New Orleans received a shout-out last week in the Wall Street Journal from an unlikely source: Joel Kotkin, professor of Urban Studies at Chapman University and one of the nation’s leading demographers. According to Mr. Kotkin, we are doing some things right that put his own state of California to shame.
Mr. Kotkin observed that in the past two decades, nearly 4 million more people have left California than have migrated from other states. Kotkin largely blames government for this state of affairs, particularly development restrictions that artificially limit housing supply.
Unless you are wealthy, Mr. Kotkin notes, “your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak.” Moving inland is an option, albeit not a great one – the amenities differ little from states with cheaper housing and a lower cost of living.
Overall, Kotkin accuses California of perpetrating a “progressive war on the middle class.” Put bluntly, the state is run “for the very rich, the very poor, and the public employees.”
So who does Kotkin say is doing better? New Orleans.
“New Orleans is supposedly going to pass New York as the second largest film center,” says Kotkin. “They have great incentives, and New Orleans is the best bargain for urban living in the United States. It’s got great food, great music, and it’s inexpensive.”
I revel in this. A premier demographer calls New Orleans the land of opportunity, one that California has much to learn from. Fifty years ago, who would have thought this were possible?
This, dear readers, is the best argument for why we must eschew new development restrictions, new taxes, and especially new bureaucracies. This is why we must promote a low cost of living. We shouldn’t try to become another San Francisco because it doesn’t play to our strengths and it isn’t who we are.
It isn’t just in New Orleans, either. Kotkin identifies the Gulf Coast as being one of four major “growth corridors” in the U.S. We have the unique opportunity now to coordinate with East Texas and the Florida panhandle to forge a region that will generate economic growth for years to come. Already many California tech firms like Facebook end Apple are setting up shop in Austin, and the tech industry is nascent here in New Orleans. Opportunities abound.
When it comes to economic growth end government competence, New Orleanians are not an optimistic bunch. We usually leave optimism to those sunny Californians and their Hollywood and their weather that doesn’t make your shirt stick to your skin.
But now we’ve turned a corner. The future isn’t in California, but in places like New Orleans where you can live cheaply and live well. People will readily tolerate a hot, humid climate if it means lower taxes, cheap goods and no big brother.
I’ll even do you the benefit of breaking this down further. Have you heard this new stuff about a downtown hospitality district? Oppose it. We don’t need new layers of bureaucracy with their own authority and their own shortcomings; we need clean, straightforward government from stem to stern. The same goes for new taxes and higher fees. Ask why a lean, responsible government needs them.
Most of all, ask yourself whether a government action burdens the middle class. The wealthy can afford new taxes and regulations, and the poor either aren’t targeted or are the intended beneficiaries. Government actions tend to bypass those who have too much to feel the pain or too little. Those who really suffer are those who are comfortable but still working on a budget. They can’t afford stupidity and they’re mobile.
New Orleans is on the right trajectory. Let’s make sure it stays that way.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.