I went bipolar watching Monday Night Footbal last week. On the one hand, growing up in NE Texas, I was close enough to New Orleans to get many of their games and became a mild follower. Given my proximity, my liking of Drew Brees as a QB, and the plight of residents of an area whacked by a devastating natural disaster, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy and a desire for the team to succeed. On the other hand, the media’s elevation of the event to a national day of celebration along with ESPN/ABC’ posture as faux-Visitor’s Bureau brought out the dispassonate, hyper-analytical economist in me. I didn’t listen to much of the commentary, but I did get Mike Tirico’s note to the nation,
“Bourbon Street is open for business and bustling with activity”
For all of the hype along with substantial funds and genuine efforts of many people, the long term outlook for the city and Saints can only be bright for the most politically correct announcers or most optimistic of people. An August report by the Brookings Institution provides an overview of the situation with some detail concerning the current state of affairs. As is often the case with Brookings, the report intertwines analysis with unabashed advocacy. Nonetheless, one can get a decent picture of the pre- and post-Katrina problems the Big Easy faces:
- Depopulation (pre and more so post)
- High Rates of Poverty (pre and post)
- Housing blight (pre) and outright abadonment (post)
- Poor city leadership (pre and post)
Taking on more of the Mike Tirico tone, the report lays out the conditions for building a “Better New Orleans.” All it requires is more spending (on top of the $109 billion in total fed spending in Gulf areas including about $35 billion in “long-term” spending), getting federal, state, and local authorities to spend the money effectively while also setting up the right kind of development and incentive plans. No problem if you hold a romantic view of government solutions. Ironically, the report also blames much of the decline in New Orleans on policies like public housing projects, expanding levees to protect more outlying areas (protecting the city center is ok, not the suburbs), and other suspect government decisions. In another ironic twist in the same vein, the report express how difficult it is to follow the federal money trail.
A more realistic outlook is likely offered in a CNN summary of the Brookings study, quoting a one New Orleans native (and former Green Beret) who holed up through the storm and for three weeks thereafter:
The politicians were promising a comeback. I knew immediately they were dreaming, and as much as I love the city, I couldn’t live there anymore, not the way it was. It was hideous, horrendous,” said the 35-year-old freelance economic consultant. “I’ll never come back to live in New Orleans. I don’t have much hope for the city.
For the Saints, the political correctness of it all has tied their hands. If they can put together an NFC championship, they might even replace Green Bay not just for the present but over the next few years as the media darling. Nonetheless, over the long-term economic and demographic fundamentals matter. Barring a miracle for the city or revenue sharing that is generous even by NFL standards, they could easily make a ton more money somewhere else even in Toronto not to mention LA as John Palmer noted.