26 Mar 2013

Five years of aguanomics

Enjoying water in Borneo
I launched Aguanomics on 26 March 2008 when I closed my blog, Sex, Drugs and Water Utilities. (The last post there -- also on this blog -- gave a critique of virtual water and footprinting; some things never change.)

In the 4,000+ posts since then, I've covered all there is to know (i.e., all that I can find) on the political economy of water and other topics -- some of which (corruption, development, climate change) affect how we manage water.

As I've often said (here's last year's post), I've used this blog to develop my thoughts, explain ideas to readers, and learn new things. These latter two activities are what make blogging different from a diary or academic paper and more like an endless seminar in which participants can explore ideas in all directions over time. I love this aspect because the matters we discuss are far too complex to get right at one time or from a single angle. It's the multiple layers of discussion -- different related topics in various places with many people -- that put flesh and blood on the bones of ideas, institutions and impacts that we all experience in different ways.

Thank you for your support and contributions.

Some statistics

In the last year, about 60,000 people (rather, IP addresses) have made about 99,000 visits to aguanomics; see this PDF report but adjust for the missing month. These numbers are up by about 5-6 percent compared to the year before. (They do not necessarily include the 1,500+ people reading the blog on RSS or email!) It's interesting to me to see that 56 percent of visitors are from the US, down from 64 percent in the year before. That's a nice move in terms of broadening the audience for the blog. Looking a little deeper (not in that report), I can also see that returning visitors spend more time looking at more pages on the blog (2 min vs 50 seconds, for 1.6 vs. 1.3 pages). This is what I'd expect -- and it's also what I encourage with backlinks to earlier posts and the "flashback" every Saturday. There's a LOT of great material on this blog (I'm not going to be humble here), and I really like it when more people get to read stuff I've spent a lot of time on -- feel free to comment/critique; I usually approve comments on old posts within a day.

Ten years of water economics

I was in my first year of graduate school ten years ago, undergoing abuse at the hands of professors who mistook math for economics, personal ups and downs, and a deepening exposure to resource and environmental economics. I had papers on opium and heroin in Afghanistan and the US and tourism and deforestation in Nepal, plans to attend a summer school on "free market environmentalism" at PERC and a summer research position with professor Richard Howitt. That position got me into water, when Howitt told me about a conflict over water management in Southern California. That's why my dissertation is called "Conflict and cooperation inside an organization: a case study of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California."

I'm trying hard to be a water hero (=useful)
Those early interests (black markets, unintended consequences, market incentives, and perverse management in the water sector) are recurring themes in the work I do as an academic, consultant and public speaker. I've neither run out of interesting examples nor run short of people who want to hear them -- and people who need to hear them. I often think about leaving my work -- my career -- in water economics when I am just overwhelmed by tales of incompetence and the suffering that results, but I have returned because of the need to push back on failure and the support of people who agree that things have to change.

As most of you know or suspect, my blunt appraisals of people's actions and poor results do not make me popular, but I continue to highlight failure for three reasons:
  1. People are people; their ideas or actions are good or bad. I don't usually get mad at people (I make exceptions for lying, corrupt or abusive people), so I'm still willing to talk to anyone.
  2. I am here as a trusted adviser, not as a friend. I put a lot of value of helping people see things more clearly.
  3. I have no stake in any perspective winning or losing. I want to know what's true and do what's right (economically efficient + politically fair = socially sustainable).
Although I often complain that failures are not disappearing as fast as I'd like, I do see tentative signs of progress in water policies and public perceptions. I get more requests to speak, more support for aguanomic ideas and more enlightened conversations from the many people I meet or correspond with. Those developments provide the generous psychic pay that keeps me working for free. (It's in water, after all, that we most often get value in excess of price :)

Looking ahead

My contract at Wageningen UR runs out in June, and thus my work on EPI-Water. I've really enjoyed living in Amsterdam and meeting water people from all over Europe, but I'm ready to return to North America to reconnect to family and friends and put more energy into local issues. Cornelia and I are planning to return in July, take a road trip (see post tomorrow), and go back to work. Neither of us has jobs lined up, but we're looking to move to Calgary or Vancouver. If you have any interesting policy work on energy, environmental and/or water issues (for either of us), then tell me.

I'm hoping to have a second edition of End of Abundance written before we leave Europe. It's going to be a shorter, direct statement of how to use economics to address water scarcity, and I'm planning to keep both versions in print. Stay tuned.

I'm planning -- regardless of the job situation -- to keep blogging here, giving public talks and corresponding with all the great people who tell me the water news where they are, ask questions, and provide advice. As a policy entrepreneur, I never know how things will work out. I only know that I need to keep ideas flowing, so keep 'em coming!

It's also likely that I'll be doing more consulting, so please do contact me if you have interesting, short-term projects that need clear analysis and innovative solutions.

Bottom Line: I traveled for five years, did a PhD in five years, and have been blogging here for five years. In all cases, I've learned more about more topics than any five-year planner could have imagined. I'm enjoying it and hope you do too.