New Orleans Political Economy

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Aaron Schneider
Assistant Professor
Political Science
316 Norman Mayer
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA 70118-5698
(504) 862-8301
fax (504) 862-8745

 New Orleans Political Economy Workshop

10th of September, 2010

Workshop Report


Mariana Alcoforado

Leslee Dean

Aaron Schneider




Theme 1: Policy and Political Economy

Theme 2: People and Political Economy

Theme 3: Past and Present Political Economy



Participants' biographies

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New Orleans lies at the mouth of the Mississippi, advantageously located to capture some of the wealth flowing from the farmlands of the U.S. Midwest. New Orleans is also the most important city in Louisiana, with plentiful petroleum resources, and strategically located on the Gulf of Mexico. Further, the city has built a booming tourist trade, attracting revelers for year-round festivities. These sources of abundance have enriched some within the city, home to holders of great fortunes, yet the citizens of the city and the region generally remain poor. Widespread poverty and vulnerability were exposed by Hurricane Katrina, which provoked significant and rapid changes in the local demography, destroyed many existing assets, stimulated a temporary reconstruction boom, and shifted priorities in the provision of basic public services such as health, housing, and education. To make sense of these short- and long-term trends, this workshop explores the political economy of New Orleans, especially the ways in which market and state mechanisms produce our unique, appealing, and highly inequitable society.

Several initial questions orient the workshop: what are the characteristics of the city's development in terms of the ways wealth is created and distributed, and what have been the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, and the Great Recession? How have the people of New Orleans experienced a changing economy in terms of employment and wages, and how have they organized to resist or to control broader economic trends? How do still unresolved regional issues of race, gender, and class shape wealth, work and politics on the Gulf coast? What political institutions and incentives shape partisan and elite strategy and alliances, and how has this interacted with the city's economic development? What is the incidence of taxes and government spending on inequality, poverty, and patterns of development? What public services are provided to the city, by which level of government, and how have these aided, distorted, or undermined development in terms of equality, poverty, human capital accumulation, and assets of the poor? Finally, how are these local dynamics related to the insertion of New Orleans and the wider Louisiana and Gulf Coast region in the international economy, and what does this mean for the prospects of sustainable development and the local political economy?

On September 10th, 2010, a workshop created a platform to address these questions through an exchange among scholars from across the country exploring the causes and consequences of New Orleans experience. Five years after Katrina and in the wake of the BP oil spill, workshop organizers recognized the need for a reevaluation of the broader political economy of the region. New Orleans is clearly vulnerable to disaster, but the workshop views vulnerability as not simply an unfortunate happenstance, but rather a core component of the local political economy. Inequality, corruption, and disaster have become central to local patterns of accumulation and power, and multiple approaches are necessary to unpack causal connections. To bring various perspectives to bear, workshop was interdisciplinary, including specialists in sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, demography, urban planning, journalism, and history. Together, participants discussed the intersection of market, state, and communal structures, in which interest groups, ideas, institutions, and resources are bound into complicated interrelationships. The outline of workshop sessions which follows highlights key insights. Links to the papers and presentations are provided.


Theme 1: Policy and Political Economy

The first session was dedicated to the political economy of policy of New Orleans. Presenters presented sociological, historical, and political science perspectives, and their work was brought together by a common concern for the causes and effects of government action. Do powerful interests wield undue influence in shaping public policies? Do institutional incentives and constraints distort democratic decision-making, accountability and oversight? Do prevailing ideas of market liberalization and competition limit effective government action? Presentations dealing with these questions addressed different aspects of public policy, different levels of government, and distinct historical periods. They shared a similar concern for the shortcomings of democratic practice in New Orleans, and urged a greater degree of transparency, democracy, and popular participation in government institutions.


Disaster, Inc.: Privatization, Marketization, and Post-Katrina Rebuilding

Kevin Fox Gotham

This paper examines the problems and limitations of the privatization of federal and local disaster recovery policies and services following the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  The paper discusses the significance of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 in defunding disaster services; the restructuring of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a service purchaser and arranger; and the efforts by the New Orleans city government to contract out disaster recovery activities to private firms.  On both the federal and local levels, inadequate contract oversight and lack of cost controls provided opportunities for private contractors to siphon public resources and exploit government agencies to further their profiteering interests and accumulation agendas.  Finally, I discuss recent shifts toward the "marketization" of the government sector in which private sector logics and modes of operation increasingly penetrate and dominate the operations of the public sector.  As this paper illustrates, privatization and marketization have layered new challenges on New Orleans institutions, strained the capacity of the federal government to respond to catastrophes, and portend a future of increasing risk and vulnerability to disaster for New Orleans and U.S. cities.

New Orleans: Political Economy of Public Money

Aaron Schneider

This project explores the nature of New Orleans city governance through the lens of public finance. The core argument is that city finances are set up in a manner that is difficult to monitor, allowing the budget to be insufficient to meet actual costs, and skewing the reality of dollars needed between on-budget agencies and significant quasi-off-budget vehicles. This exposition of public finance raises difficult conceptual and causal issues, to be explored through three strategies. First, quantitative categorization and measurement will compare New Orleans to other similar places and characterize the amounts of on-budget and quasi-off-budget funds. Second, a number of legal, managerial, political, and fiscal characteristics of these entities will be used to generate categories for their comparison. Third, a single entity will be traced over time, drawing out the ways in which management of a public resource interacted with political and economic forces to produce a unique pattern of public finance. The project ends with a series of potential hypotheses which can be explored in future research. Based on this combination of quantitative, categorical, and historical analysis, we hope to provide greater understanding of New Orleans governance, as well as contribute to more transparent and democratic use of public resources and power.

Click here for powerpoint


Rent, Real Estate, and Flood Mitigation in New Orleans East

Vern Baxter

The water that drained out of New Orleans several weeks after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita flooded eighty percent of the city left a devastated landscape on which to rebuild.  The devastation was particularly evident in the eastern suburbs of the city which were inundated with anywhere from three to ten feet of flood water.  Almost five years later the rebuilding process is ongoing and scholars and residents alike search for lessons about how and why Katrina devastated the city, and how future Katrina's can be prevented.  This paper presents an historical case-study of environmental harm in the collision of corporate real estate capital with the political process that governed extension of the urban frontier of New Orleans into its eastern wetlands.  A central purpose of the investigation is to learn lessons from a political economic analysis of urban development about what creates the conditions for calamity and how those conditions impede efforts at mitigation.  That is, systematic obstacles are confronted in land use politics that prevent the potential reduction of flood damage and loss of life and property by lessening the likelihood and impacts of flood disasters (Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA)

One way to mitigate flood disasters is to carefully regulate construction of the built environment when it encroaches on flood prone areas.  The paper addresses obstacles to flood mitigation in eastern New Orleans that could not be removed by land-use regulations, levee and canal construction, or by passage of a National Flood Insurance Act.  An analysis is presented of the collision of corporate real estate investment and flood plain management as mediated by local politics and fragmented government institutions charged with both promotion and regulation of land use.  The wetlands of eastern New Orleans were brought into commerce and human habitation behind a logic of land speculation bent on the rapid extraction of rents and profit from investment in land.  The time pressures and near term concern of real estate investors and developers exceeded the pace and capacity of a contested political process and a fragmented state to adequately deliberate about the long-term wisdom of wetlands development or to construct adequate protection of those investments and the citizens who depend on them (Gotham 2006; Mileti 1999). 

Discussion Highlights

·                     In discussions of post-Katrina response, participants noted the complementarities between local government incompetence, federal government commitment to market ideology, and the exploitation of disaster to provide opportunities for profits by private corporations.Questions emerged relating immediate post-Katrina outcomes to the long-term erosion of government capacity. Given the abandonment of government responsibility for a host of public functions, from education to disaster relief, was there any alternative to handing recovery to the private sector? Further, it is possible that the stage was set at the local level by a history of dependence, in which weakened local government was unable to resist predation by external private interests aided by higher levels of government. This focused attention on the conjunctural elements of New Orleans government under Nagin, the capacity and ideology of his administration, and its relationship to state and federal administrations of the moment.

·                     With respect to development in the city, observers noted one of the shortcomings of New Orleans democracy when it comes to planning. While traditional analyses point to a generalized incompetence or irrationality among New Orleans leadership, the historical study of policymaking in New Orleans East suggested that the public good was thwarted by highly rational, but narrowly interested, elites. Voters might have liked greater regulation of land use, environmental protection, and especially flood protection and mitigation. Unfortunately, the institutions of government were fragmented, allowing a growth coalition of developers and aspiring politicians to capture policymaking while sidelining the general interest. One avenue for future research might be to compare different neighborhoods in terms of what went wrong (and on occasion right) in planning development. 

·                     One pattern of fragmented authority and truncated accountability appears clearly within public finance, as the New Orleans city government is broken into an astonishing number of boards, commissions, public benefit corporations and other entities labeled here as "satellite governance." Discussions of satellite governance focused on the degree to which New Orleans is unique in this respect, and called for comparison to other cities with long histories, such as Boston, or New York, and other cities from the region, such as Houston or Atlanta. Such comparison could also begin to address the degree to which satellite governance is a symptom of a federal system in which functions which ought to be allocated to the local level are performed by more distant, and therefore less directly democratic state or federal levels. Finally, discussion also asked whether the impact of satellite governance could be studied in more detail, for example in terms of corruption, capture, or other distortions of democratic practice, as well as policy impacts such as fiscal instability, shortages of revenues, and inequitable distribution of resources.


Theme 2: People and Political Economy

The second session focused on the political economy of population change in New Orleans, particularly exploring the connection between Katrina and changes in demography and social structure. The session included sociological, urban planning, and economics approaches, and the work concentrated on the causes and impacts of the changing demographics of the city. What portion of the population has been unable to return to New Orleans? Have other groups increased their presence? What are the impacts of changing demography on working conditions, social relations, economic structure, and democratic participation? What are the actions which can be taken to address the needs of new populations, to ensure that displaced citizens can return if they want, and to shape the distribution of skills and resources needed for a productive local economy? The presentations emphasized different subsections of the population and levels of analysis, focusing on the need to establish basic rights and services which had always been weak but had been further disrupted as a result of the storm and shifting population. In particular, accommodation of city authority to the changed demography will require a renewed and deepened relationship between citizens and public authorities.


Getting a Construction Job in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Race, Nativity, and Luck

Elizabeth Fussell and Abel Valenzuela Jr.

Hurricane Katrina created a construction boom for New Orleans when the federal government, insurance companies, developers, and construction companies channeled resources to the area to meet the sudden and intense need to restore the built environment which was devastated in the aftermath of the storm. Immediately after Katrina, however, the local construction labor force was disadvantaged in the competition for both large federal grants for rebuilding city, state, or federal property and for small residential construction jobs. They were disadvantaged for several reasons including displacement (business and home) by the disaster, they suffered a skills mismatch between scale of operation and the specific demand, and formal and informal rules and regulations of the construction business were fundamentally changed by the disaster. Based on indepth interviews, focus group interviews, and field notes gathered from employed, unemployed, union, itinerant, day laborers and other construction workers (including other stakeholders) in 2009 and 2010, our paper looks at the multiple pathways to securing work in the construction industry. Central to our analysis are the roles that race and immigration status play as mediating factors in securing employment in the multiple formal and informal pathways to construction work. Race and immigration status become relevant through employer preferences, job competition, networks, temporary staffing agencies, and local politics related to construction work and the rebuilding of New Orleans.

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Opportunities and Tensions in a Post-Katrina "Brain Gain"

Marla Nelson and Renia Ehrenfeucht

According to recent statistics, New Orleans has regained roughly three-quarters of its pre-Katrina population exceeding many observers' expectations of the city's recovery (Carr 2009).  Aggregate population statistics, while a useful indicator in tracking recovery, mask important demographic shifts in the city's population. New Orleans remains a majority black city, yet its share of African American residents has slipped. African American neighborhoods were disproportionately impacted by the storm. Homeowners in these areas have faced greater obstacles and received fewer rebuilding resources than their counterparts in predominately white areas of the city (Bates and Green, 2009). Many low- and moderate-income renters have also faced difficulties returning due to the slow recovery of the city's rental housing and public housing redevelopment. Meanwhile, there has been a sizeable influx of newcomers from Latino day laborers to young post-graduates and young professionals who have come to the city to be part of rebuilding. According to results of a 2008 survey, 10% of the city's residents, upwards of 30,000 people, moved to New Orleans after the storm (City of New Orleans, 2010). Although Latino and young college-educated professional immigration to central cities has been a visible trend in metropolitan areas nationwide, New Orleans' sluggish economy prevented the city from benefiting from either trend before the 2005 storms.

These demographic changes have invoked both hope and concern. This paper focuses on one dimension of demographic change: the influx of mobile, young professionals who have returned or relocated to New Orleans to take part in recovery and rebuilding and "make a difference".  For some, the post-Katrina "brain gain" heralds an opportunity for the city to transition to a knowledge-based economy and has catalyzed numerous public and private efforts to attract and retain these creative workers. For others, the influx of young, college-educated professionals is a harbinger of further shifts in political power, gentrification and the loss of the city's rich cultural traditions (Carr, 2009; Reid 2007). 

This paper draws on semi-structured interviews with 80 young and mid-career professionals who moved or returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes. The 30-60 minute interviews were conducted between March and July of 2009 and addressed three main topics: factors that influenced their decisions to move or return to New Orleans; the professional environment in which they are working; and the factors that have or will influence where they live and work.  In this paper we examine the tensions between the rebuilding professionals' desire to celebrate New Orleans' unique qualities and change the city for the "better" and the social and economic factors that are most likely to impact their future location decisions. We also examine policy interventions to attract and retain creative workers in New Orleans and elsewhere. Our findings suggest many common policies are misguided. Instead, measures to increase economic opportunity and quality of life for all of the city's residents are necessary.

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Post-Katrina New Orleans: Inequality and Schooling

Stefano Barbieri and John H. Y. Edwards

This paper stylizes the most salient characteristics of New Orleans people and the Katrina evacuation and constructs a formal, theoretical model of the decision to return. We use the model to examine the post-Katrina population composition of the city, the evolution in its income distribution and in the welfare of its citizens, and changes in the level of education privately and publicly provided. The key component of our model is a locational attachment to the city, operationalized as a productivity enhancement to skilled workers that is lost by moving away. Our results are, overall, positive for the new New Orleans. While smaller, the new New Orleans is more skilled-intensive and education levels improve. Moreover, while the possibility of .middle-class flight remains, inequality is reduced for parameter configurations that are likely to be empirically relevant. Nonetheless, the fact that many among the unskilled are unable to return remains problematic from an ethical point of view.

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Infrastructure Investment and Skill Distribution in a System of Cities 

Hesham M Abdel-Rahman

The objective of this paper is to examine the impact of infrastructure investments on the skill distribution and income disparity within a system of cities. This is done in a one-sector, spatial, general-equilibrium model of a closed economy. Unskilled and skilled workers are used to produce a single good used for consumption, provisions of infrastructure, and commuting. Cities are formed in this model as a result of investment in public infrastructure which either enhances productivity or individual utility. This paper characterizes the conditions under which each one of the following equilibrium configurations will emerge: (i) sorting; (ii) integrated; (iii) mixed; and (iv) completely mixed system of cities. Then, a comparison between equilibrium, city formation mechanism though local government, and efficient allocation of skilled and unskilled workers within a system of cities, allocation though central government, will be conducted.

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Discussion Highlights

·                     One observation was that current demographic patterns cannot be separated from broader processes of market deregulation, especially in terms of the labor market, as basic worker protections were temporarily or permanently removed post-Katrina. The impact of deregulation was expressed clearly in the construction sector, which showed patterns of systematic exclusion of black workers and intensified exploitation of brown workers.

·                     The story of low-skill worker in-migration was followed by discussion of in-migration among other portions of the workforce, as population shift in New Orleans also occurred among middle- and upper-class residents. Participants were curious as to what attracted these new in-migrants, especially given evidence that such entrants to the city were not drawn by cultural and infrastructure amenities, many of which were equally available in the places they left. In the context of an apparent desire by these residents to make a contribution to recovery, questions were raised with respect to their relationship to New Orleans natives, the degree to which new resident preferences for public policy might differ from the preferences of preexisting populations, and the degree to which new middle- and upper-class residents facilitate the trend towards marketization and deregulation already underway after Katrina.

·                     In demographic terms, these flows were seen in racial and ethnic shifts, framed in terms of voluntary and involuntary migration. This framing suggested an opportunity for comparative work exploring other episodes of displacement and migration. In particular, there was curiosity as to whether other disasters have been characterized by involuntary outflows and voluntary inflows. Under such circumstances, questions emerge as to patterns of integration among new in-migrants, especially among low-skill segments of the workforce, as they settle, raise families, and begin to exert influence on local politics and economic outcomes.

·                     Two presentations modeled the population distribution as an outcome of public policy decisions, especially with respect to infrastructure. For example, education investment, which is largely consumed by low-skill workers in places where middle- and upper-class send their children to private schools, might attract larger numbers of low-skill workers, with resulting impacts on the supply of labor and prevailing wages. Participants called for attention to education quality, especially in applying the model to a city in which organized teachers were replaced by teachers without a collective bargaining agreement, with resulting impact on teacher experience and training. Discussion turned subsequently to the regional allocation of population, skills, and infrastructure, specifically how people move as a result of changing allocation of infrastructure. Historically, the infrastructure which has most been used to preserve an abundance of low-skill and low-wage labor has been repressive infrastructure, in the form of a legal system which denies work rights, as in slavery, Jim Crow, and now the harassment of undocumented workers, thereby keeping wages low and working class organizations weak.


Theme 3: Past and Present and Political Economy

The final session addressed the long-term political economy of accumulation and governance characterizing New Orleans and Louisiana more generally. Historical and journalism perspectives described the combination of natural resource extraction, economic inequality, and the politics of race and redistribution which have come to be intertwined in the region. A historical approach is useful for several reasons. First, it is through the exploration of historical events that analogies can be drawn to current developments, highlighting continuities and differences in the way social, political, and economic forces come together. Second, the process tracing of historical trajectories helps to explain strengths and weaknesses of current political economy in terms of decisions taken and opportunities missed at prior moments. The presentations included discussion of New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Louisiana as a whole. Together they paint a picture of the state in terms of a class compromise of wealth creation and distribution which emerged over time. The terms of that compromise determined the types of policy choices and development outcomes which occurred, with important effects on which groups were included, who benefited, and the large numbers of people who did not.


Louisiana Petro-Populism and public services in the city of New Orleans

Christian Roselund and Brian Marks

Hurricane Katrina highlighted New Orleans' dependence on a public services regime marked by chronic crises. Public schools, hospitals, and housing under-girded the social reproduction of many New Orleanians but also made those residents particularly vulnerable to catastrophic shocks like the 2005 disaster and its aftermath. The most contentious struggles in the city since the storm have centered on the future of these institutions, further underscoring their importance for New Orleans and beyond.

National commentators on the city's reforms have characterized these struggles in terms of contemporary debates around free markets, the role of government, race, and poverty. We understand these struggles as a clash between social democratic and neoliberal ideologies, but argue New Orleans' public services regime must be understood in this city's particular historical and geographical context, embedded in a regional form of populist social democracy and an economic base founded on energy extraction and underdevelopment. New Orleans' modern public service sector was constituted in a framework of 'Louisiana Petro-Populism' – a class compromise exchanging energy-intensive underdevelopment for a social wage of public services paid for with energy rents, manifested in populist electoral mobilizations and public service institutions.

During the late New Deal period, New Orleans was a national pioneer of large-scale public projects like 'Big Charity' and the 'Big Four' housing developments, edifices that materially manifested a new articulation between capital, labor, and municipal, state and federal government in the distribution of wealth and power. These institutions played an important role in sustaining the city's low wage workers as well as reproducing many of its glaring inequalities, sowing the seeds of later crises. The Civil Rights crisis of 1960-73 both expanded the scale of social democratic programs in New Orleans as well as posed their limits in addressing deep-seated class and racial inequalities. The city was partially shielded from the 1970s urban fiscal crisis by high energy prices, but was doubly hit in the mid-'80s by the oil slump and Reagan-era fiscal austerity.

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The Plan and the Product: Re-envisioning New Orleans through the Lens of the Superdome in the 1960's

Brian Greening

This paper will attend to the development, construction, and desired ends of the Superdome.  New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon reveals some of this detail in his book—including the preliminary planning and some of the political and financial haggling undergone—but his "analysis" is limited, both by his lack of objectivity and his obfuscation of critical details of the construction process. I plan on picking up where Dixon left off by providing an unbiased examination of this structure.  In this section, I argue that the Superdome symbolizes a shift in New Orleans's economy—from a primarily blue-collar industrial town to one dependent on tourism and entertainment.  At the onset of postindustrial cityhood, and at its population apex, New Orleans arguably began its steady decline (and inarguably worsened its environmental conditions) at the same time Superdome construction began.

After losing a battle for oil industry supremacy to Houston in the 1960's, and following Houston's construction of the Astrodome, New Orleans drafted plans to create a similar, though grander, multi-purpose sporting complex.  Not to be outdone by its southwestern petroleum counterpart, New Orleans approved the Louisiana Superdome plan following Dixon and former New Orleans governor John J. McKeithen's tour of the Astrodome in 1966.  Upon viewing the cavernous interior of Houston's "eighth wonder," McKeithen was quoted as saying, "I want one of these, only bigger."  In November of 1966, eight days after being awarded the 25th National Football League franchise in league history, state officials approved legislation to build the Superdome in New Orleans by the largest margin in Louisiana history.  In what became conventional opinion—one conflating stadium with city—some critics declared that the superdome symbolized the financial, ethical and spiritual excesses marking New Orleans's then-recent history, including its desire to "outdo Texas in bigness, shininess, and the size of its color TV screens" (Lewis, Caption underneath Figure 60). I envision drawing this statement out in order to reveal the undergirding desire by the city's caretakers, however misguided, to revitalize New Orleans's shrinking central business district.  I will also examine the mid-60s planning decision to dredge the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet to facilitate shipping; the MRGO is now considered among the worst and most environmentally disastrous projects in the city's storied history.

"Oysters, Oil and Moral Economy in the History of Gulf Coast Louisiana" 

Thomas Jessen Adams

Nostalgia for vanished republican virtue, producerist capitalism, and local independence has, throughout American history, been a compelling narrative in times of economic crisis. The so-called "great recession," combined with swelling social and cultural anxieties regarding everything from immigration to family life to mass culture have served to popularize a host of discourses centering on dichotomies between the virtuously traditional and the corrupt and alien modern. Replicating a nearly two centuries-old narrative of republican community virtue destroyed by the twin evils of big business and corrupt governance, the narrative of destroyed communities in BP's wake at once dials into longstanding American cultural anxieties and a current zeitgeist of economic and social displacement. The purpose of this paper is not to critique this narrative per se, though I think it will be clear that, in the least, I find it far too simplistic.  Rather, I want to illuminate the long-term historical connections between the three players that make up the central cast of the BP versus traditional ways of life drama—the South Louisiana fishing, and in particular, oyster industry, the oil industry, and the state. 

Discussion Highlights

·                     Much of the discussion picked up the concept of petro-populism, a provocative label to describe the apparent bargain between Louisiana political elites, extractive industries, and poor beneficiaries of social programs. Political elites offered extractive industries access to lucrative subsoil resources, asking for a share of the wealth for distribution to poor citizens, largely through social programs channeled through personalist, patronage networks led by populist leaders like Huey P. Long. The project details the way the bargain was struck, and raises interesting questions of how it was maintained over time. What mechanisms of adaptation existed, especially as economic changes occurred, new groups emerged, and institutional rules shifted across generations? A familiar observation about the Longite populist appeal was that it successfully mobilized on the basis of class, avoiding the racist trap which infected politics in other parts of the South. Still, while populist social programs delivered real benefits, they failed to transform the economy from its natural resource dependence and were not significantly extended to black citizens. 

·                     The discussion continued to focus on inequalities as attention turned more directly to New Orleans. Infrastructure choices such as the Superdome demonstrate the ways public policy reinforced existing patterns of racial and socioeconomic inequality, contrasting with prevailing myths of New Orleans as a place of festiveness, social harmony, and peaceful coexistence. The fallacy of this myth was exposed in vivid terms during Katrina, when poor people were expelled from inadequate housing and forced to seek refuge in the Superdome. This highlighted the decline of petro-populist infrastructure, such as 1930s public housing, which weathered the storm surprisingly well despite years of disinvestment, yet was still scheduled for demolition after the storm, even as the Superdome received a facelift of over $100 million.

·                     One participant noted parallels between Louisiana petro-populism and Latin American populism. In simple terms, both share a combination of natural resource dependence and charismatic politicians, whose bombast serves at least in part to negotiate wealth from extractive industries for the purpose of feeding patronage networks. As in Latin American cases, the first question which must be asked is how much can truly be negotiated if the profitability of natural resource extraction places a ceiling on the amount of redistribution which can occur. Also, there would appear to be poverty-preserving devil's deal, in which patronage alleviates poverty but does not lead to structural changes away from resource dependence, thereby maintaining the hold of populist leaders.

·                     In following that theme, one additional shortcoming of the populist model is its vulnerability to resource scarcity. If natural resources dry up, or their price collapses, there is nothing to fund patronage networks. In such circumstances, petro-populism can descend into selective mobilization and superficiality, resting on performance and monument, rather than actual distribution. The architecture of New Orleans, the subject of Superdome, convention center, and downtown renovation, serves as a potential example of style over substance, distracting voters with political display rather than social provision.

·                     Political dependence on monument, style, and performance would further appear to distort public policy decisions in ways which even more severely deepen dependence on natural resources. For example, the decision to turn New Orleans towards tourism committing public policy to ongoing spectacle-type projects. While pitched as much-needed investment, it represents a commitment to a low-wage, low-skill economy which does little to create local wealth which can serve as an alternative to the export of natural resources.


Appendix 1. Agenda

New Orleans Political Economy Workshop

September 10, 2010

Stibbs Room, LBC 203


9:00-9:15 – Welcome


9:15-11:00 – Policy and Political Economy


·         Kevin Fox Gotham - Disaster is in the Response: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Political Economy of the Post-Katrina Public Assistance


·         Aaron Schneider – New Orleans: Political Economy of Public Money


·         Vern Baxter - Rent, Real Estate, and Flood Mitigation in New Orleans East

Discussants: Tom Langston and James Alm


11:00-11:15 – Coffee


11:15-1:00 – People and Political Economy


·         Beth Fussell and Abel Valenzuela – Getting a Construction Job in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Race, Nativity, and Luck


·         Marla Nelson and Renia Ehrenfeucht - Opportunities and Tensions of a Post-Katrina "Brain Gain"


·         Stefano Barbieri and John Edwards - Post-Katrina New Orleans: Inequality and Schooling


·         Hesham M Abdel-Rahman - Infrastructure Investment and Skill Distribution in a System of Cities

Discussants: Nora Lustig and Melissa Harris-Lacewell


1:00-2:30 – Lunch


2:30-4:15 – Past and Present and Political Economy


·         Christian Roselund and Brian Marks – Longite Petro-Populism and the New Orleans Public Services Regime


·         Brian Greening - The Plan and the Product: Re-envisioning New Orleans through the Lens of the Superdome in the 1960's


·         Thomas Adams - Oysters, Oil, and Moral Economy in the History of Gulf Coast Louisiana

Discussants: Mark Vail and Steve Striffler


4:15-4:30 – Coffee


4:30-5:00 – Wrap-up and Future Plans


Appendix 2. Participants


Elizabeth Fussell is an Associate Professor at Washington State University in the Sociology department. She received her doctorate in Sociology with a concentration in Demography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998 and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. She was a member of Tulane's Sociology Department from 2001 to 2007. Her research focuses on Mexican migration to the United States. Since Hurricane Katrina she has been studying post-disaster population change in New Orleans, including the arrival of Latino immigrants to participate in the recovery of the city. Her website is:

Brian Greening is currently a PhD candidate in American Studies at Saint Louis University.  My interests  have ranged from hip hop to southern history to race relations and resistance movements. My dissertation research focuses on New Orleans, the Louisiana Superdome, and the 40-year span between two of the most disastrous hurricanes-Betsy and Katrina-to hit the area. I look to locate the shifting, reforming meaning and symbolism of New Orleans primarily through the Superdome--a landmark infused with and redefined by spectacle.

Aaron Schneider is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at Tulane University. His research explores public finance as an indication of patterns of power, legitimacy, and development in different contexts. He has used this approach to help make sense of responses to globalization in Brazil and India, and he has recently finished a manuscript on efforts by Central American governments to tax newly emerging economic sectors such as services and manufacturing assembly. His work in New Orleans includes the causes and consequences of revenue sources and spending allocation for issues of equity, development, and electoral gain. He can be reached at




Aaron Schneider, Political Science, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-862-8301