Sunday, September 25, 2005

America Should Not Rebuild Its "Little Bit Of France"

Katrina has highlighted the corruption and incompetence of the low trust polity of Louisiana. It's similar to - maybe derived from - the French social model. Feeding it $200 billion of Federal subsidies will merely perpetuate a broken and alien culture and harm the President's standing.

On Friday, the Katrina death toll was 1,069:


It's likely the death toll will reach 1,250 - less than my estimate but higher than I'd hoped for.

Why did the folks in New Orleans die?

The timeline is laid out in the 5-day photo sequence by Alvaro, a young Nicaraguan. It's been deleted from Kodak EasyShare, but I captured the essential details and have combined them with non-political engineering accounts.

Sunday August 28th. On the insistence of the President, the NO mayor and Louisiana governor issued a mandatory evacuation order. About 100,000 people stayed in the city. This was not completely irrational - as Rita has shown, predicted paths of hurricanes are unreliable, and Katrina could have missed. Those remaining were:
- the old and infirm with nobody to evacuate them to places of safety
- tourists without transport
- the car-less poor
- the criminal who planned to prey on the abandoned city
- risk-takers who chose to stay to protect their property

Monday August 29, Morning. The hurricane hit NO twice (leading and trailing edges?) in early and late morning. Damage was superficial - old brick walls collapsed, windows sucked out, signage and trees down. Power and telecoms went down over a wide area. 200 school buses were left unharmed in a central parking lot.

Monday August 29, Afternoon. People were out inspecting the damage and filling the bars. Some Louisiana National Guardsmen were on the scene.

Unknown to the stay-behinds, the two canals linking Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi had been breached in between 5 and 7 places. To save space, these canals don't have sloping earth-bank levees, but massive steel and concrete walls. Engineers did not expect them to fail and investigations continue - barge strikes are possible, but it seems odd that owners would leave barges moored in these narrow channels.

Monday August 29, Evening. The day ended peacefully, but the canal breaches widened and the city began to fill up. Amazingly, there was no siren system to warn of the breaches, so Alvaro and the rest of the city went to bed believing that the worse was over. Its probable that many people died that night - in particular the old and immobile, and those unable to get to roof areas.

Tuesday August 30 Morning. Streets were full of water and the public order collapsed. Alvaro has pictures of cops standing by while shops were looted. People who could do so fled to the Superdome which had a contingent of 300 National Guardsmen with limited supplies. Those unable to get in broke into the Convention Center, which had no cops or military.

Tuesday August 30 Evening. The damage was done. The frail and immobile were dead, the living were struggling to protect their possessions and persons in the face of collapsed public order.

The subsequent Federal effort to restore order & evacuate the city had little effect on the death toll but some effect on property damage since an earlier army presence would have reduced looting.


1. The primary killer was Katrina.

2. The secondary killers were the New Orleans mayor and his staff. They left 200 buses in Katrina's way and failed to monitor the integrity of the levees. One enterprising citizen used a single bus to pull out 70 old people, mothers and kids, so we can estimate that - knowing the canals had been breached - these buses could have evacuated 14,000 people on the Monday afternoon. Protection of the weak is a basic civic responsibility in high trust societies. A resolute mayor would have used the buses to save the old, young and the sick.

3. The primary cause of civic breakdown was the low trust culture of the city and state, which led to a large number of feral individuals in the city and its police force.

4. The secondary cause of civic breakdown was the failure of the governor to send all available National Guard units to the city on the Monday. This was another failure in to perform the core civic responsibilities of a high trust society - to protect property.

Low Trust State Model

Individuals in low trust states lack civic responsibility and rely on a corrupt state for their salvation. For example:

September 25, 2003. The death toll in France from August's blistering heat wave has reached nearly 15,000, according to a government-commissioned report released Thursday, surpassing a prior tally by more than 3,000.


Louisiana and New Orleans behave like a little bit of France.

The current proposal by the President to flood the state and city with tax dollars will make matters worse, since it creates a moral hazard in which individuals do not have to account for their activities.

A better response would be to impeach the mayor and governor, to prevent any rebuilding below sea level, and to encourage evacuees to relocate to other areas.

If the President follows the present course, he will win no friends from the groups he subsidizes and will lose the support of the many who elected him to promote civic virtue.