Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour called the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina "unimaginable." We no longer have to imagine the death and destruction; We are seeing the unimaginable become tragic reality 24/7 on our TV screens. The challenge now facing Congress and Gulf-State legislatures is to imagine the unimaginable future -- while doing everything possible to assist people recover from the current emergency -- to prepare for future emergencies, reform and restructure government, which clearly failed catastrophically at all levels during the last week, and incentivize and empower private ownership and private enterprise.
The huge calamity of Katrina and the need to rebuild the Gulf Coast provides Congress and state legislatures with the opportunity to implement big ideas that could begin to transform America in the first decade of the 21st century. We have a golden opportunity to "green line" the Delta and Gulf Coast with government policies that facilitate and empower the private sector and private citizens.
Out of the tragedies of the U.S. Civil War and World War II, Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt imagined an unimaginable future. They created transformative programs that helped define the American dream of ownership and economic empowerment. Lincoln's Homesteading Act empowered people with title to 160 acres of land, free, and Roosevelt's Federal Housing Authority and GI Bill of Rights offered ways for capital-less people to own a house and to receive higher education.
As we think about the government's role in assisting people get back on their feet after Katrina, we should be thinking about how to expand private property rights, business ownership and create rational incentives to build a new Gulf Coast and Delta Region unencumbered by bureaucratic rules and strictures. We have an enormous opportunity to replace outmoded government programs and bureaucracies with public-private partnerships and new private institutions that are built upon the foundation of individual ownership, private property rights, personal responsibility and social justice that an ownership society brings.
There are a few simple things Congress could do immediately to facilitate the rebuilding effort in the private sector. For example, the entire storm region could be turned into an enterprise zone, suspending burdensome federal regulations, such as the Davis-Bacon Act and the Jones Act. Also, onerous regulations imposed by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communication Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency could be suspended.