More tacky than wrong, but also still wrong.

I expect better from Scientific American, honestly.  But this piece rang warning bells early, and those started clanging ferociously by the section on water.  I can’t even deal with his Reisner-era characterization of California’s water situation (“It is well known that 80 percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture and that 40 percent of the state’s water goes to growing four crops: cotton, rice, alfalfa, and pasturage (irrigated grazing land).”), and far, far too facile resolution (“MARKETS!”), although maybe I’ll come back to that this weekend.

You know how I knew that the author’s thinking was shallow and facile in all respects, and not just because he’s applying one ideological lens to a problem that is vastly more complex than he understands, because he thinks he knows things about the real world because he studied economics is probably a layperson in Water?  I knew that on the first fucking page.  I knew that he isn’t a close observer of his actual surroundings, and that his stereotypes filter his perceptions when he wrote this bullshit:

This city self-selects people who want to live well. With the exception of me, we are well-tanned, physically fit, attractive people. There is an abundance of plastic surgeons; service providers offering you whiter teeth; swimming pools; and life coaches to pluck, wax, and generally improve every part of your body and mind.

One more time.  Los Angeles is a huge, incredibly heterogeneous place, that is majority-minority and has neighborhoods of tens of thousands of people who are immigrants and first-gen.  They look, a whole lot of them, like third-world people  If what you see when you walk around LA is tanned, teeth-whitened people, your confirmation bias of your own stereotypes is so strong that you are simply not-seeing half the people who pass you on a daily basis.  I was suspicious by that paragraph, and was saddened to find out I was right when I got to the section on water. 

How does bullshit like that get published?  Are there really so many economists who like to masturbate to familiar, self-soothing market theory that they can support entire book runs?


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5 responses to “More tacky than wrong, but also still wrong.

  1. More boring than anything else… I’m impressed you made it past the first page.

  2. YK

    Ah, so that’s why LA drivers are so aggressive — they can’t see you!

    To be fair, I think the Hollywood stereotype of LA is pretty common. Because the city is so spread out, and most people use the freeways to get from point to point, you can live there for a while and literally never see the other neighborhoods. Until you get called for jury duty, and then bam! Diversity!

  3. Chris Austin

    I couldn’t get past a page and a half. The writer seems more motivated to beat up on LA than to get around to whatever point he was trying to make. If he was trying to make one.

    I’m not sure what his premise was, but if he can’t state it (or at least hint at it in an intriguing way) within the first page and a half then forget it. .

  4. But we Southern Californians are all slim, tanned, serene, rich and indifferent, particularly the filthy coastal rich of, say, San Pedro– except for the huddled masses of, say, Claremont.

    The pricing argument sounds smart on first reading, but it’s hard to focus on it when drowning in jism. I wonder if Met knows that it’s a nonprofit? Good to learn Owens Valley was tapped in the 1920s, that Chinatown is recent, that hot Santa Anas are “surprising” hot, that downtown is dead because the writer’s UCLA students don’t go there, that climate change will be boons for Florida and Las Vegas and that Antonio Villaraigosa’s name is really Tony Villaragosa. I am particularly delighted to read that “you can pick up the Los Angeles Times once a week and see an article bemoaning California’s ‘water shortage.’ ” So the articles were there, but only this UCLA economist could see them.

    That said, I particularly like his pricing argument when applied to DWP’s tier structure. Or I think I do. I must check if he has his facts straight, which clearly cannot be assumed. In the meantime, while I am fabulous and Kahn a frumpy transplanted New Yorker, I am still wretched with envy. Only three years in Los Angeles, and still aflame with hatred for it, he has done what every Valley Girl since Moon Zappa has tried and failed to accomplish, which is to legitimize the air quote. I mean, wasn’t it tacky before this big time academic hit town? You can just hear his new valley girl voice as he tucks phrases such as “water shortage,” “crisis,” “solve,” “golf courses,” “true scarcity,” “green,” “saving water,” “gray water,” and “toilet to tap” in quotes that aren’t quotes, but just laden with inept punctuation as highlighting for sarcasm. As Moon would say, Gag me with a spoon.

  5. Blake

    Damn. Nice job OTPR and Emily!