Tuesday, October 11, 2005

To Miss New Orleans (Redux)

Picked up, as it turns out, the "last" issue of the New York Review of Books on Sunday (the Oct. 6 issue; the Oct. 20 issue is now out), but serendipity was with me. It contains an excellent article on the importance of New Orleans. George Friedman argues that New Orleans is where it is because it has to be there. The wealth of America, he says, was created from the farmlands between the Alleghenies and the Rockies, farmlands which could produce more than the farmers consumed and which could use rivers to ship the surplus to markets at home and abroad.

And all those rivers flow to the Mississippi, and the port city where the goods are loaded and unloaded is, and always has been: New Orleans. The port is why there was a battle of New Orleans in 1815. It is why Andrew Jackson fought with Mexico over Texas; he didn't want them getting too close to New Orleans. Without the city, Friedman points out, the entire Louisiana Purchase is virtually worthless. During World War II, a German U-boat campaign against the U.S. focussed on: New Orleans.

The economic impact of the loss of the port has yet to be felt. But it will be. Unless the dock workers and port employees have a place to live, the port ceases to function. And if the port ceases to function, so does the U.S. economy.

The importance of cities to the national economy is only starting (again) to be understood. The importance of government to our daily lives is only starting (again) to be understood. The impact of Katrina is not over. It's only just begun. Whether it gets us anywhere, well...that's another question.

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