This Is Fascinating

While the debate rages about who are what has been ultimately responsible for the plight of all those poor, largely black, people who got left behind when New Orleans went ‘under water’, this reuters article raises some fascinating points.

If refugees end up building new lives away from New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina may prompt the largest U.S. black resettlement since the 20th century’s Great Migration lured southern blacks to the North in a search for jobs and better lives.

Interviews with refugees in Houston, which is expecting many thousands of evacuees to remain, suggest that thousands of blacks who lost everything and had no insurance will end up living in Texas or other U.S. states.”

Officials say it will take many months and maybe even years before the birthplace of jazz is rebuilt.

Dynamic systems, steady state stable bad equilibria and shocks. Fascinating.

New Orleans did not always follow the trend. Historically, far fewer residents have moved from New Orleans than from most American cities, despite its high poverty and crime rates.”

In other words many people had become simply ‘stuck’ there. Actually, maybe the writer should have said because of the “high poverty and crime rates”, in chaos theory terms that’s precisely how things like ‘strange attractors’ and ‘sinks’ operate.

The possibility of this outcome had in fact been going through my mind. Obviously I’m in Europe, so I don’t really know at first hand, but I have the impression that this would be the best thing that could happen.

Mind you, I agree with Nicholas Lemann, author of “The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America,” who is quoted as saying it is too early to tell. Quite. But here I think is one area where policy really could make a difference. Get these people into stable temporary housing, get them into jobs, get their children into schools. Then they won’t be going back.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “This Is Fascinating

  1. Here’s an alternative view, from Anne Rice, the bestselling author who lived in the Crescent City for many years:

    “Never have I experienced a place where people knew more about love, about family, about loyalty and about getting along than the people of New Orleans. It is perhaps their very gentleness that gives them their endurance.

    They will rebuild as they have after storms of the past; and they will stay in New Orleans because it is where they have always lived, where their mothers and their fathers lived, where their churches were built by their ancestors, where their family graves carry names that go back 200 years. They will stay in New Orleans where they can enjoy a sweetness of family life that other communities lost long ago.”

    And specifically about the Great Migration:

    “Through this all, black culture never declined in Louisiana. In fact, New Orleans became home to blacks in a way, perhaps, that few other American cities have ever been. Dillard University and Xavier University became two of the most outstanding black colleges in America; and once the battles of desegregation had been won, black New Orleanians entered all levels of life, building a visible middle class that is absent in far too many Western and Northern American cities to this day.

    The influence of blacks on the music of the city and the nation is too immense and too well known to be described. It was black musicians coming down to New Orleans for work who nicknamed the city “the Big Easy” because it was a place where they could always find a job. But it’s not fair to the nature of New Orleans to think of jazz and the blues as the poor man’s music, or the music of the oppressed.

    Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy.

    Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn’t want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn’t want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives. They didn’t want to leave a city where tolerance had always been able to outweigh prejudice, where patience had always been able to outweigh rage. They didn’t want to leave a place that was theirs.”

    She also points out:

    “The first literary magazine ever published in Louisiana was the work of black men, French-speaking poets and writers who brought together their work in three issues of a little book called L’Album Littéraire. That was in the 1840’s, and by that time the city had a prosperous class of free black artisans, sculptors, businessmen, property owners, skilled laborers in all fields.”

    Food for thought.

  2. “Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy.”

    Well I hear what you are saying Doug, but this isn’t what we are seeing on our TV screens. We are seeing a lot of very poor people trapped in a way of life without advancement. We are seeing shootouts between local people and national guardsman like all this was taking place in some other, unmentionable, part of the globe. We saw two communities which appear, at least from the outside to be deeply divided. We saw something which seriously didn’t work.

    “Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn’t want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn’t want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives.”

    This is exactly the point. Think Belfast, another deeply divided city, and the only European one where I could imagine having witnessed similar scenes. Why didn’t people just pack up and leave, why did people stay through 25 years of ‘troubles’.

    The film “the boxer” is I think very good at this level.

    People are trapped by their past.

    Now comes the ‘act of god’, the shock. This changes everything. Apart from anything else there is the whole issue of whether people will want to go back and live in a place which can be hit again.

    My guess is that after the reconstruction the people who have been bussed out just won’t be able to afford the property prices which will be on offer in the new developments. All sorts of issues are going to come up.

    But is your main concern is the future of the people who have just suffered the impact at the sharp end of Katrina, then my feeling is it’s move-on, Johnny, move-on.

  3. I posted A. Rice’s comments mainly to provide a different perspective. Personally, I think that there is a real chance that Baton Rouge will permanently be Louisiana’s largest city, even if the largest number of refugees ends up in metro Houston. The differential between New Orleans and Baton Rouge (1.3M to 0.6M, metro areas) will certainly be considerably revised.

    Local officials in BR are gearing up for doubling the city’s population. That would imply half of New Orleans’ evacuees end up in BR permanently, which I think is too high.

    Companies are already re-locating. My step-sister suddenly had three offers to buy her house at the asking price. And my dad thinks that a lot of people from his refinery (roughly half-way between the two) who used to live in New Orleans will wind up in Baton Rouge. I’m also hearing anecdotes of people with long-standing New Orleans roots who have had enough. Those are middle class (in the American sense) people with options.

    Poor people with fewer options are likely to stay wherever they wind up. If there are jobs and reasonable accommodations, that may be better than what they had to go back to. There seems to be a parallel with Miami/Dade and hurricane Andrew in 1992. The middle-class communities rebuilt; the poor communities did not, and the poor people wound up somewhere else.

  4. The poor underclass without the means to relocate themselves may very well stay wherever they end up, but they were the minority of New Orleans’ population, and even of its African-Amercian population. For the rest, there are two competing trends at work: (1) The storm has destroyed the local economy, and the newly-unemployed will seek jobs elsewhere. (2) The rebuilding effort will create numerous jobs in the area affected by the storm, and for many, the easiest place to find a job may well be the affected area, either in the construction trades or in the industries providing services to construction workers.

    I think that the low point in human population in the area has passed. With the evacuation essentially complete, the National Gaurd estimates that there are still about 10,000 holdouts that are refusing evacuation. Anecdotal accounts “on the ground” say that many of those who are being permitted to return “temporarily” to salvage their homes are returning stocked with canned goods, fuel, water filtration equipment, armaments: they intend to occupy for the duration. Sunday was the day scheduled for the Southern Decadence Parade (an annual gay pride event). It occurred, albeit with only twelve marchers.

    There is no telling where the dislocated people will go when it is all over, but I think it is very premature to write New Orleans culture off.

  5. Isn’t it possible to somehow blame al-Qaeda or the axis of evil?
    That would be no less idiotic than blaming Bush for all the evils fo the world

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