Running in circles

Patrick Gibbons

Imagine a dog chasing its own tail. Why does it do that? Does it actually think it will catch the tail? Now imagine 150 of Southern Nevada 's top political and economic leaders running in circles, chasing their own tales of woe and the wonders that could be – given enough tax money. It's an image that gets you to the essence of the recent forum hosted by UNLV and the Brookings Institute in Las Vegas to consider recent a Brookings policy report, "Mountain Megas: America's Newest Metropolitan Places and a Federal Partnership to Help Them Prosper" which is part of their "Blueprint for Prosperity" project.

Noting the inter-mountain west's explosive growth, the Brookings Institute reported that Nevada and several other states are poised to do great things, but that there will be problems ahead. Their report hopes to smooth out those bumps. The problems are often real; the solutions are as effective as a dog chasing its own tail.

Here are some of the problems:

  • Nevada, like Arizona and portions of California, is facing a water shortage.
  • The water shortage could eliminate Hoover Dam's ability to generate electricity.
  • The current transportation infrastructureis not built to meet future demand.
  • Trade between Las Vegas and Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Phoenix isless than it might be,due tothe current transportation infrastructure.

 Here are Brookings' recommended solutions:

  • The federal government should create large reservoirs in the Midwest to "prevent flooding" and ship any "excess water" to Nevada. The water can refill Midwest dams for electrical production, drinking water, and to expand farmland in Nevada!
  • The federal government should create a new highway between Las Vegas and Phoenix.
  • The federal government should create rail systems between Las Vegas and Phoenix and between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

But while forum participants were complaining about how rail systems have their financial troubles and why water supplies were dwindling in the desert these leaders never stopped to really think. If so, they would realize:

  • When the government builds free highways, rail companies like Amtrak (and freight rail) can't compete. The political solutions – to subsidize highway creation and increase subsidies for rail so it can compete – is a double waste of money.
  • Shipping water from the Midwest to the desert is woefully expensive, but farming in the desert is even more expensive. It takes more water per square mile to grow food in the desert than it does in other parts of the country. The Midwest has a massive comparative advantage in farming; the Southwestdoes not. If we want to preserve water supplies, we need to stopgovernment subsidizingof the consumption of water by farmers and others with political clout.
  • Subsidized water, energy and transportation lead tostimulated growth rates, as the cost of living insubsidized regions such as Southern Nevada is artificiallyloweredbythe government subsidies.While more government subsidies solve current problems,they lead to thevery samegrowth-based problemsagain, down the road – which government then bemoans and introduces heavy-handed controls to cure what it earlier wrought.

Politicians and political "leaders" always have a habit of chasing their own tales of wonder and woe. They find a problem, announce government actions to solve that problem and then, only too late, discover they've created even more problems that need to be solved.

The solutions coming from the Brookings Institute, Harry Reid and Brian Greenspun regularly boil down to nothing more than ways to privilege certain people – to exempt them from the rules everyone else has to live by and let those governmentally privileged groups live well at the expensive of everybody else.

As a result, they will never find sustainable solutions to our environmental or economic problems.

We can be sure, however, that the loud barking will continue.