04 November 2010

My talks in DC

First off, thanks to all the people who took care of me in Washington DC last week!

On Wednesday, I gave a videotaped keynote ("Bridging Knowledge Gaps in Water Management") at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Here are files for audio [mp3] and my slides [pdf].

I was surprised at the variety of attendees (about half from government, few economists) and pleased with the breakout sessions. The big barriers to improving federal water policy include: politicians who thrive from conflict, lack of budgetary force behind collaborative efforts, and turf wars.

On Thursday, I gave a talk to people from the Economic Research Service of the USDA. Unfortunately, I forgot to record that talk, but here are my slides [pdf].

My visit to ERS was interesting because I learned how politicians "immunize" programs against failure and cancellation: They apportion responsibility (and budgets) among different agencies that then defend their turf/budget like their first-born child. When failure results, every agency can blame others for being the weak link in the failure chain.

This insight is VERY important, since it directly contradicts an important requirement for success, that a residual claimant exists to take the blame (or credit) for a program, business or idea. Mr. Truman was famous taking such responsibility.

The analysts at ERS, for example, are not allowed to say "should" in their discussions of different policies, but at least one audience member was VERY DETERMINED to not talk about ethanol. He wanted to talk about water, which has nothing to do with ethanol /sarc.

Next, I spoke to a smaller group at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Here are files for audio [mp3] and my slides [pdf]. We covered the numerous problem with corruption in water management in developing countries (see this and this [pdf] on g/w in India and this [pdf] on g/w worldwide) and got into an interesting debate on whether the Green Revolution helped more peopl elive better lives or merely allowed the population of poor people to expand. The folks at IFPRI defended the former position, but I favor the latter position. I found these data but am looking for more research on whether greater food availability leads to an increase or decrease in population (controlling for women's education, technology, income per capita, etc.) Email me if you have anything interesting.

On Friday, I spoke for a few minutes at the start of a two hour discussion on groundwater policy (and many other aspects of water policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Here are files for audio [mp3] and my slides [pdf]. Fred Smith (President at CEI) and G. Tracy Mehan (ex-EPA) spoke often, but there were about 15 participants from a variety of fields. In this group, the center of gravity shifted so far that I was defending public water providers, unlike the case at ERS, where public policies were the cause of problems. Interesting :)

I also talked to people at the Department of State, Steve Solomon (author of Water), and Congressman Miller's office. The best part of ALL of my talks was people's interest in what I had to say, willingness to engage new ideas and total pragmatic (not dogmatic) perspective on solving problems.

I also decided to work hard at getting a job that will allow me more time to continue these conversations; more on that next week.

Bottom Line: Face to face discussions of water policy are the most productive, but they take a LOT of time :)

1 comment:

  1. In many animal species, a female has children by a number of fathers. The fathers do not know which children are actually theirs and so all the children are protected. From the female's point of view, she does not know which male will father the best children and she wants healthy children, so by having multiple fathers, she hedges her bets.

    This scenario seems to fit what you found in spreading a program across agencies.

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