The catastrophe in New Orleans wasn’t caused by the hurricane as such, but by levees and flood defenses breaking, primarily due (it seems) to long term infrastructure under-investment.
This shortfall and lack of social investment on many levels has led to the post-apocalyptic scenes reported…an old peoples home discovered with all the occupants drowned…special needs patients abandoned in a hospital.
The mind reels in horror and disgust at the lamentable lack of preparation and support.
The toxic flood water is being pumped out into Lake Ponchatrain (which will probably ‘die’ as a consequence), onto the Gulf of Mexico…you can argue that environmental catastrophe alone will be on a par with somewhere like Chernobyl or Bhopal.
There has been a lot of finger pointing at the Republican President and the Democrat Governor for the failings, but the truth is that both political parties have been pursuing the same policies for many years, while distracting voters by tinkering on the edges with cosmetic arguments on ‘lifestyle’ issues like abortion and gay rights.
Both parties, under Reagan, Bush Snr, Clinton and now Bush Jnr, have been operating a business friendly, laissez-faire economic model, cutting back on social infrastructure and welfare while showering big business interests with oceans of tax break cash…not to mention completely insane levels of military spending.
Despite it’s stupendously rich economy, the US has a lamentable social medicine safety net, and a grossly inefficient and expensive system of private medicine – the infant mortality rate in the US is worse than Malaysia, and the sighting of rickshaw drivers in New York and here in London (along with people operating shoe-shine booths at our train stations) points to a creeping ‘Third World-isation’ of our economies towards polarised societies and cities which begin to resemble Sao Paulo, Jakarta, Lagos…because we have experienced the same policies in the UK under Thatcher through to Blair.
It’s pointless to compare ‘us’ with India – it’s a ‘nation-ist’ way of looking at the world which is essentially redundant.
The causal factors which link rickshaw drivers in New York with software entrepreneurs in Bangalore is that trans-national corporations now operate globally. To them, a worker is a worker and the nation where they live is irrelevant (most of the companies avoid paying national taxes anyway, or have tax breaks…) – the only relevance is how profits can be privatised while costs can be socialised, or ignored.
The brutal fact of New Orleans is to realise that somewhere in various air conditioned offices, guys in suits looked upon the poor citizens of New Orleans and decided to gamble with their lives by witholding money for social infrastructure.
They lost the bet – but its not the guys in suits who are floating face down in toxic sludge.
A more useful comparison than India might be with Holland, a similar ‘First World’ nation which lies way, way below sea level.
The Dutch have invested vast sums of public money on flood defence…about 1.5 trillion dollars – that’s right, TRILLION…over a 50 year period.
Where did the money come from?
Taxes. Big taxes.
And the public and political will to levy them for social benefit as opposed to private gain.
08 Sep 2005 09:09