New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 1: Introduction: Uncertainty and Discovery in a Post-Disaster Context
Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr Long after the popular media have stopped investigating and retelling the stories of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, students of the social order will still consider it to be among the most significant events of the past 100 years of American history. The scale of physical destruction, the poor record of government response and the frustrating road to recovery provide social scientists with a broad opportunity to shed light on social dynamics that often remain cloaked in the course of day-to-day existence. Consequently, since the storm, a broad spectrum of scholars drawn from anthropology, sociology, political science, history and urban studies have considered the implications that the storm and subsequent flooding of New Orleans have had for their respective disciplines.1 Peter Boettke, Vice President for Research at the Mercatus Center and Professor of Economics at George Mason University, agreed. For all the devastation it wrought, Katrina offered an unparalleled opportunity to learn. In February 2006 the Mercatus Center launched the Gulf Coast Recovery Project under Boettke’s direction. The project brought together a team of researchers – primarily economists – to address the following question: what affords societies the ability to respond to and recover from catastrophic disaster, and what forces undermine that capacity? The team members knew that as we pursued our work the particular form this question would take would vary and new questions would emerge. But it was this central puzzle that would ground the team and our investigations. While we understood that economics...