Finding the silver lining in Katrina (updated)It's certainly a tremendous national tragedy, but I can already see hints of the potential long-term benefits:
- New Orleans will get a huge influx of federal and insurance money and a clean slate to redefine itself, hopefully keeping its best elements and shedding its worst. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I think there's a real shot at creating an "African American Austin". "Keep New Orleans Weird" bumper stickers, anyone?...
- Tens of thousands people who were locked into stagnant poverty have a chance to start new lives with government and charitable support.
- A chance for renewal in Louisiana state and New Orleans city politics. The corruption and inefficiency there was almost something they were proud of - an "inside joke" shared by the whole state. Now that joke has killed thousands, and it's no longer funny. A whole new level of political maturity may appear there.
- Nationally, issues around our economic "bottom 80%" - and especially our "bottom 20%" - will get a whole lot more attention and sensitivity, especially from Republicans. I hope we avoid the heavy-handed protectionism, handouts and wealth redistribution route (Europe's dead end), but focus instead on investing in education, skills, and productivity to keep them competitive with the new "Chindia".
- I may be going out on a racial limb here, but I think you'll see the African American community have an internal dialogue about the types of politicians they support and what cultural and social factors led to roving gangs terrorizing victims and shooting at rescuers.
- The federal government may finally get serious about trying to streamline out-of-control bureaucracy and red-tape that keep its institutions from being effective. It's no longer simply inefficient - it's killing people.
- There may finally be real efforts to diversify our country's energy base, which showed its concentrated vulnerability last week. There is the potential for compromise, with the left allowing careful tapping of new offshore and environmentally sensitive areas, and right getting serious about conservation and investing in realistic alternative technologies.
- The temporary economic kickstart we're getting in Houston. (For example, the Chronicle says that our inventory of 70,000 empty apartments is disappearing rapidly)
- The diverse new mix of residents Houston will gain. Maybe we need to designate a "Little New Orleans" in addition to our Chinatown(s) and Vietnamtown/Little Saigon?
- Houstonians came together as a community and discovered the depths of their own generosity, which is a renewed spirit, pride, and identity that I think will far outlive this crisis.
Update: In a complete coincidence, David Brooks' column in the NY Times today is also titled "Katrina's Silver Lining", and he makes some similar points to mine above (although with far deeper understanding and detail than mine). An excerpt:
As a colleague of mine says, every crisis is an opportunity. And sure enough, Hurricane Katrina has given us an amazing chance to do something serious about urban poverty.
The lesson is that you can't expect miracles, but if you break up zones of concentrated poverty, you can see progress over time.
In the post-Katrina world, that means we ought to give people who don't want to move back to New Orleans the means to disperse into middle-class areas nationwide. (That's the kind of thing Houston is beginning to do right now.)
Wow. Somebody at the NY Times finally has something nice to say about Houston for a change.