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."


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.