NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 23, 2005

In the Hurricane Katrina disaster there is an opportunity to find creative ways to improve the delivery of essential services to the stricken without the resistance normally exerted by entrenched special interests, says John C. Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

One of the more striking features of the New Orleans relief efforts was how many volunteers were blocked from giving aid by bureaucratic obstacles:

  • Doctors from Texas were told they needed a Louisiana license to practice before they could help Katrina victims in New Orleans.
  • In cities as far away as Dallas and Houston, attempts to provide shelter ran up against building codes and zoning restrictions.
  • Both before and after the storm, vehicle owners who offered to haul people out of New Orleans for $5 or $10 a shot were undoubtedly breaking local laws.

Shocking as the incidents are, the more shocking reality is that attempts to provide essential services to low-income families face similar bureaucratic obstacles in virtually every large city in the country.

Regulations designed to protect entrenched special interests have succeeded in raising the costs of these services so that the poor have been priced out of the market. So instead of buying housing in the real estate market, far too many poor families have to rely on public housing. Instead of purchasing basic medical care the way middle-income families do, they have to rely on government-provided care. Instead of paying for a taxi, they must depend on public transportation.

Katrina presents an opportunity to bypass special interests and solve problems in new and creative ways because the normal bureaucratic resistance is either nonexistent (as in New Orleans) or weakened by the flood of evacuees in neighboring states. We should not let the opportunity pass, says Goodman.

Source: John C. Goodman, "Aid to Katrina Victims: A Right/Left Consensus," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 529, September 23, 2005.

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