“A Lesson in Privatization: Hurricane Katrina and the Wal-Mart Response”

“If [the] American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.”
—Sheriff Harry Lee, Jefferson Parish, New Orleans

Come join Cascade Policy Institute for a special luncheon presentation featuring Dr. Steven Horwitz in Portland, Wednesday, June 18, noon – 1:30p.m.

A professor of economics at St. Lawrence University, Dr. Horwitz is author of the recent Mercatus Policy Comment, “Making Hurricane Response More Effective: Lessons from the Private Sector and the Coast Guard during Katrina.”

“Many people believe that the government, particularly the federal government, should finance and direct both the response to and recovery from natural disasters”¦.However, the reality of the response to Katrina demonstrates that the private sector is far more effective than the conventional wisdom suggests“¦.During the Katrina relief efforts, the more successful organizations were those that had the right incentives to respond well”¦and could tap into the local information necessary to know what that response should be”¦.

The goal of disaster preparedness and response is to save lives and relieve suffering. It should not matter who does this and how, as long as it gets done in the quickest and most effective way possible. The private sector, especially big-box firms such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot, demonstrated during Katrina what they also demonstrate every day in the market: they are very effective at logistics and supply chain management because they have strong incentives to provide the goods and services that people want.”
—Dr. Steven Horwitz

Business owners, suppliers, retail managers and employees are especially welcome!

Please RSVP to Nancy Wheaton by Friday, June 13 at (503) 242-0900. The $25 cover charge includes a delicious Italian lunch.


Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market research center.

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Posted by at 12:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 16 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    If it comes down to the government or the private sector, except for issues of war, I will take the private sector EVERY time.

  • David

    Where was Wal-Mart during the Oregon floods of Nov 2007? Did journalists somehow miss their overwhelming presence in the state?

    Also, I don’t recall them being around during the serious fires in southern CA last year, but maybe I just skipped over those stories.

    The 2004 tsunami? Oh, yeah, foreigners — can’t be bothered there. Or last months’ cyclone — only 80,000 dead.

    The Great Mississippi Flood of 1993? Eh, maybe WalMart didn’t care enough back then.

    There was a big ice storm where I lived in New Hampshire in early 1998. Many people were without power for 2 weeks. I don’t recall any WalMart trucks around, though I do recall many from local, state, and federal governments and utility companies. But then, I probably overlooked them.

    It’s funny how WalMart services all these disasters so selflessly and stealthily.

    • devietro

      please remember that Walmart or any other corporation has no duty to take care of you, if they choose to help its of their own choice.

      • David

        Exactly — which is why we must rely on the government, and not WalMart, to solve our disaster problems. The latter is only in it for the publicity, in the believe it will help their bottom line.

        • Chris McMullen

          Amazing. Most communities band together in times of need and help each other without government mandates and coercion. It doesn’t take government bureaucrats to decide where tax dollars should be redistributed. It takes private, charitable contributions and a big heart.

          Sounds like you’re unable to wrap your head around that concept, David.

        • Jerry

          You go right ahead and rely on the government to take care of you. I will never do so.

        • Joey Link

          Rely on the government? The same government who put thousands of people in the Superdome? Ha!

          • David

            And where did WalMart want to put them?

          • Chris McMullen

            It it was up to anyone other than an idiot liberal, they would have transported people out of town on all those school buses that ended up under water.

            But Nagin and Blanco made the correct decisions, right Pinky?

        • Steve Horwitz

          And why is pursuing their bottom line inherently contradictory with providing effective disaster relief? If you read my study, one of the things you’ll see is that the executives from the big box believe that doing what they did is very much consistent with their bottom line: if they don’t have communities to go back to, they can’t make any profits.

          Why would Wal-Mart create a self-imposed moratorium on price hikes when hurricanes hit if they didn’t think doing so was both the best way to serve their communities AND enhance their bottom line? The answer is that the private sector actually cares about the long run in a way that politicians on two or four-year election cycles do not.

    • Steve Horwitz

      I’m glad to see a good spirited discussion of these issues. I did want to respond to David’s comments quickly.

      Actually David, during the Pacific Northwest flooding, the big-box retailers were very much involved as the Oregonian reported at the time: https://tinyurl.com/6ra8zv . The journalists were on top of it, so it does seem like you just missed it.

      During the California fires, two Home Depot associates turned the parking lot of their under-construction store into an animal shelter for the evacuated families. I guess you must have indeed skipped that one. (See the 5/5/08 issue of Home Channel News).

      If Wal-Mart or others had stores in the tsunami region, then that complaint would have some validity.

      My own area of the country was affected by an icestorm a decade ago and local retailers, including Wal-Mart, were very helpful in ensuring a supply of generators and the like.

      The private sector has a long history of being involved in disaster response. The story is just not often told.

  • dartagnan

    The American government dropped the ball after Katrina because the American government was under the control of a political party that doesn’t give a damn about working people and believes “government is the problem, not the solution” (except when it’s handing out fat contracts to defense contractors and war profiteers). “Government doesn’t work — elect us and we’ll prove it.” — Conservative slogan

    • Chris McMullen

      So Dart, no blame can be laid at New Orlean’s mayor or Louisiana’s Governor (both Democrats)? Or that fact New Orleans has been dominated by big gummint liberal policy for over 40 years? Which produced a culture of dependence on government?

      I’m sure that escapes you. Just keep on with your partisan hackery.

  • dean

    Maybe we actually need both. A well functioning government disaster relief (like we had under President Clinton) AND a well functioning private relief system (companies, individuals, Mercy Corp, the Red Cross, etc….). Why does it have to be either-or?

    • cc

      “Why does it have to be either-or?”

      Spoken with all the sincerity of Rodney King.

      Wake me when you think we have anything approaching a “…well functioning government…” anything, dean.

      • dean

        On the federal level…within a year after January 20th, 2009. Set your alarm.

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