Center for American Progress

Lessons from History: A Blueprint for Revitalizing the Gulf Coast
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Lessons from History: A Blueprint for Revitalizing the Gulf Coast

The George Washington University

Lessons from History: A Blueprint for Revitalizing the Gulf Coast (pdf)

While the Chicago Fire of 1871 and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 are most often mentioned as the historical precedents the government should examine as it prepares its response to Katrina, they offer no useable parallel other than disasters provoke intense urban riots that require military policing and that independent commissions are essential to assessing the government’s response.

Instead the programmatic response most worthy of early responders and policymakers’ attention are the lessons federal and state policymakers learned as they responded to the man-made crises of the Great Depression and the period’s extraordinarily devastating natural disaster, the Dust Bowl.

When Franklin Roosevelt marshaled resources to combat national unemployment and poverty figures that rival those of contemporary New Orleans, he commanded his response team to fix programs that were “scattered, uneconomical and unequal.” Returning to his campaign call for “bold, persistent experimentation,” FDR viewed the dislocation, devastation, and social and economic havoc of 1933 as a national disaster whose hemorrhaging must be stemmed if our faith in capitalism and compassion was to survive. Not all of his policies worked, but those that did succeeded not only in putting people to work, expanding and protecting homeownership, shoring up private industry, returning the Gross National Product to its post-crash level – but, perhaps most important, restoring people’s confidence in themselves and in government.

I am not arguing that we should revitalize the New Deal or that 70-year-old policies supporting an unprecedented degree of federal intervention will work in a contemporary environment. Rather I am arguing that careful review of their successes and failures provides valuable lessons to those charged with forging and coordinating the public and private sector’s response to both the horrific destruction Katrina caused and the underlying social and economic factors which compounded its devastation.

An examination of five policies – the Federal Housing Authority, the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the response to the Dust Bowl – offer essential, effective guidance on how to revitalize (not just rebuild a region teetering on the edge of poverty) a region so important to our culture and our economy.

Recovery cannot begin without relief and cannot last without reform.

Read the Full Report Here:
Lessons from History: A Blueprint for Revitalizing the Gulf Coast (pdf)

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