I want to say a few words in regards to the recent pandemonium happening in my old romping ground; the big easy. There’s obviously been a lot of news coverage simply informing the masses of the horrendous situation. These images are fueling a theoretical debate as is typical of most disaster situations. It seems that every time something catastrophic happens, the planners and the economists come out of the woodwork to offer completely opposing sides of a relatively straight forward situation. Is the catastrophe going to help or hurt the economy? Should we allow price gouging of necessary emergency materials? These are important questions and have been paid due attention, but I don’t want to talk about either one. What I do want to draw attention to is the notion of spontaneous order and the implications which can be inferred out of such an event as the current New Orleans crisis.
Specifically, I refer to the looting and violence that are being reported by more direct sources as linked above. Watching such footage and hearing these accounts I can’t help but recall the book “The Lord of the Flies.” As a middle school student I loved this book, but as I’ve grown older and more steeped in economics I’ve begun to feel rather ambiguous about its message. The book depicts reality as a Hobbesian jungle, a notion I’m quite skeptical of in favor of emergent order alternatives. I believe that people are capable of organizing themselves to produce peace and prosperity, given the opportunity to do so they will find entrepreneurial mechanisms to insure the greatest level of social benefit (if such a concept has any meaning at all).
“The Lord of the Flies” – setting of New Orleans over the last few days seems to stand as opposing empirical evidence to such a world view, but I disagree. I lived in a rather rough and tumble section of New Orleans for four years. I saw and experienced first hand the most depraved elements of human existence, yet still I have to insist that such actions and characteristics are not natural but rather institutionally inclined and encouraged. Two natures of man are claimed to exist; one being the Hobbesian notion of war of all against all, while the other is the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange. Given their natural abilities to develop, I believe the latter to trump the former. In a situation such as we are presented in today’s New Orleans we have to ask, what has caused the former to dominate the latter? My answer is as follows, but first a description of the situation as it stands.
A hurricane of epic proportions has left the city in rubble and under water. Before it hit, the majority of people fled the city with few worldly possessions. Left behind were those unable, unaware, or unwilling to leave along with those worldly possessions not so easily salvaged before hand. It seems obvious to me that such a sorting process does not provide an outlet for the more natural tendency of humanity to dominate over the less but rather vice versa. If anything I believe this to support my world view rather than refute it.
Why are survivors shooting at helicopters trying to help them? The usurped wealth of looting and hording the remnant material of New Orleans could be the best off that some of these individuals have ever been. Keep in mind we’re talking about people who have been engulfed in a system of dependency. Often times, they have been given housing, medical care, food, clothing, and subsidized employment their entire lives. If I were them I wouldn’t understand the preferable conditions of trucking, bartering, and exchanging either. This post is not meant to be a defense of such a behavior but rather a re-defense of emergent order through self governance and a refutation of the Hobbesian jungle proved through the example of post Katrina New Orleans, nothing more but nothing less.