When I reflect on the continuing devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, I keep coming back to a very long article I read, some years ago, I think in Atlantic Monthly, about international shipping in the era of global capitalism. The piece appeared before I became aware of the intertubes, so I haven’t a prayer of retrieving it. Though I’ve several times tried.
The meat of the thing was that there is no margin. To ensure that we live in a world where, say, Americans can eat pineapples, strawberries, and mangoes year round, requires the allocation of enormous amounts of resources, on a split-second schedule where delay is intolerable. The system is therefore extremely vulnerable; the author, in the course of the piece, de-monstrated how the entire structure would collapse if interrupted for but three days. The most powerful interests on the planet therefore contrive to ensure that these uber-modern trains continue to run on time, regardless of consequences. They will subvert whole governments, if that is what it takes, to timely deliver the cucumbers.
This rings to me of Katrina. Because in the wake of that storm we were confronted with the fact that in the lives of so many of our fellow citizens there too is no margin. But that such people are not protected by the system and the interests that ensure that I can eat a mango in January in Icepick, Minnesota. Those who most suffered through Katrina are people who, in the normal course of things, are shunted off to a siding, barely tolerated, barely acknowledged. And who, when in three days their entire world had collapsed, were simply abandoned.