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The broken trailer fallacy: Seeing the unseen effects of government policies in post-Katrina New Orleans


  • Edward P. Stringham
  • Nicholas A. Snow


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to analyze some of the unseen negative effects of the post-Katrina government policies dealing with housing in New Orleans. Design/methodology/approach - Since Hurricane Katrina, the government, along with private for profit and not-for-profit organizations, has worked to rebuild the city of New Orleans. This effort is most evident in the response to the housing crisis that followed the storm. The government has spent billions of dollars and brought thousands of people in to rebuild homes and other infrastructure in the long run and to provide stopgap measures in the short run. The approximately 120,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers in the region are one of the most visible examples of government efforts. Findings - The paper finds that while the trailers did provide benefits to those who received them, it could be argued that the government's policies aimed toward solving the housing crisis suffer from Frédéric Bastiat's broken window fallacy. FEMA trailers and the multitude of workers brought in are examples of what is seen, and, as Bastiat showed, we must also look at what is unseen. Originality/value - The paper is of value in showing that the trailer problem, among many others, has weakened the relief effort.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward P. Stringham & Nicholas A. Snow, 2008. "The broken trailer fallacy: Seeing the unseen effects of government policies in post-Katrina New Orleans," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 35(7), pages 480-489, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:35:y:2008:i:7:p:480-489

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. William F. Chappell & Richard G. Forgette & David A. Swanson & Mark V. Van Boening, 2007. "Determinants of Government Aid to Katrina Survivors: Evidence from Survey Data," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 344-362, October.
    2. Craig E. Landry & Okmyung Bin & Paul Hindsley & John C. Whitehead & Kenneth Wilson, 2007. "Going Home: Evacuation-Migration Decisions of Hurrican Katrina Survivors," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 326-343, October.
    3. Catherine Eckel & Philip J. Grossman & Angela Milano, 2007. "Is More Information Always Better? An Experimental Study of Charitable Giving and Hurrican Katrina," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 388-411, October.
    4. Sam Whitt & Rick K. Wilson, 2007. "Public Goods in The Field: Katrina Evacuees in Houston," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 377-387, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Walter Block & William Barnett, 2009. "Coase and Bertrand on lighthouses," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 140(1), pages 1-13, July.

    More about this item


    United States of America; Natural disasters; Man-made disasters; Floods; Economic theory;

    JEL classification:

    • H42 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Publicly Provided Private Goods
    • H54 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Infrastructures
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation


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