11 May 2011

Lies, damned lies and politics

One of the speakers at Global Water Intelligence's conference in Berlin was Jennifer Hosterman, mayor of Pleasanton, California, and Chair of the US Mayor's Water Council.

In her talk, Hosterman said [paraphrasing] "water problems have big impacts... one California town has 40% unemployment; water shortages have led to thousands of job losses."

Knowing that these numbers are somewhere between disputed and wrong, I went up after her talk and said:
  • The 40 percent unemployment figure in Mendota, CA is persistent; it does not go up or down according to water supplies.
  • The headline figure of 80,000 job losses has been disowned by Richard Howitt. He and Jeffrey Michael collaborated on calculations to arrive at a figure of 5,000-7,000 job losses.*
Her basic response was "so what?"

I clarified: "No, you don't understand -- the researcher, Howitt, who made the estimates denounced them."

She said, "I don't care, I will use those numbers."

WTF?

I've often worried that I am too harsh on politicians when I say that they will lie and distort facts to suit their purposes,** but here I was, standing in front of a mayor from California who was lying*** to make herself and her beliefs more prominent in front of an international audience that probably believed her.

As a parting comment, she suggested that I run for office. So, I guess she's a believer in the ends justify the means and that her constituents are fools. Great.

Bottom Line: Politicians who lie and distort reality to make short term gains with voters destroy our long term prosperity by leading us to make the wrong policies and take the wrong actions.
* Read this and this for more background. This recent publication [pdf] puts losses at 5,000.
** Unfortunately, I predicted as much and have other examples wrt water.
*** I call it a lie when someone gives you accurate information and you choose to use the wrong information.

10 comments:

Dan Crawford (Rdan) said...

Ouch David. Personal anecdote for assumed behavior by officials...probably private and public.

Jay said...

Incentives matter. The incentives for politicians differ than those for researchers.

I would like to think that by educating others on how incentives work we can change incentives and change behaviors. Thanks spreading tools for rational, data driven analysis.

Bottom Line: Culture and society wil continue to evolve influenced by wider availabilty of better information.

Anonymous said...

Maybe that having recurrent water shortages is the main reason why its impossible to attract businesses in that town, and it's why there is 40% of unemployed...

Anonymous said...

Yup. In my paranoid moments I ponder whether farmers and urban water agencies wanted what an MWD Vice President called "the wettest drought" in order to get their water bond, dam and circuitous canal. They fallowed very visible land along a major freeway. Meg Whitman donated funds that may have been used by those filing the smelt lawsuit.

"If a situation is perceived as real, it is real in its consequences."

David Zetland said...

@Dan -- she said it in public and you will have to believe me about the side comment. One official is not all officials, but it's not a good trend.

@Anon1 -- not exactly. Mendota suffers from "company town" syndrome more than water supply variability (see, e.g., the rest of California).

Anonymous said...

http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/29/?p=bio

http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/25/?p=bio

attached are two more to add to your list of damn lies. Both are members of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and both stuck to their talking points of blaming high unemployment on a ‘regulatory’ drought in the San Joaquin Valley.

JWT said...

You didn't have to go to Berlin to find lying politicians. Just Google Paul Ryan. He doesn't just lie about a couple of things, he has a whole broad array!

WL said...

Yup. In my paranoid moments I ponder whether farmers and urban water agencies wanted what an MWD Vice President called "the wettest drought" in order to get their water bond, dam and circuitous canal. They fallowed very visible land along a major freeway. Meg Whitman donated funds that may have been used by those filing the smelt lawsuit. "If a situation is perceived as real, it is real in its consequences."

Anonymous said...

http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/29/?p=bio

http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/25/?p=bio

attached are two more to add to your list of damn lies. Both are members of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and both stuck to their talking points of blaming high unemployment on a ‘regulatory’ drought in the San Joaquin Valley.

David Zetland said...

@Dan -- she made the claim in public, but our side conversation is from my memory. I am more worried about its existence than its anecdotal nature (c.f., OJ Simpson's anecdotes...)

@Anon1 -- there are water shortages in most places in the Central Valley. That town's 40% rate is more due to its status as a company town with few opportunities. Read Lloyd Carter's stuff.