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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Water Wars

posted by on June 16 at 15:39 PM

They’re on.

Four years behind schedule and nearly $80 million over the original budget, the nation’s largest sea water desalination facility finally supplies much-needed drinking water to 2.4 million people in the Tampa Bay region.

Despite the plant’s troubled history, a handful of Florida communities want to follow Tampa Bay’s footsteps in a high-stakes bid to keep water flowing to meet the state’s growth. […]

This spring, the Legislature debated a bill that would have helped utilities develop their own desalination systems. The idea was approved, but the bill stalled because of the state’s budget woes.

Nevertheless, utilities and water supply planners believe it is only a matter of time before more facilities like Tampa Bay’s dot Florida’s landscape.

The new focus on desalination comes as the federal government has released a 300-page report on the technology’s status as a viable drinking water source.

The report concluded that sea water desalination could forestall looming water crises in many regions of the country, but cited significant environmental issues needing more study.

The increased focus on harnessing oceans for drinking water is easy to explain: Many places are running out of fresh water and have few alternatives.[…]

While many environmentalists would like to see Florida slow growth, state leaders say that is not realistic.

“You can’t stop people from coming to Florida,”
said state Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, who sponsored the proposed desalination law.

Two things:

1) The environmental issues surrounding desalination “need more study”? Hardly. According to a report issued last year by the World Wildlife Fund, the process of filtering the salt out of seawater creates massive greenhouse-gas emissions that worsen climate change, leading to drought and glacial melting and (ironically) threatening existing freshwater supplies. Desalination has also been linked to saltwater leaching, pollution, and damage to marine ecosystems. Moreover, desalination promotes sprawl and unsustainable population growth.

2) Statements like “You can’t stop people from moving to Florida” remind me of arguments like this one against investing in mass transit (or like this one against requiring density around transit stops): People drive now, after all, and by God, we can’t force them not to! These kind of arguments—don’t socially engineer me out of my car/ uninhabitable desert / suburb—ignore the fact that those high-speed freeways/ massive, unsustainable irrigation systems/ miles upon miles of uncontrolled sprawl are just as artificial or “engineered” as transit/ living sustainably/ density. There’s nothing “natural” about moving to Florida and drinking desalinated water, any more than there is about taking transit to work from your dense urban community with a sustainable water supply. Both are choices about the way we live—and what kind of future we want to leave to our children—something even some suburban communities are finally starting to recognize. Once we can acknowledge that choices like where to live and how to deal with our limited resources are “engineering,” it becomes possible to engineer things differently.

UPDATE: Just came across another nice example of engineering that could be called unengineering (ungineering?): Parking meters in San Francisco that are cheaper when demand is low, and higher when demand is high. Unlike the traditional (“natural”) approach to parking (increasing supply as demand increases), pricing meters reduces demand to equal the existing parking supply.

RSS icon Comments


Finally, some meat and potatoes.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 3:55 PM

The solution is not centrally planned "engineering". The solution is price. Stop selling water to favored users (e.g. farmers) at below cost. Those rich enough to pay for water in Florida get to live there. Those not rich enough don't. No agonized moralizing by advocacy journalists required.

The biggest downside of this simple solution is that it doesn't allow the likes of ECB to hector us about how we all need to change to be like she wants.

Posted by David Wright | June 16, 2008 3:56 PM

Tricky thing to me seems to be controlling development: if you say, "you can't build unless there's water," then communities would ostensibly stop growing, housing prices would go up, people couldn't afford to live there, etc. Or people start building without permitting, 20 people live in a house meant for 3 to 5, etc.

That's already happened in California, where housing prices are still beyond 95% of the country's population in most urban areas in California, and people live extremely densely in homes, typically as rentals.

People don't stop coming if there are jobs, or they're desperate for a job, and thus water usage goes up even if you don't allow new building.

Illegal immigration shows that we can't control people's movements, even if someone had the bright idea to stop letting people settle in Florida and California, say.

So without actually disagreeing with your statements, how does one limit growth to areas with appropriate resources (if those exist)?

As always, seems like population growth coupled with material wealth are the two driving factors, and there's no acceptable way to halt population growth abruptly (nor would that be particularly a good thing).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | June 16, 2008 4:00 PM

Yes, but how does this relate to women?

Posted by Anon | June 16, 2008 4:00 PM

Let's think about what you said though;

What are the implications of disallowing people to sculpt the environment and infrastructure to fulfill the needs that they have. And who gets to make that decision?

And how do you balance two liberal talking points of environmental protection with protecting the interest of poorer people? Theres a lot of unsustainable action taken under the umbrage of helping the poor like providing energy, water, resources, at a discount or for free that winds up in excess resources being used. Or rich people consume so much in excess of what they theoretically need but are able to pay for that amount easily because it is relatively inexpensive for the benefit it provides.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 4:04 PM

“You can’t stop people from coming to Florida[...]”

Oh how I wish that were true. Except, it means the that the type of person who would WANT to move to Florida would instead stay where they are. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone elsewhere in the country. So maybe it's better that they all congregate in the penis of our country.

Posted by laterite | June 16, 2008 4:07 PM

@4 - women need water.

Try surviving a week without any water of any type and see how you do ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 4:10 PM

@2 - Hey, you beat me to it!

Large scale enviro-friendly engineering is of course attractive in principle, but money is a far superior motivator. Look at transit: the cost of fuel is already causing a shift in public opinion/practice regarding public transportation (hot damn is my bus full these days!) that no amount of moralizing was ever able to induce.

Posted by Hernandez | June 16, 2008 4:11 PM

So you're saying that Florida should remain uninhabited by civilization? And why should I view moving to Florida and drinking desalinated water as any more "unnatural" than, say, living in the Northeast and burning fuel in order to heat my home several months a year? Taking your view of what is "natural" to its logical conclusion, what percentage of the acreage of this planet would, by your apparently rather strict definition, support human civilization in a natural fashion?

Posted by tsm | June 16, 2008 4:12 PM

David Wright is close to correct. Florida GIVES AWAY most of its water not to residents' taps but to agriculture and industrial plants, like soda bottlers, for almost nothing. The residents actually pay fair market value for the stuff.

the biggest argument against desalination is that it's a massive boondoggle, costing far more per gallon than anyone in their right mind would ever pay for it.

Posted by Fnarf | June 16, 2008 4:14 PM

@5: It takes action at the local level of infrastructure management, I think. Were I a water commissioner in Scottsdale or Santa Fe, I would stop allowing new permits until I could ensure adequate water delivery to meet the current needs and uses and scale back or forward accordingly. Of course, I'd probably find myself at the bottom of a standpipe by day's end, but still...

Posted by laterite | June 16, 2008 4:15 PM

How depressing. I agree with everything ECB said -- I've said it myself many times -- and yet, I find Erica's attitude about other issues so irritating, appallingly illogical and egocentric, I actually find myself wondering if my previously held opinion about growth management might be based on bad information.

Sort of like if I found out that George W. Bush and I had similar views on some issue.

Ah well. Carry on little schiksa feminista.

Posted by Judah | June 16, 2008 4:17 PM

@9, just wear a sweater! This family isn't made of money!

Posted by joykiller | June 16, 2008 4:20 PM

Judah, part of it might be that you're simply considering aspects of policy implementation that ECB doesn't consider or doesn't view as important.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 4:21 PM

I love how Stranger writers are all convinced that teen sex happens at exactly the same rate regardless of consequences, and that homelessness is purely a matter of bad luck, with no bad choices involved.

But when it can be used to argue for a favored cause, they have no trouble seeing the connections between incentives, behavior, and consequences. "Desalination promotes ... unsustainable population growth." (All those third-world countries with fertility rates above 5 children/woman need to dismantle some of their desalination plants!)

Posted by David Wright | June 16, 2008 4:22 PM

David, how did you steal my cache of thoughts?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 4:24 PM

Just pass the cost of desalinization on to the consumer. That'll solve the overconsumption problem.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 16, 2008 4:28 PM

keshmeshi, but what if this consumer is poor and likely can't afford the price?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 4:32 PM

Then they can just recycle the grey water like the schlubs in San Diego, BA.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 4:36 PM

@18 Then I guess they don't move to fucking Florida, hey?

Posted by Judah | June 16, 2008 4:38 PM

What do you mean Will? Build water treatment plants?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 4:39 PM

That takes me back to my original point judah; how do you balance curbing development with protecting the poor? I have no real concerns about the pace of development or "protecting" the poor, but I'd like a more progressive mind to propose a way to balance those issues.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 4:47 PM

Well, we could just put all the FEMA trailers in Florida, and let them drink the greywater from the ultra-rich, after we drill for oil offshore ... isn't that the Republican Chinese dream?

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 4:53 PM

Will, are you capable of explaining what you mean or not?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 5:00 PM

OK, reading again, I guess I misconstrued ECB's post in @9. But I'm still curious as to the various environmental tradeoffs here - is desalinating water for a large population in a warm region clearly more destructive than, say, heating homes in winter for a large population in colder regions?

Posted by tsm | June 16, 2008 5:01 PM


Well, the obvious way to deal with it is to create a public subsidy, sort of like welfare, that supplements the cost of necessary utilities for people below a certain income level. But that's a short-term solution: the subsidy will have to be paid for by inflating the rates for higher-income residents. The inflated rates will slowly drive higher-income residents either out of the state or out of the system (they may create their own parallel private subscriber system that effectively defunds the public system). In either case, utility aid would only be effective for so long.

The other way to do it is to substantially reduce poverty. And that's something you'd have to address mostly outside the water question -- though part of the way to reduce poverty generally is to tax the shit out of rich people nationally, then use that revenue to rebuild our utterly fucked and disintegrating infrastructure. A lot of (rich) people call those infrastructure projects make-work handouts to the poor, but I suspect that attitude will shift as more of their their McMansions start burning down from wildfires, or getting torn apart by floods and whatnot; string of major catastrophes may make them more civic-minded over the next couple of years.

Posted by Judah | June 16, 2008 5:02 PM

@24 : Will's comments sure have a boilerplate quality to them. Doesn't matter what the specific topic at hand is, it will be just generic enough to cover say, 2-3 of any given Slog entries on the front page.

Posted by laterite | June 16, 2008 5:08 PM

You're missing the point. The poor can easily afford water if they stop giving it away for free to corporate users who take almost all of it.

Posted by Fnarf | June 16, 2008 5:11 PM


Look, don't you actually watch any real news or listen to KUOW or NPR or PBS?

San Diego is now recycling their grey water (yes, the literal stuff from your toilet) for drinking water.

My point being that Florida can whine and kvetch - or it can STFU and do something about it.

Meanwhile, they'll still be mostly underwater by 2050, during the hurrican season, so it's really a waste of taxpayer subsidizations for multi-million dollar houses and condos along vanishing beachfronts while the everglades salinates.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 5:23 PM

I'm sympathetic to the idea of shifting policy priorities away from artificially maintaining the habitability of the various deserts, swamps and floodplains where existing cities stand, based on sober assessment of the long-term outcomes: For instance if we can safely predict that in twenty or thirty years Florida or large sections of the Southwest will be experiencing crippling water shortages, a cost-benefit analysis of creating infrastructure for shipping the water in from elsewhere at ever increasing costs and diminishing returns versus investing that same money in more long-term solutions (like incentive for relocation to more sustainable environs) sounds like a worthy idea. Politically it would be a tough sell for the residents of the aforementioned deserts/swamps/floodplains, though.

If one were to be consistent in the application of this logic, it would also seem to dictate that simply re-building New Orleans so it can get flooded again (and again and again) is a bad idea, or is bad "social engineering" to use ECBs terminology. Which illustrates to me how long-term, greater-good arguments like these are usually much easier to defend in the abstract than in the particulars, where real people's lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Posted by flamingbanjo | June 16, 2008 5:23 PM

so it's a typo, sue me

Posted by Will in Hurricane Seattle | June 16, 2008 5:24 PM


Increase the cost of water for corporations and the cost of the goods those corporations produce will go up at least as much. But if you tax the CEOs and stockholders who profit from those corporations to pay for infrastructure that helps the poor get water you've added jobs to the economy (rather than subtracting them, as you would by increasing the cost of water for corporate users) and added a step to the process of returning those costs to the consumer: the suits have to negotiate more money from the corporation in order to send the cost of the tax program back down to consumers.

Also, because the infrastructure improvement jobs are necessarily paying out locally, you get that nice multiplier effect for the economy.

Posted by Judah | June 16, 2008 5:27 PM

@32 - bull.

Taxes work - and quite well.

Only deadenders believe they don't.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 5:39 PM

I love the UPDATE! You can practically hear the gears clicking in ECB's head as she begins to comprehend how markets work. Well, ECB, some of us have been advocating markets not only for water and parking, but also for traffic, energy, housing, schools, and other areas for along time now, but we won't begrude your late arrival: welcome to the club.

You should be aware, though, that markets don't always produce the left-wing solution. If the market clearing price is high enough, someone might be motiviated to take a right-wing action like creating a new road or parking spot, drilling for oil, building a desalination plant, offering a better education in exchange for more money, etc. So you probably will still want laws forbidding anyone from every actig right-wing and requiring that everyone always act left-wing.

Posted by David Wright | June 16, 2008 5:39 PM


Did you even read my comment? No, evidently you didn't. Let me recap for you:

"Raising the price of water for corporations: bad. Taxing the rich to improve infrastructure and increase the availability of fresh water or the recycling of gray water: good."

Posted by Judah | June 16, 2008 5:44 PM

I hope they do build desalinization plants in Florida, because it will be a massive failure and they will be forced to reduce and reuse. Oil countries in the middle east do it now and one barrel of water cost about the same as one barrel of oil.

Posted by Y.F. | June 16, 2008 6:11 PM

Judah, just hope you don't tax the rich into shelters and schemes to avoid paying taxes. it seems like the more you tax the rich at a municipal level for large scale municipal improvement, the more inclined a rich person will be to move to a municipality with less tax burden. you could possibly wind up with a situation where the rich have bought their way into avoiding certain costs, and legislation at a level above the place they are ducking out from would be too unwieldy and far reaching to be passed.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 6:31 PM


Let's see some examples of rich people fleeing a municipality or a state due to a high tax burden. Because many poor states in this country, take Alabama for example, have tax rates favorable for the rich and yet rich people seem more inclined to live in California and New York.

Let's see some proof, BA.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 16, 2008 6:46 PM

@35 - didn't you read my Five Point Plan for blogging?


Well, that was my reaction to your post too.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 7:37 PM

kesh, people live in municipalities for many reasons, taxes being one. the fact that rich people live in a place like california or nyc might be a result of many factors. are you really so narrow minded?

let's take a look at why some rich people have offshore bank accounts or caymen residency. or the tax rates by state and the result it has on certain demographics moving there. (don't tax rates play a factor in where seniors retire?)

now go eat 5 skinny cow ice cream bars and mellow out.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 7:58 PM


So you contradicted a comment you hadn't read and -- if I understand you correctly -- justified having done so by claiming the initial post was too long to read through?

You must win a lot of awards.


I believe I suggested taxing the rich nationally -- an increase in federal income taxes to cover the cost of infrastructure improvements. And failing to levy a tax to prevent tax evasion really strikes me as surrendering before the first shot is fired. Obviously there's a precedent for this -- the New Deal, the WPA and the TVA. We're still drinking water and getting electricity through systems that were put in place the last time there was a significant increase in federal income taxes on the wealthy to pay for infrastructure improvements. In point of fact, generations of Americans have been coasting on the initial investment laid out by FDR, Truman and Eisenhower. So the kind of thing I'm suggesting has been done on a mass scale and we have abundant evidence that it can be done and that it is a good idea.

It's just a question of convincing the bottom 50% that their odds of becoming fabulously wealthy are actually slim enough that raising taxes for the top 5% does, in fact, serve their interests.

Posted by Judah | June 16, 2008 9:12 PM

Judah, Im not as convinced that in times of relative wealth, government programs can be administered to provide nationally beneficial infrastructure. Many of the New Deal ideals have been exploited to the point of nonsensical spending on special interest porkjects. "BUT DETROIT NEEDS TO KEEP JOBS! BUT WE NEED TO RAISE CHICKENS IN THE SOUTH! BUT WE NEED TO BUILD DESALINZATION PLANTS IN FLORIDA!"

The New Deal definitely yielded long term benefits for certain aspects of American life but now we have to look at some of those things through the lens of our lives today;

1. how able are we to spend money in infrastructure improvements at the expense of lives, future calamity, and environmental considerations.

2. how pressing were some of these concerns in the fact of institutional collapse?

3. what have been the negative results of new deal projects long term?

I agree that the potential for tax evasion shouldnt be reason enough to not enact taxes but it definitely be a consideration when we decide which taxes to increase. I think raising taxes on rich people is worthy when that money is put to good use, but nothing in my lifetime has shown that the federal government is capable of spending the money it does get wisely.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 16, 2008 9:38 PM

You mean like how the rich spend it in tax-shelter nations, BA?

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 11:01 PM

BA: Wow, look at all these half-hearted, warmed-over Reagan-era rationalizations for why we shouldn't raise taxes for rich people. Judah has pretty much pwned you on every one of your lame little points, offering up concrete counter-examples to your completely fact-free assertions, and yet you valiantly struggle on. My theory: Either you are in the tax bracket that you are struggling to defend against paying its fair share of the expense of operating a functional country, or you aspire to be. Or else you took a course in economics once and it scarred you deeply.

Are you seriously saying that we should just let this country's infrastructure collapse because the Cayman Islands exist?

Posted by flamingbanjo | June 17, 2008 12:08 AM
I think raising taxes on rich people is worthy when that money is put to good use, but nothing in my lifetime has shown that the federal government is capable of spending the money it does get wisely.


Well, you have me at something of a rhetorical disadvantage in that your argument seems to be predicated in part on the idea that even good government projects may be poor alternatives to what might have happened if the government had never done that. I can't really go down that road with you (would world history be better or worse if someone had assassinated Hitler?) but we are communicating through one of the things from your lifetime that shows that the federal government is capable of spending the money it gets wisely: the technology and packet switching protocols that underlie the Internet were created almost exclusively by the U.S. federal government and the creation of the network backbone was carried out by publicly funded institutions, using U.S. military networks, in 1983. I don't know exactly how old you are, but that's in the neighborhood of your lifetime, and it has altered the way the world communicates -- mostly in a positive way.

See also: public education, public universities, the federal highway system, Aid for Families with Dependent Children, the FDA, Gasworks Park, most of Seattle's sewage treatment system, and so on. And of course there are dozens of WPA parks and public facilities in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest that you've probably enjoyed: Lincoln Park, Magnuson Park -- Cascade Playground in South Lake Union. Ever see Kubrick's The Shining? The hotel it was filmed in was built by the WPA.

For every massive public fuck up like the war in Iraq, there are tens of thousands of small projects, paid for by the federal government, that make your life easier. And most of them are so integral to your daily routine that you probably aren't even aware of them as "your tax dollars at work."

As to your three points, I'm not even sure I understand most of your questions. Maybe you could clarify them for me?

Posted by Judah | June 17, 2008 2:01 AM

Public Education is a good example of government spending (or at least government money spent well)? A ski resort is a good example of government spending?

Several of the projects completed during the 1930s allowed western states and by extension western cities to grow into the sprawling environmental messes they are today. all that cheap energy, water, etc etc was provided for by new deal projects. I don't know if I'd tally that in a victory column.

the three questions relate to

have the projects been the culprit for some of the problems we face now? the attitude we have towards the government? and will future projects have unforseen consequences that result in more spending down the road?

Flaming Banjo, I'm saying we should improve the ability of government to spend the money efficiently AND tax rich people in ways that prevent capital flowing outside the United States. My concern isn't that the rich get taxed, they should be taxed more; they have more to lose if the rules and systems in place go haywire. I'm saying we need to do it in ways that aren't easily loopholed or provide incentives for paying higher taxes or providing money to specific capital improvement projects.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 8:46 AM

here's a good dialogue between two economists about the impact of the new deal and why I think it hasn't been the best thing to ever happen to the united states.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 9:32 AM

as for reagan, well, he only cut taxes and increased spending as president. I don't accept the proposition that reagan was acting outside of new deal guidelines on spending.

and heres another thing to ponder;
if the improvements we make in the United States yield returns on the investment as well as many of you think, why can't we pay for it out of issuing debt instruments? if something is such a good investment in our future then why can it only be paid for by increasing income taxes?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 9:51 AM

Will @29,

Technically, grey water is not "the literal stuff out of your toilet." Grey water is from sinks, showers, bath, etc. Also, recycled water is not used for drinking water in Sand Diego. It's only approved for non-potable purposes.

Posted by Someone who listens to real news accurately | June 17, 2008 10:22 AM
have the projects been the culprit for some of the problems we face now? the attitude we have towards the government? and will future projects have unforseen consequences that result in more spending down the road?

Well the answer to the first and third questions is obviously "yes." But so what?

I mean, let's apply your model to the Katrina disaster: did the levees cause the flooding? Yes. The levee system on the Mississippi, like all levee systems, can actually make flooding worse by channelizing a river system, preventing the natural variations in river shape and behavior that lead to frequent small floods but which can significantly mitigate larger floods when they occur.

Did the levee projects have unforeseen consequences that will lead to more spending down the road? Yes, obviously.

But the way to deal with the situation is not to place a moratorium on flood mitigation spending. The levee system represented the best understanding of how to advance the economic interests of the region at a certain time and, indeed, it can easily be argued that the levee system created vastly more wealth over the span of its existence than it has taken away by its failure. Mitigating the recent disaster in a way that is likely to be more effective in protecting the long-term health of the region than the old levee system would actually be likely to incur more cost than replacing or repairing the old levee system. One idea I was reading the other day was to build low-volume canals through the lowlands parts of town and offset that residential capacity to the highlands. This would actually mean recreating a system that was in place there during the period of Spanish colonization, so that suggests it was a good working system at some point, but it would cost a lot more than just replacing the levees.

Generally, it seems to me that you're asking perfectly rational questions but you seem to be oversubscribed to the Libertarian platform. I'm actually a fan of some planks in that platform, but I think the pure orthodoxy is built on several assumptions that would just be impossible to sell to the electorate if they were expressed in plain language.

Posted by Judah | June 17, 2008 10:38 AM

The question now thought Judah is whether we should rebuild the levees and what the moral hazard is in building in areas that are prone to disaster, or expensive sustainability.

or build desalinization plants in florida.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 11:04 AM

sorry, to clarify; what you're describing though is the same justification that people building those plants in florida.

by the ideal you're putting forward, the building of public projects for long term economic gain, one could justify doing things that seem awfully stupid and bad but support the economic growth of the area.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 11:27 AM

Well BA my answer, based on what I know about the situation, is "yes."

I mean, here's an easy way to look at this question: where the fuck are you going to send all the people who are currently living in places that are prone to natural disasters? There are very few places in the United States that aren't vulnerable to one kind of natural catastrophe or another, and most of those places lack geographical features required for commerce (ports, natural resources, etc.) and, even leaving that aside, every region has a limited capacity for supporting a human civilization. If you depopulate all the places where something bad can happen, that means you have to move all those refugees to someplace like Seattle. Except not here, because we're vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanoes and certain kinds of tsunamis. So I say yes, let people live where they're living. And be aggressive about making that possible, because the basic issue of mitigating natural disasters and the effects of climate change will need to be addressed one way or another and, on balance, it's easier to do it in places where people already are than it would be to move them all to a few "safe" locations and then try to modify those safe locations to support populations in the tens of millions (in a way that doesn't set the stage for additional disasters down the line).

Because it's all well and good to ask provocative questions, but if that's all you do, you're not good for much.

Posted by Judah | June 17, 2008 11:47 AM

I think theres a fundamental disconnect here Judah;

supporting one moral hazard and unsustainable development over another like supporting New Orleans over Tampa Bay is ridiculous and obviously seems unfair to the cities that don't recieve funds or are told that they shouldn't build improvements for their area.

The entire problem with the New Deal and blithely spending tax dollars at the Federal level is that you wind up sending money to places and encourage development that not only is unsustainable but also very costly in the event of a natural disaster or even man made disasters.

If you're going to support infrastructure improvement no matter how costly it is or how ill conceived it is then waht is the point of even talking about government accountability and efficiency.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 12:06 PM
If you're going to support infrastructure improvement no matter how costly it is or how ill conceived it is then waht is the point of even talking about government accountability and efficiency.

You know, this reminds me of conversations I used to have on conservative blogs in 2004. They went something like this:

JUDAH: I'm voting for John Kerry because I think his approach to many problems, including foreign policy, will make Americans more prosperous at home and safer abroad.

BLOGGER: Oh, so basically you just want to give the terrorists a big group hug.

JUDAH: Sigh.

The bad growth models of the mid-20th Century weren't a product of federal government spending as such -- they were a product of wide-spread public perceptions, many of which were mistaken, about what constituted good or sustainable development. Local governments and private corporations bought into the same development models to one degree or another and, had there never been any such thing as a federal income tax, local and regional governments would have made the same mistakes on a grander scale: Seattle voters rejected the Bogue Plan in 1912 based on the same wrong-headed ideas about public spending priorities that led to many of the problems you seem to be associating with federal spending.

The New Deal didn't, as a rule, spend "blithely", and that's not what I'm proposing either. So, for example, your response utterly fails to address my basic question: please explain to me how moving tens of millions of people from areas with existing infrastructure -- however flawed it may be -- to areas where new infrastructure would have to be created to support them (even if we moved them all to existing urban centers, the infrastructure of those urban centers would require nearly a complete overhaul in order to meet the needs of, say, doubling their population in a period of a few years) is cheaper than improving the existing infrastructure.

And while you're at it, maybe you can tell me what the hell a "moral hazard" is, and why we should be afraid of it.

Posted by Judah | June 17, 2008 12:59 PM

Judah, you know what a moral hazard is; lessening the cost of poor decisions will encourage more poor decision making to occur.

Improving existing infrastructure vs. moving them isn't the dichotomy that I was really thinking about. the cost of improving it should be less than building new infrastructure but that entire question is outside the scope of the entire original post. this is creating new infrastructure where none has existed before. Building dams where they have never existed is far different than improving fiber optic lines.

I don't really have an issue with improvement. It is new structures, etc simply to achieve political aims, and with the consequence of creating unsustainable paradigms for the future.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 1:08 PM

the comment section of Slog is imploding as all three or four Slog commenters eat each other, spinning into a gravity well of baseless recriminations, factless guesses and bitter solipsism that soon not even light will be able to escape, as the whole thread disappears out of our universe, and the commenters disappear up their own collective assholes

Posted by my God they;re eating themselves in here | June 17, 2008 1:50 PM

Dude, building a dam is an infrastructure improvement. Dams produce electricity that goes into an existing grid and that grid feeds existing communities. And that's perfectly within the scope of the original post: there are water pipes and other infrastructure in place in Florida, but they require a new source of water because the aquifers that have been being mined to support Florida's population are totally depleted. The desalinization plant (an infrastructure improvement that will create a new source for existing systems) may be a bad idea, but something does need to be done and moving everyone out of Florida or defunding all the programs that make it possible to stay in Florida is not a good alternative.

Posted by Judah | June 17, 2008 1:56 PM

and this is why i asked; how do you balance environmental protection with providing resources to people and at what point do you say "no, you don't get to have money to spend on something like this."

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 17, 2008 2:20 PM

Bellevue, that question about environmental concerns is much more applicable to a wide range of other subjects than it is to the question of whether or not we supply drinking water to people in Florida. In any event, I suppose I would say, "When the environmental cost of sheltering in place exceeds that of moving the population in question." In which case, again, leaving the people of Florida in Florida is less environmentally harmful than it would be to send them somewhere else because the environmental harm created by building new infrastructure elsewhere is greater than the environmental harm of improving the infrastructure they have.

Posted by Judah | June 17, 2008 3:11 PM

OK, walk me through this one.

"Just came across another nice example of engineering that could be called unengineering (ungineering?)"

What do you suppose engineering is, if not balancing many (frequently conflicting) values against one another, and trying to find an optimal solution? Calling that "ungineering" would be like calling "writing" "not writing". WTF?

Posted by Lee Gibson | June 17, 2008 7:09 PM

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