Posts tagged ‘migration’

Land Use Regulation and Income Inequality

I don't have time to comment or peruse the study in depth, but this looks interesting.  From Randal O'Toole:

Harvard economists have proven one of the major theses of American Nightmare, which is that land-use regulation is a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States. By restricting labor mobility, the economists say, such regulation has played a “central role” in income disparities.

When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.” Postrel refers to these well-educated people as “elites,” but I simply call them “middle class.”

I have not read the study, but I think the word "proven" in the first sentence likely goes to far.  Economic systems are way too complex to absolutely show one variable among millions causes another.  I am convinced that the way we have regulated the housing market and promoted home ownership has reduced labor mobility.

Great Moments in Anthropogenic Climate Theories

In the 1860's and 1970's, in the United States, there was a great post-war westward migration.  Many settlers began to try to farm lands west of the 100th meridian.  These normally very arid regions experienced a couple of decades of much greater rainfall during this period.  We know today that this was merely a cyclical variation of the type that is constantly occurring in the climate.  However, people of this time chose to believe that this was a permanent change, attributing the shift in rainfall to anthropogenic effects (any of this sound familiar?)  The saying at the time was that "rain followed the plow."

The basic premise of the theory was that human habitation and agriculture through homesteading affected a permanent change in the climate of arid and semi-arid regions, making these regions more humid. The theory was widely promoted in the 1870s as a justification for the settlement of the Great Plains, a region previously known as the "Great American Desert". It was also used to justify the expansion of wheatgrowing on marginal land in South Australia during the same period.

According to the theory, increased human settlement in the region and cultivation of soil would result in an increased rainfall over time, rendering the land more fertile and lush as the population increased. As later historical records of rainfall indicated, the theory was based on faulty evidence arising from brief climatological fluctuations. The theory was later refuted by climatologists and is regarded as a serious error. In South Australia, George Goyder warned as early as 1865, in his famous report on farming in the state, that rain would not follow the plow. Despite this, until further droughts in the 1880s, farmers talked of cultivating cereal crops up to the Northern Territory border. Today, however, grain crops do not grow further north than Quorn.

The result was eventually disaster for thousands and many abandoned farms in places like Eastern Colorado.  To some extent, the theory had a grain of truth - changes in land use do affect the climate.  For example, the loss of snow on Kilimanjaro is generally attributed (by non Al Gore types) to deforestation in the area.  But as is so often the case, the effects of man's land use tended to be more local (as with urban heat islands in cities) rather than regional, and ended up in this case being small compared to natural variations.

Site Mostly Fixed

OK, the site is mostly fixed after the site migration.  Had to just let it go down for a while because the site had a permanent forward whose removal took a long while to propagate through the webs.  Still need to rebuild the sidebar but I can do that later today when I get more time.  Hopefully the site will fun faster now -- it certainly is much more responsive running the dashboard.

Yes, the Site is Slow

I have a horrible, awful, embarrassing confession.   All my sites, including this blog, are run off of super-cheap shared hosting accounts at Godaddy (yes, the guys with the juvenile commercials).  For years I think they did a decent job and my sites were not that busy, so it was no problem.  But as with most large, cheap hosting companies, they seem to be cramming more and more domains on each shared server.  Someone on this server is chewing up a lot of CPU cycles and it's time to move on.

I have switched to a virtual private server account at a new hosting company, as a sort of stepping stone potentially to a dedicated server  (my business and I have over 30 web sites so it probably can be justified).  The VPS account is cheaper and lets me start learning some new things about managing hosting (e.g. I have access to the root for the first time) but still shields me from some of the server management (e.g. OS updates).  And it's cheaper than a dedicated server, so we will see how it goes.

At some point, not quite yet, the site will have some down time when I do the migration.   Not sure yet when that will be -- the wordpress database for this site is over 50mb which exceeds the import file size allowed in my data base tools (phpmyadmin for mysql).  I have read there is another way to do it, I just have to do some research and tests first.  I probably will have to learn to work the data base from the command line.

Sheriff Arpaio Meets Al Gore

Not since the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have there been two great populist tastes that go so great together.  In an amazing bit of fact-free scare mongering gauged to panic everyone across the political spectrum, Michael Oppenheimer (embarrassingly a professor at my alma mater) manages to combine demagoguing against Mexican immigration with climate alarmism

Climbing temperatures are expected to raise sea levels and increase droughts, floods, heat waves and wildfires.

Now, scientists are predicting another consequence of climate change: mass migration to the United States.

Between 1.4 million and 6.7 million Mexicans could migrate to the U.S. by 2080 as climate change reduces crop yields and agricultural production in Mexico, according to a study published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The number could amount to 10% of the current population of Mexicans ages 15 to 65.

The proceedings of the NAS has become a joke of late.  Roger Pielke Jr responded:

To be blunt, the paper is guesswork piled on top of "what ifs" built on a foundation of tenuous assumptions. The authors seem to want to have things both ways -- they readily acknowledge the many and important limitations of their study, but then go on to assert that "it is nevertheless instructive to predict future migrant flows for Mexico using the estimates at hand to assess the possible magnitude of climate change"“related emigration." It can't be both -- if the paper has many important limitations, then this means that that it is not particularly instructive. With respect to predicting immigration in 2080 (!), admitting limitations is no serious flaw.

To use this paper as a prediction of anything would be a mistake. It is a tentative sensitivity study of the effects of one variable on another, where the relationship between the two is itself questionable but more importantly, dependent upon many other far more important factors. The authors admit this when they write, "It is important to note that our projections should be interpreted in a ceteris paribus manner, as many other factors besides climate could potentially influence migration from Mexico to the United States." but then right after they assert, "Our projections are informative,nevertheless, in quantifying the potential magnitude of impacts of climate change on out-migration." It is almost as if the paper is written to be misinterpreted

I thought this response was instructive

Philip Martin, an expert in agricultural economics at UC Davis, said that he hadn't read the study but that making estimates based solely on climate change was virtually impossible.

"It is just awfully hard to separate climate change from the many, many other factors that affect people's decisions whether to stay in agriculture or move," he said.

The same exact statement, by the way, could be made as to the relationship of climate change to the single variable manmade CO2 without reference to the myriad of other factors that affect the complex climate system.

How You Gonna Keep them Down on the Farm?

A reader sent me this interesting story about immigration within Cuba:

"I was caught because I was an illegal," explained a bicycle taxi driver as he gripped the rusted blue handle-bars of his vehicle in Havana's Central Park. "And because I'd been here several times before, I was deported back."

But the driver working his trade in the capital city did not arrive in Cuba from another country. Instead he is among the thousands who have come from rural provinces in search of work and a place to live - but who have been deported back because of "Decree 217."

The 1997 law restricts rural migration to Havana, making this taxi driver an illegal resident in his own capital city.

"If you're illegal you can't be here in Havana," said the driver, originally from Cuba's eastern Holguin province. "You don't have an address here in Havana."...

Economic conditions were generally worse at the eastern end of the island, according to Cuba analyst Edward Gonzalez, a professor emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles.

"[The eastern region] has always been the less affluent, impoverished part of the island," he said, "heavily dependent upon agriculture, less on tourism, and also happens to be more black and mulatto."

The effort to keep migrants out and prevent overcrowding in Havana may have resulted in police discrimination against darker-skinned Cubans presumed more likely to be illegal, Gonzalez said.

Survey on US Migration to IFRS

Tom Selling and Pat Walters are looking for participation in their survey on issues related to IFRS (international accounting rules) and their migration to the US.  Folks knowledgeable about these issues, either from the accounting or management side, are encouraged to participate.  Tom wrote this invitation:

This is a brief announcement of an online IFRS survey that I have prepared with Pat Walters of Fordham University.

I invited Pat to collaborate with me because we have divergent views on the questions being asked.  Thus, I hope that together we have achieved a modicum of balance in the survey's design--particularly in the phrasing of the questions and response choices offered.  There are only 12 multiple-choice questions, and afterwards, I cordially invite you to express your own opinions regarding its design by posting a comment to this blog post.

We are also trying to reach many more stakeholders than any other survey has reached to-date on the IFRS adoption/convergence question.  To that end, we hope you will choose to email the link at the bottom of this post to anyone else whom you think might have an interest in taking it.

Pat and I thank you in advance for clicking here to take the survey, or by pasting this ugly link in your web browser:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=pF0E3UgdSV_2bHMQvdAnXv8w_3d_3d

Voting With Their Feet

Arthur Laffer and the ALEC have a report out with lots of economic, tax, and regulatory data about the individual states.   This chart caught my eye:

states

They have a hundred pages explaining why these trends might be, but you and I already know, don't we,  just from looking at the names of the states.  It is fairly clear that the current Administration is emulating the policies of the bottom 10 in its recovery plans.  Which brings me back to the question I have asked before:  Where do we all migrate to for freedom when we have screwed up this country?

Whew! Done

OK, I think I have finally, successfully migrated both my blogs from the Typepad ASP service to self-hosted WordPress, with the completion of Climate Skeptic last night.  Now I can get back to real posting.

Site Migration is Done (I Hope)

As of this evening, the site migration from the Typepad service to self-hosted WordPress is mostly complete.  I have gotten a few emails about broken links and such, but I am fairly certain most are chased down now (though you are welcome to email me if you have problems).  The RSS feed is the last thing I need to test -- which I will do with this post.  For those of you who have been accessing this site via the feeds.feedburner.com/CoyoteBlog feed, I am hoping nothing has changed -- that should still be the primary feed in the future  (though you may experience about 10 duplicate posts from this weekend).  Folks who have been using other feed locations will have to migrate -- all those other feeds are now off (well, almost, I will put a few more messages on the old feeds to remind people to switch).  If you are seeing this post in your feed reader, you are good to go.

I have really tried to make the site more attractive, and I rejoiced in the much greater flexibility I had on WordPress.   Since several people have asked, I did all the design myself, though I paid a whopping $7 each for two stock images I used in creating the banner image.  Most folks read this blog via text feeds, but do me one favor and check out the new design just to make me feel better for all the work that went into it.

Actually, the vast majority of work went into migrating the site from Typepad without breaking hundreds of inbound links.  It is not impossible to maintain the permalink structure of the old Typepad blog, just hard, and I will post on how I did it soon.  On thing I will say now, though -- the new Typepad platform implemented for my site in October made it MUCH harder to migrate.  The last 50 days of posts took more time to migrate than the previous 4+ years.  That is one reason I have dropped a lot of my posting and really pushed up the priority of moving the site -- Every day I waited created a lot more work.

I have posted on my dissatisfaction with the new Typepad platform several times.  Suffice it to say that while the WordPress platform is a much better one, I would not have moved had it not been for three issues:

  • Typepad eliminated the blockquote option from the editor.  Yeah, I know, this seems a trivial concern.  But it is telling that a blog software provider could be so clueless about their customers as to think blockquotes to be unnecessary to bloggers
  • Typepad really screwed up the image functionality.  I have been on and off to customer service for weeks on images that simply would not post or would not post correctly.  Further, perhaps in an effort to make it impossible in the future for anyone to leave, Typepad implemented a new image storage system where it is impossible to actually access your image file.  What this meant for me was that, in blogging, the same images had to be uploaded over and over again, for every post in which they were used.  Further, it meant that my program that I used to scrape the old blog site and put all the images on my new site could not copy these images.  I had to painstakingly go into every post, right click and download the image, and then re-post it.  And I use a lot of images.
  • OK, so Typepad would have been fine if I did not ever quote any other sites and used no images (lol).  But it had one more problem-- when switching to the new platform, they built a new spell check program which is awful.  Folks who read my blog a lot know I DESPERATELY need a good spell checker.  But the new Typepad spell checker did not have an "add to dictionary" or even a "slip all occurrences" option, and somehow it disabled the built-in Firefox checker.   Image spell-checking a 3000 word piece on global warming and having to hit skip 150 times for each occurrence of "CO2" in the piece.

So, one blog down and one to go.    The second should be a lot easier with what I have learned.  My one screw-up on this one is I imported some old posts with Carriage Returns on each line so they don't wrap right, but I will just have to live with that -- I know how to avoid it with the next migration.  Expect blogging to be light, as I need to get my other site off Typepad before I post too many more items that I have to port manually.  I also still need to get the caching system up and tuned, so the site may be a tad slow for a few days.

Thanks to all those who complained about my site being the visual equivilent of nails on a chalkboard -- you gave me the final push to get this done.  In retrospect, an intervention was clearly necesary and I appreciate those who were forthright enough to provide it.

You've Been Warned

I am switching over domain registrars as the first step in the porcupine mating ritual that will eventually lead to a migration of this blog to WordPress.  There may be short downtimes of the site or of the email associated with this blog as I futz around with nameservers and cnames and such.  But since I am unable right now to publish any content on typepad that includes a graph or drawing, I am willing to bear some problems to get on a new platform.

Not The Best of Times Because, Why?

Kevin Drum posts this chart as a one-picture refutation of McCain's statement that we are living in the best of times.

Um, OK.  We all got wealthier.  And the problem is, what?  That someone else got even wealthier than I did?  So what.  Do we really have to keep refuting this zero-sum economics-of-envy argument?

I won't get into the whole zero-sum thing, because the chart itself proves that the world can't be zero-sum, since everyone got richer on average.  But here is a full refutation of zero-sum wealth arguments.  Also, a zero-sum wealth quiz here.

Looking at changes in income brackets is
always misleading. In the US, most folks are migrating up the brackets
as they age and gain experience. So most folks benefit not just from
the increase in their bracket but a migration to the next bracket.

To this last point, the bottom end of the bracket is being flooded
with new immigrants (legal or not) with poor skills and often no
English. They drag down the averages, again understating how well the
typical person is doing.  Lifetime surveys of individuals rather than percentile brackets always demonstrate that individuals gain wealth over time much fast than this type of analysis demonstrates.  And even the new immigrants at the bottom are presumably gaining vs. their previous circumstances, or else why else would they have immigrated in the first place.

Here is an alternate response to whether we are in the best of times.

By the way, here is an interesting article on why using a single inflation rate for the poor and the rich to get real income growth may be incorrect.  There is an argument to be made that the poor have a lower inflation rate than the rich, thanks to Wal-Mart.

A Statistic I Hadn't Seen Before

Christian Boda, via Q&O, discusses inflation rates in the context of income (in)equality issues.  He offers this bit of information:

Inflation differentials between the rich and poor dramatically change
our view of the evolution of inequality in America. Inflation of the
richest 10 percent of American households has been 6 percentage points
higher than that of the poorest 10 percent over the period 1994 "“ 2005.
This means that real inequality in America, if you measure it
correctly, has been roughly unchanged.

This actually makes a ton of sense - Walmart helps hold down food and clothing costs for average folks while the rich pay ever increasing rates to stay at the Ritz at Laguna Niguel.  He argues that as a result, globalization and the growth of low-cost manufacturing in China tends to help rather than hurt the poor.

It also helps to answer a question I had yesterday -- why do metrics of median wage growth adjusted for inflation tend to look unexciting, while at the same time other metrics show the poor doing so much better materially.  This notion of a graduated inflation rate by income class would go a long way to explaining these paradoxes.  In short, we may be applying the wrong inflation rate to metrics of wage growth of various income groups in assessing their well-being (not to mention the usual failing of missing individual migration between income groups).

There Are Two Americas, update

In a previous post, I observed that there did indeed seem to be two Americas:  the one productive people want to live in, and the one productive people are trying to escape because the local government is so controlling and confiscatory.  I further observed that, unfortunately, both Democratic candidates appeared to be from the latter.

This is an interesting follow-up
:

"When California faced a Mount Everest-sized $14 billion deficit in
2003, one of the major causes for the red ink was the stampede of
millionaire households from the state," says a report called "Rich
States, Poor States" by economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore.
"Out of the 25,000 or so seven-figure-income families, more than 5,000
left in the early 2000s, and the loss of their tax payments accounted
for about half the budget hole."

I am not sure how they got to this number, but holy crap!  20% of the wealthiest families left the state?  I'm not sure even Hugo Chavez is doing that poorly.

Update:  Even more here, comparing inward and outward migration rates of states vs. a state-by-state economic freedom index.

Water in the Desert - Is Pheonix "Unnatural?"

A week or so ago, the Toronto Star accused Phoenix of being "unnatural" and hypothesized that water shortages would soon drive people in a reverse migration to the Rust Belt, where lots of underutilized infrastructure exists.  I had a long, long response, because there was just so much silly stuff in the article, but you can bet I argued:

  1. Why is it unnatural for Phoenix to depend on water moved from long distances but it is natural for Buffalo and Cleveland to depend on hydrocarbons for winter heat moved from a long distance away?  When did self-sufficiency in water become the be-all end-all judge of city sustainability?  And how do cities dependent on big old coal-fired plants criticize the CO2 footprint of a city powered by the largest nuclear plant in the country?
  2. To the extent Phoenicians are inattentive to water use, it is because we have some of the cheapest water in the country, provided to us at ridiculously low rates to politicians who would rather manage water supply and demand through command and control than through price and markets.  Much of Arizona's water use is in agriculture, where water hungry crops are grown in the Sonoran Desert because of subsidized water use rates and federal agricultural subsidies.

I did a bit more research, and found this:

In an average year, Arizonans go through about 7.25 million acre-feet,
or nearly 2.4 trillion gallons. Put a different way, that amount of
water could support a residential population of nearly 30 million
people.

Except it doesn't. It's supporting a population of 5.7 million - and a
lot of farms, which use about 68 percent of the state's water.

I have no problem with whoever wants to use the water.  If people want to make a go of cotton farming in the desert, power to them.  EXCEPT when the government provides them massive subsidies for doing so, as is the case in Arizona (and most all southwestern) agriculture.  Cotton farmers, for example, receive massive government subsidies for growing their crops, and water their plants with subsidized artificially low-priced water.  If the distortive government subsidies went away, and water prices were allowed to float up to where supply met demand (and we were not draining down aquifers and Lake Powell) then my guess is that a lot of desert agriculture would disappear.

By the way, I am also perfectly willing to believe that if water prices rose, there would be fewer people moving to the area.  Fine.  However, this effect would likely be small, since water costs are only a small percentage of the costs of home owning but are a huge percent of the costs of agriculture.   But I think we can see that trying to blame Arizona's water problems on inward residential migration is  pointing the finger in the wrong direction.

Interestingly, even that great bete noir of environmentalists and outside critics, our golf courses, really have a minimal impact on the water use:

Everyone's favorite culprit, golf courses use two-thirds of the
industrial supply, or about 4 percent to 5 percent of the total supply.
Some courses use treated effluent, or "gray water." Scottsdale, for
example, requires any new course to use gray water or bring its own
supply.

Postscript:  Water is one of those weird topics, a bit like health care I guess, where most people seem to assume that the normal laws of economics do not apply.   Over the last several months, I have probably read 30 articles on Arizona water use.  Not one single time in any article have I seen mention of the word "price."  Its all about what command and control methods we need to exercise.  Take the guy they interviewed for the article above:

Charles Buerger, who divides his year between homes in Gilbert and
suburban Chicago, is sometimes surprised that people in northern
Illinois, on the banks of Lake Michigan, seem more concerned about
water use than people in dry Arizona.

"They have every-other-day grass watering back there," Buerger said.
"They fine you if you're overwatering or if you're watering on days
you're not supposed to. They're very conscious about water supplies.
The way Arizona's growing, you just wonder, 'Where's all this water
coming from?' "

Pricing matters, even for water!  Not silly even-odd day lawn watering laws.  Just look at these numbers:

City Monthly cost for water service of 8,500 gallons
Memphis, Tennessee $14.16
Phoenix, Arizona $16.27
Charlotte, North Carolina $17.52
Dallas, Texas $20.04
Austin, Texas $23.15
Portland, Oregon $23.44
Louisville, Kentucky $23.47
Houston, Texas $26.49
Milwaukee, Wisconsin $27.86
East Bay MUD, Oakland, California $31.13
Atlanta, Georgia $33.60
San Diego, California $37.52
Seattle, Washington $39.75

What could explain more eloqently why I paid more attention to how I watered my lawn in rainy Seattle than desert-bound Phoenix.  Remember gasoline in the 1970's.  It wasn't even-odd day rationing that solved the supply crisis; in the end, it was elimination of price controls.

Update: The Toronto Star argued that Phoenix represented environmental Armageddon while the Great Lakes region was the environmentally smart place to live.  They suggested "that in the
Great Lakes basin, where less than half a per cent of the world's
population sits within easy reach of a quarter of the planet's fresh
water, the opportunity for harmony exists."  Of course, that's only if you ignore the fact that these cities treat the Great Lakes like one big toilet:

"The Great Lakes basin is one of the most important freshwater
ecosystems on the planet - holding one fifth of the world's
freshwater," said the report's author Dr. Elaine MacDonald. "Yet, the
20 cities we evaluated are dumping the equivalent of more than 100
Olympic swimming pools full of raw sewage directly into the Great Lakes
every single day."

20061129_sign

This is the kind of stuff that has a lot higher immediate impact, and should be worked long before, tenuous claims of damage from CO2 production.

Phoenix Envy

Today I read one of the most bizarre articles I have read in quite a long time.  Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star (HT: Junk Science) seems to have developed a fantasy that climate change will drive people out of Arizona and back to Cleveland, Buffalo and Toronto.  Uh, yeah.  The article is laden with shoddy science, gross contradictions, bad economics, and a recurrent envy of wealth and success.  The article is so much of a mess that I just can't resist fisking it in detail, despite its length. 

Before I begin, though, I am not necessarily a huge Arizona booster.  Phoenix works pretty well for me at this point in my life, but I have lived in many great places.  And I am the last one to criticize anyone who decides that they just can't live in a place where it is 110F for 6 weeks straight.  That being said, lets get into it.  The article is titled: 

Climate Change Herald Mass Migration:  Concerns
raised as the U. S. Southwest grapples with historic drought, water
supply depletion and the creeping sense that things can only get worse.

We will get into all this later, but you gotta love the "creeping sense that things can only get worse."  Who has this sense, other than the author?  Phoenix is one of the most optimistic and positive places I have ever lived.

The state of Arizona has more than 300 golf courses, a booming economy,
endless sunshine and, at last count, at least five Saks Fifth Avenue
department stores "” in short, nearly everything the well-heeled
sybarite would need.

He sets the tone right up front.  This article is not about climate or rain or anything else.  It is about envy and a distaste for other people's wealth and success.

There's just one thing missing: rain.

For the past
month, not a drop has fallen in Maricopa County, home to greater
Phoenix, the state's economic engine and fastest-growing hub. Over that
period, temperatures have hovered five to seven degrees above the
30-year average, at one point holding steady at over 43C for 10
straight days, while hundreds of brush fires burned statewide.

Its the freaking Sonoran desert!  We go months without rain.  We are supposed to go months without rain.  We average like 8 inches a year.  This county went months at a time without rain long before human beings burned their first molecule of fossil fuels.  If we got much more rain than this, all of our Saguaro cactuses would die.

And 43c is 109F.  We almost always go 4-6 weeks with temperatures over 109.  And he is saying this is 6C (10F) more than normal.  Get real!  I can't remember any June or July we ever went even 5 straight days under 100F during this part of the summer. By the way, Arizona's highest June temperature was recorded in 1994, its highest July temperature in 1905, and its highest August temperature in 1933. So much for record highs of late. (Maybe one reason it seems to be getting hotter is that they are measuring the temperature of asphalt parking lots).

"And they're still building billion-dollar houses, right in the
middle of the desert," says Paul Oyashi, incredulous. "It doesn't seem
rational, does it?"

Holy Crap!  Billion dollar houses!  Our retractable roof football stadium didn't cost a billion dollars, Canadian or US.  Oh, and you see that having gone 4 paragraphs without being snide about wealth, he needed to get back to this topic.  And who the $%@!! is Paul Oyashi?

In a word, no. Rational, some would say,
would be a mass migration from the drought-ravaged American southwest,
where Southern California just experienced its driest 12-month period
in recorded history, to more verdant climes.

One such place?
Cleveland, the battered hub of Cuyahoga County, where Oyashi sits as
director of the department of development. "We don't have earthquakes,
we don't have brush fires, we've got all the fresh water you could ever
want," Oyashi says. "That's logic. But the problem is, it flies in the
face of reality."

So this Oyashi guy is the development guy for Cleveland?  Who made the Toronto Star a shill for the Cleveland chamber of commerce?  Is it really this writer's premise that we are on the verge of a reverse migration from Phoenix to Cleveland?  My sense is that we are not on the verge of such a reverse migration, and this is a chance for everyone in the Rust Belt to lament that fact.

At first glance, the crises
of the rust belt and the Southwest would seem unrelated. They are, in
fact, inexorably linked. Each has what the other does not. In Phoenix,
tremendous affluence; in Cleveland, and in Detroit, Toledo, Youngstown,
Buffalo, Rochester, Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, abundant,
near-endless water "“ in the Great Lakes alone, as much as 25 per cent
of the world's supply.

Note the writer implicitly accepts the zero-sum wealth fallacy -- in his eyes, wealth is a natural resource just like water.  Cleveland has water, Phoenix has wealth.  I won't get into this fallacy much here, but suffice it to say wealth is not something that springs magically from a well.  More here.  For a hundred years, Cleveland was a wealth-creation machine.  To the extent they are not today, they might check their tax and regulatory policies.

And as the Southwest and parts of the
Southeast grapple with historic drought, water supply depletion "“
earlier this year, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, a primary water source
for the Everglades, caught fire "“ and the creeping sense that, with
climate change, things can only get worse, a new reality is dawning:
that logic, finally, will have a larger role to play in human migratory
dynamics, continent-wide. With it come not just doomsday scenarios, but
for certain urban centres left for dead in the post-industrial
quagmire, a chance at new life.

Wow, where to start?  Anyone note the irony of Cleveland pointing fingers at someone because their lake caught on fire?  Not that he bothers to explain why a lake catching on fire is related to climate change or even drought.  And why on an article on the Southwest is the only example of water shortage taken from Florida?

But what you really need to note is the arrogant technocratic bent of the author.  He is saying that all you idiots in Phoenix are defying reality, and that finally maybe you will start making the right choices.  This is typical elitist crap.  In the author's world, anyone who makes a choice the author would not is making a wrong choice.

"Sticking a straw in the Great
Lakes is not a solution to Phoenix's water problems," says Robert
Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project at the State University
of New York at Buffalo. "Maybe it's time to really think about what
constitutes need and stop spending money to build carrying capacity in
places that don't have it by nature, and start investing in places that
do."

Shibley has long been a champion of Buffalo's dormant
potential "“ a potential reduced by half or more through the latter part
of the 20th century, as the population fell below 300,000 from a
historic high of more than 700,000.

OK, now we quote a second guy about problems in the American Southwest.  This guy is from Buffalo, New York and is a promoter of the city of Buffalo.  Why is the Toronto Star giving these guys paid advertising for their causes under the guise of a news article?  And who the hell ever suggested sending water from the Great Lakes to Phoenix?  This is a "straw" man if I ever heard one.  Even if we started building pipelines east, there would be no reason to go past the Missouri or Mississippi.

And I love this "investing in carrying capacity" thing.  What the hell does that mean?  Yeah, we have to build infrastructure when the city grows.  We have to look for water, you have to pay for snow plows.  To build in the desert, we have to pipe in water to survive.  So what?  Buffalo and Toronto and Cleveland have to truck or pipe in coal and heating oil in the winter to survive.  What's the difference?

He suggests that in the
Great Lakes basin, where less than half a per cent of the world's
population sits within easy reach of a quarter of the planet's fresh
water, the opportunity for harmony exists. In a perfect world governed
by reason, Shibley says, the only robust economic centre in the region
would serve as its heart. And that would be Toronto.

Oh my God, what a statement.  Humanity's last hope to live in harmony with nature is to move to the Rust Belt, home of a disproportionate number of America's Superfund sites and the burning Coyahoga River.  These are cities that still use the Great Lakes as a toilet, dumping tons of raw sewage out in the lakes every day.

That's an
issue for international bureaucrats to solve. But the reality is this:
according to the U.S. government, the population of the United States
is expected to reach 450 million by 2050 "“ an increase of almost 50 per
cent. The predicted pattern of settlement for these new citizens will
take them to the seven most built-out regions of the country "“ Arizona,
Texas, Florida and California among them.

Have you seen Arizona?  Is this guy really arguing that Arizona is more built-out than Michigan, New York, and Ohio?

"You're going to have
150 million people living in at least seven of the major regions that
don't have water, don't have carrying capacity, can't feed themselves,"
Shibley says. "It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen. So
there's a good reason to think that people should come back to the
Northeast, where we have the carrying capacity, and have the water."

First, we have water.  We don't even have rationing here in Phoenix, and have not in my memory.  What does "have no water mean?"  The issue with Phoenix water is that we have about the cheapest water in the country.  Any overuse (whatever that means) of water here is because politicians pander to citizens and set the price very low.  So yes, I have a big lawn that seems nuts in the desert, but that is because my water bill here is less than half of what it was in Seattle(!)  Raise the price, and I would probably xerascape my lawn.

And what city in the Great Lakes area "feeds itself?"  No one in American cities feeds themselves.  Its called division of labor.

Some have already taken notice. Last year, The Economist
ranked Cleveland the most liveable city in America (26th in the world)
based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and
environment, education and infrastructure. Among the booming cities of
the Southwest, only Los Angeles and Houston cracked the top 50. Phoenix
didn't make the list, falling behind Nairobi, Algiers and Phnomh Penh
among the world's top 126 urban centres.

LOL.  I love it, we're behind Nairobi in some survey.  Look, there is a huge disconnect in this whole argument.  If Cleveland is really more liveable, then people will move there.  But the author is saying that people are moving to Phoenix instead.  So the theme of the article is that, what?  Phoenix has a problem with too many people moving in and has a problem with too many people moving out?  This is back to the technocratic elitism.  The author is just upset that ordinary people don't do what journalists tell them they should do.

Water is a factor. It
is already a significant issue in the major regions Shibley mentions
which, not coincidentally, depend on the same diminishing source for
much of their hydration.

In 1922, seven states "“ many of them,
like Nevada, Arizona, Texas and California, desperately arid "“ signed
the Colorado River Compact, which divvied up the mighty waterway's
seemingly abundant flow.

But recent observation of the river is
alarming. Only two per cent of the river's water makes it beyond the
U.S. border, where large Mexican cities dependent on its bounty are
left with a trickle "“ much less than they need. With climate change,
river flow has been dwindling, due, among other things, to decreasing
snowfall and less consequent spring runoff, which forms a significant
part of the Colorado River basin's lifeblood.

The river is the
main water source for more than 30 million people stretching from
Colorado in the north all the way down to the U.S.-Mexico border. By
the end of the century, inflow to the river (which includes runoff and
tributaries) is expected to drop by as much as 40 per cent.

First, who is saying that climate change is affecting the flow of the Colorado River?  Annual variations certainly affect it, but no one, and I mean no one, has created a climate model with the resolution to say that if there is substantial global warming in the future,the effect on the Colorado River flow will be X or Y.  Even the IPCC admits it really doesn't have a clue how world temperature changes might affect river flows, or the water cycle in general.  People always want to assume that hotter means drier, but hotter also means a lot more ocean evaporation which can translate into more, not less, precipitation. 

The problem with the use of the Colorado is not climate, but price.  As mentioned above, Phoenix has among the lowest water prices in the country.  In addition, farmers in Arizona and Southern California, who use most of the water despite the snide remarks about golf courses and billion dollar homes, get rates subsidized even lower.  Letting water prices rise to a real supply/demand clearing price that matches demand to river flow would solve the water "crisis" in about five minutes.

At
the same time, climate change projections show temperatures in the most
parched regions of the Southwest increasing between five and seven
degrees. That would make Phoenix's hottest days well over 54C.

Five to seven degrees C are at the high, worst case end of the IPCC projections, which are themselves grossly overstated for a number of reasons I wrote here and here.  Also, much of the warming would be winter nights -- you just can't add the global warming projections to the daytime maximums -- this is plain ignorant.   One thing I agree with -- if our daytime temperatures were to reach 54C, which is over 129F, I will be moving. 

In
Arizona, though, these warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. "The Greater
Phoenix region continues to bust at the seams," says Christopher Scott,
a research professor of water resource policy at the University of
Arizona in Tucson. "People look at this and think, `This can't go on,
can it?'"

But it does, and faster than anywhere else in America.
From 1990 to 2005, the population of Greater Phoenix grew 47.7 per
cent. In Scottsdale, a posh, affluent corner of Greater Phoenix that,
despite the lack of moisture, has more golf courses per capita than
anywhere else in America, growth was 72.1 per cent over the same
period.

Altogether, Greater Phoenix will likely crest at 4
million people some time this year, making it the fourth-largest
metropolitan area in America. By mid-century, some estimates suggest it
will reach 10 million, leaving Phoenix and Tucson fused in the desert.
"We'll basically be one massive urban corridor," Scott says.

Hey, he quoted a guy from west of the Mississippi!  This is the same kind of language that every anti-growth person uses in every city.  And by the way, there is that class thing again -- "posh, affluent."  And what does "bust at the seams" mean?  Phoenix has some of the least-bad traffic of any major city, we have sufficient water, sufficient power, lots of raw land, etc.

Phoenix
receives water from the Colorado through canals hundreds of kilometres
long, pumped through parched landscapes and small communities along the
way that take their fill. It is, essentially, a city that shouldn't be
there, so distant is the water supply.

"Shouldn't be there," by what definition?  Here is what that means:  "I, the author, don't think there should be a city there."  OK, don't live here.  Couldn't I write this sentence instead, "Cleveland receives petroleum from Texas and the Middle East in pipelines hundreds of miles long to provide needed heat in their cold winters.  Its is, essentially, a city that shouldn't be there, so distant is its energy supply."  Jeez, why is it we can have a global economy and division of labor and move resources around the world, but we have to build cities right next to water sources.  What about Aluminum, oil, gold, bauxite, lead, zinc, and iron?  Must we only build cities where all these are near by as well?

Scott, who has studied
water supply issues from India to Mexico to West Africa, has seen no
end to water-appropriation schemes in development-crazy Arizona.
"Piping in sea water from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, desalinating it,
and then piping the salty brine back into the ocean "“ that's the kind
of hare-brained notion I've heard here," he says. "Do I consider these
things tenable? Not at all. But these are proposals people are talking
about seriously, in public, and they're getting a lot more play."

Scott
worries that technology may well make such things possible, but at a
destructive energy cost that simply exacerbates the problem. "We're
already starting to ask questions about the larger issues associated
with pumping in all that water along those canals "“ the energy costs,
and the carbon impact associated with it," he says. "They may solve the
water issue short-term, but they pull the sustainability rug out from
under you in the process."

We now see the author's real position.  He is not really lamenting the lack of water in the Southwest - he likes it.  He wants to drive people out.  We see he and professor Scott here actually lamenting the fact that technology might solve the water problem.

As to the sustainability issue, its absurd.  I will admit I don't know the figures, but I would be shocked if moving water around was even 0.1% of US energy use.  And besides, we move everything else around the world, moving water is trivial.

Finally, I don't really want to accept the author's premise that CO2 reduction is so critical, but if I were to accept it, I might point out that most of our electricity in Phoenix is provided by America's largest nuclear plant supplemented by natural gas, while mid-Western cities are fed mostly by big old honkin coal burning plants.  I would put our electric generation carbon footprint up against most any Rust Belt city.

The long-term solution, of course, is
to relocate people where they can comfortably exist. (Oyashi certainly
knows a place where you can get a decent house on the cheap.) In a free
society, of course, forced migration isn't really an option.

Do you get the sense he says the last line with a frustrated sigh, lamenting the fact that he can't force people to live where he thinks they should live?

But
as the sustainability crisis worsens, "usually economic forces will do
it for you," says Robert McLeman, a professor of geography at the
University of Ottawa. "When cities have to build new infrastructure and
to jack up taxes to cope, when the cost of running a household becomes
prohibitive, people will move."

Fine, but I will bet you a million dollars our taxes in Phoenix are a lot lower than they are in Toronto. And I know for a fact, since I almost moved there once, that our cost of living is a lot lower.  So maybe this infrastructure and sustainability crisis in Phoenix is a chimera?  Maybe its just wishful thinking?

..."Once the heat becomes unbearable, they may find the
freezing cold a little more bearable"“especially if it's not quite so
freezing cold as they remember."

It won't happen without help. In
Buffalo, Shibley speaks of a federal urban sustainabilty plan that
funnels federal money to the Great Lakes region to help draw population
back. It's been more than 30 years since the U.S. had a comprehensive
national urban plan. Looming ecological crises in burgeoning urban
centers more than justify a revival. "Cities don't grow by topsy, it's
not a thing of nature "“ it's a function of public policy," he says.

Oops, we seem to be abandoning the whole "free society" thing above.  Sure looks like they want to use federal law and tax policy to drive migration where they want it to go, against where people are moving currently of their own free will.  Oh, and city growth is NOT a function of public policy.  Cities grew up and evolved long before government ever took a heavy hand in their development.

But
a significant piece is missing, McLeman warns. "These cities will have
milder climates, be easier to live in, and cheaper," he says, "but
ultimately, they'll have to have the jobs to go with them."

Oyashi
is painfully familiar with the concept. Cleveland may have a surfeit of
cheap, liveable housing and an abundance of fresh water, but its
problems are legion. Abandoned industrial sites litter the area, too
big or too expensive to put to other purposes. Small victories pale in
the face of greater challenges, like trying to convince Ford not to
close two of its three plants in the region. "We've got some dinosaurs
walking around here," he says.

Speaking of public policy and taxation, you don't think that different public policy choices in Cleveland vs. Phoenix might have a teensy bit to do with this?

But those problems, endemic
rust-belt-wide, are just the most visible. High crime rates,
languishing schools and spiralling urban poverty plague Cleveland, too.
Phoenix, for all its money, can't make it rain any more than Cleveland,
with all its water, can print the money it needs....

Gee, the relative growth in Phoenix vs. the lack thereof in Cleveland sure is a head scratcher.  Its incredible that people would tolerate long transportation distances for water just to escape things like high crime rates, languishing schools and spirally urban poverty.

He lays the responsibility at the federal
government's door. "It's not like we have a policy that says, `You
know, we should have a national policy that provides incentive for
people to live in ecologically sustainable areas,'" he says. "What we
have here is `Go wherever you want, do whatever you want, and the
government will follow with its chequebook.' You get this haphazard
checkerboard of winners and losers, rather than directed development in
the regions that can sustain it. It's crisis management."

Yes, its just awful that the government lets people live wherever they want and then puts infrastructure in the places people choose to live.  So haphazard!  People are doing things that are not controlled or directed!  Eek!Clearly the author thinks the government should build the infrastructure wherever it wants to, and then force people to live in those places.   We elites know better!  We will tell you where you should live!  And by the way, who in the hell anointed the Rust Belt with the title of "most sustainable area."  And what is sustainability?  Couldn't I argue that all those midwest cities are sitting on valuable cropland or forest land, and that Phoenix is the most sustainable because we are just building on empty desert?  And if there is such a thing as sustainability in city development, who decided that the proximity of fresh water was the #1 be-all end-all component?

So, I will make a counter-proposal.   Rather than focusing on cities, let's focus on agriculture, because water IS a be-all end-all component to agriculture.  Much of the water we use in the Southwest is for agriculture, and I
don't think that agriculture would be here without huge subsidies. Frankly, the sustainability problem of agriculture in the desert is orders of magnitude worse than that of cities here.  So here is the plan:

1) Sell water in Arizona for a price that better matches supply and demand

2) Stop subsidizing water for agriculture

3) Stop sending farm subsidies, such as for cotton, to people to grow crops in the desert.

This would relieve a taxpayer burden AND it would likely shift farming out of the Southwest to places like the Midwest.    As a result, you would get a migration of farmers and agriculture back east and you would free up a lot of water in the southwest so more people can live here, where they really want to live.    But of course, this is not what the author wants.  He wants more people in the cities, paying absurdly high Detroit property and income taxes.  Well, good luck.

Update:  Large follow-up post to this one, including research on Arizona water use and how the Rust Belt treats the Great Lakes like a toilet here.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

The EU has an odd definition of the term "free trade."  Apparently, low taxes, in the EU's world, are irreconcilable with free trade.

In a move that is both remarkable and disturbing, the European
Commission plans to file a complaint - and threaten protectionist trade
barriers - because attractive Swiss tax policies are supposedly a
violation of a free-trade accord. The bureaucrats in Brussels are not
arguing that Switzerland is imposing barriers against EU products.
Instead, the Commission actually is taking the position that low taxes
are attracting businesses that might otherwise operate in high-tax
nations. The implications of this radical assertion are
breathtaking. It certainly is true that a nation with more
laissez-faire policy will attract economic activity from neighbors with
more burdensome levels of government. But if this migration of jobs and
investment is a "distortion" or trade, then the only "solution" is
complete and total harmonization of all taxes (and regulations,
spending, etc). If the Euro-crats succeed with this argument at the
European level, it will be just a matter of time before similar cases
are filed at the World Trade Organization.