There’s plenty wrong with the presumption — embodied bountifully in this editorial appearing in today’s New York Times — that New Orleans can be rebuilt only if there’s "a comprehensive plan" to define and guide the rebuilding effort. Here’s my take on centralized versus decentralized approaches to rebuilding my hometown.
I was also struck by the NYT editorialist’s fear that the recent "rumbling" that New Orleans’s levees might not be rebuilt quickly will stall the rebuilding effort. That might be so. But an even more ominous rumbling is being heard throughout New Orleans — a rumbling that will do at least as much to disrupt rebuilding as any uncertainty about levee reconstruction. The rumbling that I speak of is the rumbling of calls for rent-control.
When my family and I were in New Orleans at Thanksgiving, we heard the local television stations report that several prominent politicians in the city are considering rent control. And NPR ran this report a couple of weeks ago. It’s entitled "New Orleans Considers Implementing Rent Control."
Uncle Sam can build levees that will withstand category 10 hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, locusts, and any other natural disaster you care to name: if the government imposes rent control, the rebuilding of New Orleans will be, at best, fitful and slipshod. Additionally, what rebuilding there is will be of owner-occupied homes and of condominiums — structures that escape rent control. The population of rebuilt New Orleans will be artificially biased toward middle- and upper-income people — and artificially biased against low-income people.