The economy of New Orleans, along with the politics of the city, has been on the slide for decades. But as I have written often, there is one constant that offers hope for the Big Easy and the region around it. That is the Port of New Orleans and the other elements of the Mississippi River Port Complex, which is why the $1.5 billion container terminal expansion in the works needs to be paired with an economic development strategy. There is little evidence the people in charge either of the city or the state have such a strategy. They don’t know strategy; they know politics.
Think about this: from WWII until the late ’70s, beside the physical port itself, New Orleans boasted value-added manufacturing, distribution, and maritime trade corporate headquarters and banks. Today, that’s all gone and with it went the jobs that were the gateway to the middle class for a state populated by un- and under-educated masses. In the place of these industries the state has invested billions in tourism marketing and facilities. Tourism is fine, but for the majority it employs it doesn’t create that pathway to prosperity.
The other failing of the city and state has been by refusing to give up on being the Huey Long welfare state, and as a result not being welcoming to business. So the state tries to make up for that by “buying” business with massive tax subsidies and other things. Does doing this sound stupid? Of course, but we are a state led by economically ignorant political characters who only want to protect their jobs. So to speak, as citizens we get what we elect.
The Folgers debacle is a good example; yes, the company was seeking generous tax breaks in a rough economy, but those breaks are on the table precisely because of a deficient, job-killing, anti-capitalist tax code which is out of step with Louisiana’s neighbors. But leftist demagogues in and out of government only saw Folgers as a mark, and now it’s a matter of time before the company and its 750 manufacturing jobs are off to some other, friendlier, locale.
Yes, New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole have a highly under-utilized asset in the Port Complex. But as long as we elect “it’s my turn” politicians, community organizers, and lawyers to our highest offices, my hunch is that my grandchildren will be writing this same lament many years from now! Of course they will be doing so from California, Texas, Tennessee, or other places that recognized the advantage of pro-growth policies decades ago.