Editor's note: This piece originally appeared in Human Events.
Did you see any looters on television last week? Neither did I. When New Orleans was flooded two years ago, there were looters all over my TV screen. Men with assault rifles waded through the streets menacingly. At first, I thought I was looking at footage from Somalia, but I looked at the crawl underneath the images - it wasn’t Somalia; it was Louisiana.
What about the rapists? There were rapists at the refugee camp formerly known as the Superdome, but did you see any reports about rapists at Qualcomm Stadium last week? I didn’t. Did the mayor of San Diego cuss and then lash out at George Bush on your TV screen last week? Did Governor Schwarzenegger cry for the cameras? Did he pass the buck?
San Diego had a major fire just four years ago. Did they wallow in their victimhood and demand more government funding? Did they play the race card, claiming that George Bush just doesn’t like Mexicans?
The answer to all these questions is ‘no’. Here’s why: culture matters. San Diego is an entrepreneurial city. It’s a technology savvy, business-friendly region with unusually high rates of self-employment. Few of its citizens are unemployed; few receive welfare. Not many of its employed residents work for government. San Diego has seen its share of troubles. Like Pittsburgh had been a steel town and Detroit had been a car town, San Diego had been built on the defense industry. But when the Berlin wall came down and the defense budgets dried up, it shifted towards the next big thing – biotechnology. These changes have come from the bottom-up; from the marketplace.
New Orleans isn’t any of those things. We can romanticize things all we want. I lived in New Orleans for awhile when I was a child. I have relatives there. I liked everyone that I met there. But let’s be honest, New Orleans is, and has been for many years, burdened by legendarily incompetent and corrupt leadership class. The big economic activities, off-shore platforms and large ports, are essentially colonial operations, run by distant managers, not emerging from the entrepreneurial action of the locals. The indigenous economy is basically a combination of tourism and bribery.