by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During an emergency, some people think the government needs to take over. Louisiana officials have learned to take a different approach, as the latest Bloomberg Businessweek documents.
As Hurricane Gustav bore down on Louisiana in 2008, state officials wanted to avoid the food shortages that had followed Katrina three years earlier. So they bought thousands of MREs—“meals ready to eat,” foil-bagged military rations available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency—for about $8 each. They also called local caterers and restaurants to see whether those businesses might help feed evacuees. The food vendors, it turned out, were able to serve fresh, hot meals of jambalaya and red beans and rice at half the price of FEMA’s rations. “We probably saved close to half a million dollars during that one event by tapping into the private sector,” says Pat Santos, who oversees disaster relief in Louisiana.
While some of those quoted in the article treat the private sector’s superior performance as surprising, unquoted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal could have offered some helpful hints about the importance of freely functioning private economic actors.