Bars and Brass Bands in the Big Easy | Off the Clock Economist Explores

Release Date
March 10, 2014


Free Markets and Capitalism

What if we told you that the decadent and debaucherous nature of New Orleans made it easier, not harder, for the Big Easy to come back strong after Hurricane Katrina? Follow our Off the Clock Economist, Dan D’Amico, as he explores the underlying social capital of jazz music, parades, and much more. You will also get to learn what Faubourg Marigny is, hear some history on the Rebirth Brass Band, and discover a bar that warns, “Be Nice or Go Home.” This is New Orleans like you’ve never seen it.

The Merchants’ Capital (book): Check out the political economy of NOLA in the 19th century, and how that shapes the city to this day.
Post-Nagin, New Orleans is On Way to Becoming A Model City (article): Dan D’Amico is far from the only one who sees a hope in the future of the Big Easy
The Political, Economic, and Social Aspects of Katrina (essay): Several different scholars, many from the Mercatus Center, address the complexity and nuances of NOLA and the storm

Bars and Brass Bands in the Big Easy | Off the Clock Economist Explores
Dan D’Amico: At first glance New Orleans culture is a bit of a puzzle. How is it that the city can possibly afford to spend so much time, resources and energy on partying, drinking, eating good food and listening to good music? But, what if I told you that it was precisely this carefree culture that made all the difference to successfully recover in the wake of hurricane Katrina.
We are here in uptown New Orleans at the Maple Leaf bar with the man, the myth, the legend Phil Frazer of Rebirth Brass Band. I can’t help but think how difficult it must have been to endure something like hurricane Katrina. How did that work?
Phil Frazer: Well first of all we are a traveling band. We’ve been around for 31 years. We were already ready to roll when Katrina had stopped, to about two days to get back on the road.
Dan D’Amico: To about two days to get back on the road? It is really remarkable. Did you ever stop and think like maybe you guys could just switch to another city?
Phil Frazer:  No, no, switching to another city wouldn’t work for Rebirth. Rebirth a New Orleans band period. So I started back in 4th grade playing from trombone, and from living in the Treme area, it was right there, right in my face, couldn’t help but do it.
Dan D’Amico: Social capital is probably a key in understanding how cultural processes endure things like natural disasters in large part because it is needed to recognize how non-financial aspects can tip the scales for certain individuals in successful recovery versus non-successful evacuation. A key distinction in the social capital literature is the difference between strong and weak tie networks. Major iconic figures, people like Kermit Ruffins, the Neville Brothers, Rebirth Brass Band they had very strong tie networks to the city of New Orleans. Some artists that didn’t necessarily have such strong tie networks had larger weaker tie networks that gave them the ability to go to other cities to make more money quickly and successfully recover.
Here we are at Mimi’s in the Marigny with general manager Jennifer O’Blenis. So tell me about the culture that this community that this neighborhood has fostered post Katrina what type of music has come about and what role has Mimi’s and sort of your job here played in that?
Jennifer O’Blenis: I didn’t do the booking right away. The girl before me booked a lot, I mean almost exclusively locals and we still do. There is occasionally a traveling band that a local band will know and will be like, “Hey let’s get them in,” and of course I’m going to take a recommendation of somebody that I know and trust. Ever since Katrina that scene has exploded here in town.
Dan D’Amico: One of the things we are emphasizing is an idea called social capital, how well you relate to the people, who you know, how much they trust you, so on and so forth.
Jennifer O’Blenis: I cater to my neighborhood as best as I can but at the same time like if you don’t like our vibe be nice or leave.
Jennifer O’Blenis: Now the physical effects of a hurricane are obvious. But for a real human being a real person, her value is arguably a lot greater than just the money in her bank account, or the house that she lives in, or the physical assets that she owns. The real power and potentials of a human being are often found in her personal friendships, acquaintances, family and community. This is what economists call social capital. How it is that people leverage their networks of contacts to accomplish real goals and productive endeavors. And to understand how cultures return after a hurricane requires a deep appreciation of social capital.
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