This blog spot was actually founded in August 2005, we started out reporting on research and teaching in the field of Austrian economics. However, we all watched at the end of that month as the devasatation of nature's fury (Katrina) was compounded by the folly of government policy (at the local, state and federal levels). We were in fact inspired by the events to start of research project with a team of scholars both internal and external to GMU and Mercatus to study the political economy of catastrophe in all its dimensions (economic/financial; political/legal; social/cultural). Products from this project have been published in journals such as Journal of Law and Economics, Southern Economic Journal, Independent Review, etc., policy papers have been published by Mercatus and also Cato, and articles have been published in newspapers from the Christian Science Monitor to the Wall Street Journal. Media mentions and appearances from this project have been numerous as well, including in The Economist, NPR and on local and natioanl TV, and public lectures and private meetings have been made to Congress and also with officials in Louisianna and Mississippi. A good summary of the basic message can be found here.
But as the Gulf Coast braces for another storm, are the lessons we have learned about local knowledge --- or to put it another way, how private soulutions provide the answer to public disasters --- going to be taken into account if the worst happens? I think the realistic answer has to be a resounding NO, and not because we have intellectually failed in our message to learn from the experience of Katrina. I would argue instead the following: (1) cultural ideas about citizen and state change slowly, not just in the span of 3 years and we will not be able to realize social change until we change this culture; (2) the logic of public choice is very daunting to overcome even when the intellectual culture is in favor of individual responsibility and self-reliance, when the dominate cultural ideas are one of dependence on the state to deliver us from uncertainty and insecurity in the market economy and in life in general; (3) paternalism and public choice are bedfellows that continually advance the power of the state and atrophe the individual spirit. As James Buchanan writes in his essays "Afraid to Be Free" --- the problem today is not that the arguments for managerial socialism are widely accepted as they were between 1940-1980, nor is it really a problem of the overzealous "nanny-state" (which of course is a problem), but that citizens actually want to have the state parent them. We are, as Buchanan says, "afraid to be free."
Think about that in the context of the claim that we need strong state action to make social security secure, college education affordable, housing values to be stablized, etc. And think about that if and when we confront once again nature's fury by demanding public resources to prepare us, protect us, and rebuild us after the storm.