, while pumping ungodly sums of money into the coffers of well-connected companies like Halliburton, Flour, Bechtel, etc., which will pretend to be rebuilding New Orleans.


For the Democrats too, big federal projects that involve actually giving needed jobs to people are anathema. Too much like the old New Deal for modern tastes.


In the end, the losers will be the American taxpayer, who will have subsidized one of the greatest public heists of all time, and the people of New Orleans, who for the most part will no longer be able to return to, or perhaps even recognize their city when Bush, Congress and their corporate cronies get through with the place.


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