January 18, 2013

Joel Kotkin: Overrated and inaccurate

Joel Kotkin
Via a Facebook friend, I stumbled on a Joel Kotkin link about how progressives may not have such a green future. The piece wasn't bad, including his relabling the non-elected-officials portion of neoliberals as "gentry progressives."

So, I clicked on his piece touting the glowing future of the Great Plains. And, boy, is it all wet.

It's all wet because, for starters, he hasn't read Marc Reisner's "Cadillac Desert" to know that the future of the Great Plains is actually "all dry." Dry and getting drier in the future, especially if we focus on the High Plains portion of what he calls the Great Plains.

So, this:
First, with its vast resources, the Great Plains is in an excellent position to take advantage of worldwide increases in demand for food, fiber and fuel.
Ain't true. At least not the food and fiber parts.

Second, he lumps the eastern and western halves of each state that's arguably a "Great Plains" state together, in a piece written for Texas Tech University out in Lubbock.

Well, other than both being in Texas, Lubbock has about bupkis in common with, say Dallas.

Ditto for related observations across the area:
Third, and perhaps most important, are demographic changes. The late Soichiro Honda once noted that “more important than gold or diamonds are people.” The reversal of outmigration in the region suggests that it is once again becoming attractive to people with ambition and talent. This is particularly true of the region’s leading cities — Omaha, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Kansas City, Sioux Falls, Greeley, Wichita, Lubbock, and Dallas-Fort Worth — many of which now enjoy positive net migration not only from their own hinterlands, but from leading metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Chicago.
There's a lot of problems with this.

 First, exactly what do you call "Great Plains"? I'm not sure I'd put Kansas City or Sioux Falls in it. I know I wouldn't put Greeley, Colo., in there. It's a Rocky Mountain city far more than a Great Plains, or High Plains, city.

And, that growth? Wichita was at a modest bit above national average, no more, in the past decade. Lubbock was a tick ahead, but no more. Metro KC and metro Omaha were moderately better, but not fantastic.

Related to that, Kotkin doesn't discuss how much of this growth was fueled by Hispanic immigration, both legal and illegal.

Third, Kotkin's "touts" apply only to the Great Plains' major metro areas. West of the 97th meridian or so (think I-35 from Austin-Dallas-Oklahoma City-Wichita, then straight north from there, and then shift your mindset about 50 miles west), nothing he said is true. There is no massively high-speed internet in Turkey, Texas, Goodland, Kan., or Valentine, Neb. The depopulation continues. The oil boom from shale oil will play out sooner rather than later, and probably at about the same time the Ogallala Aquifer does, which will be a huge double whammy. Kotkin didn't read Reisner, didn't see Ken Burns' "Dust Bowl" and is either ignorant of or ignoring of Peak Oil. And, I haven't even mentioned until now that climate change models say everything west of that 97th meridian is likely to get drier as well as hotter.

Maybe we should call the likes of Kotkin "gentry consultants."

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