Acton Institute Powerblog

Afterthoughts on the Aftermath of the New Orleans Flood

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Eric Schansberg ponders the lessons that we can learn from the aftermatch of Hurricane Katrina. One of Schansberg’s biggest questions in light of the government’s failure to effectively manage the disaster is this: if the government, both local and federal, failed at all levels to deal with Katrina before, during, and after it made landfall, shouldn’t we be looking for other options rather than trying to depend more on a system that obviously failed? Schansberg suggests that while the government does play a role in the welfare of the nation, private organizations, charities, and local community groups are much more capable of dealing with the emotional and physical care of those displaced in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Private charitable activity is always better. Charity is always preferred ethically because people are engaged in voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange with others. Charity is always preferred biblically because it fills the biblical mandate to love others, especially those who are the most vulnerable. Charity, if done well, is preferred practically, because it is more effective, more efficient, and can focus on the spiritual as well as the material concerns of the needy. Again, if government is ineffective, shouldn’t our response be less dependence on government and more encouragement of private activity?

Read the full commentary here.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Evans Munyemesha

    While I am in agreement with the general points of the analysis, I am however not in agreement with some particular points. The Chief point I am opposed to partially is that ‘Charity is always preferred ethically because people are engaged in voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange with others.’ A charitable exchange always carries with it the meaning that one party to the exchange is of not ‘independent’ means. Therefore tracing the problem to its real cause(s), and not just the apparent cause(s) by trying to understand the source or cause of the ‘need’ will give us sufficient information that we could use to help those in need of charity to become independent, and thus diminish or eliminate the need for charity. Charity however is an honorable practice only as a temporary effort; if made permanent, it naturally falls into abuse.

    Evans Munyemesha

  • Bill Steffen

    Let’s shift from blame to praise for a minute: First, the National Weather Service forecasts were terrific. The 48-hour forecast on Katrina issued when the storm was just passed south Florida had the storm hitting Buras, Louisiana. That’s EXACTLY where the storm went. Twenty-Four hours in advance, a statement from the New Orleans Office of NWS described in chilling detail what was about to happen. Second, the military was fantastic! From the Coast Guard rescues to Gen. Honare’s Saturday helicopter evacuations, the military was quick, thorough and tireless. Third, how about Jabbar Gibson…the man who went and got a bus and drove 70 people to the Astrodome in Houston. While the media focuses blame, heroes hardly get noticed.

  • Jane Lookofsky

    Having recently returned from serving as a volunteer in a LA shelter manned by the Red Cross, I am still in a state of shock. This is the most disorganized, mismanaged, wasteful organization I have ever been involved in. If people knew have the waste and skimming off the top the Red Cross does with their donations they would run them out of the country. To be living in a democratic society, I honestly believe the shelters run by the American Red Cross are the closest to a concentration camp I have seen or will see in my 54 years (27 spent in emergency services). The people (evacuees) are underfed, disrespected and treated worse than animals in humane shelters. The problem was not the abundance of food, clothing and other necessities but with the Red Cross and their bureaucracy. Those in charge wanting their minute of glory at the expense of the displaced, manage to take away the initiative of those wanting to volunteer and the dignity of those in need. It’s not about “racism”, it’s about “classism” and those in leadership at the ARC are prime examples. I don’t necessarily want the government to have any more control of things then they already do BUT someone needs to investigate the practices of this organization. You’d think after all the years they’ve been at it they’d have it figured out by now!

  • Julie Robertson

    As a resident of the New Orleans metropolitan area, I take offense at your remarks not for what you said but for what you did not say. You do not place the blame for the disaster on the Corp of Engineers and I think you have to blame them for the flooding. Also you do not talk about those people who were responsible in their actions before the flood and after. They purchased insurance, they evacuated at their own expense and have returned to rebuild their lives. No mention of the suburbs and their struggle to survive after the storm. Many of my friends spent days on rooftops in St. Bernard waiting for rescue. No mention of this in your remarks or on the national media. As I read your remarks I had to wonder if you had been to the New Orleans area since the storm? Have you spoken to those who acted responsibly and are still working to put their lives together. I could have come to the same incomplete conclusions you did by just watching the news. I am a responsible citizen who returned to rebuild my city and suburbs. I worked out of my home to restart the school that I work for in one of the most devastated areas of the city.
    Please don’t use this disaster just to point out that welfare was a mistake. I am sure that you can find a number of other great examples to prove your point. This diaster has touched everyone in this city and is bigger than politics. We do not need more incomplete information from people who are not in the struggle daily. If you would like to visit and see, touch, feel, explore the New Orleans that you are not going to see on the TV please come and I will be happy to give you the tour. My conclusion here is that you are just another Monday morning quarterback.