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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Charles Marohn: America's Growth Ponzi Scheme


In the beginning there was the Great American Desert. It was full of reavers and wastelands and lay directly between God's Chosen and their rightful property.

It's funny I say "steppe" to a historian and you're a jump away from this:

But I say "great plains" and you go here immediately:

That's the power of branding, because we're the conquerors. Robert Kaplan made the point that history is one uninterrupted cycle of plains traders being conquered by mountain nomads who grow soft and civilized and are then conquered by the mountain nomads that rose up in their absence. Nancy Isenberg made the point that American history is one uninterrupted cycle of wastrels and ne'er-do-wells dying in droves on the frontier, establishing a toe-hold and then getting swindled out of their birthrights by well-funded, well-bred aristocrats from the homeland. I myself have traced my birthright clear back to Sam Houston's Old 300; fifteen or so generations back, we owned the Brazos Woods and by "owned" I of course mean "was given rights to it by another white guy who didn't consider the people on it or using it to be fully human and therefore utterly beyond consideration." However, as per Isenberg's observation, any generational wealth we had was utterly evaporated two generations later (or less) thus my people were dirt-poor lumberjacks attempting some dirt farming when...

Okay. So there's your people, and there's your gold, and in between there's Comanche, who are only a problem because they've wiped out every other tribe you've clubbed into submission through liberal application of genocide and smallpox because they were just a shitty bunch of mountain thugs until the Conquistadors let horses loose and now they are legit Parthian shot nightmares:

    An example of these tactics comes from an attack on Comanche horse archers by a group of Texas Rangers, who were saved by their muzzle-loading firearms and by a convenient terrain feature. Fifty Rangers armed with guns met about 20 Comanche hunters who were hunting buffalo and attacked them. The Comanches fled, easily keeping clear of the Rangers, for several miles across the open prairie. They led the Rangers into a stronger force of two hundred. The Rangers immediately retreated, only to discover they had committed a classic error in fighting mounted archers: the Comanches pursued in turn, able to shoot what seemed like clouds of arrows. The Rangers found a ravine where they could shoot at the Comanche from cover. The horse archers did not charge but kept the Rangers under siege until seven of them were dead or dying, whereupon the Rangers retreated but claimed victory.

Initial aggressors, 14% casualties, claim victory, truth justice and the American Way. So the total war enacted by the United States to connect God's Chosen with God's Chosen Money involved "colonization" whereby we eliminated anything the Comanche could eat.

And we turned the "Great American Desert" into the "Great Plains" so that we could get a bunch of our riff-raff to go give Comanches something to shoot at and we told 'em to farm and they cut up all the buffalo grass and the dust storms stretched clear to DC.

This, by the way, is about where my father's family gave up on farming and became itinerant workers for a few years. None of them even knew about Brazos Woods but I digress.

So okay. You've got a Big Empty that was full of nasty Injuns but you've tamed or murdered them all. You've got a bunch of land grants that belonged to the Spanish but you've chased them off. And you now have a frontier the size of Europe but you got some big goddamn rivers. So what do?

Dam 'em.

Great thing about a dam? It turns a useless canyon into a resort. it brings water where there wasn't. It increases property values. So if you can get vast swaths of wasteland for cheap, and then put a lake on it, you have a community, friend, and that community can be sold at a ridiculous profit. And thanks to the need to civilize the wasteland you can probably get the Army Corps of Engineers to build your dam for you and you won't have to pay a dime.

Mike Davis slowly but surely makes the point over 400 pages that California's native industry isn't agriculture, it's land scams. The St. Francis Dam only existed because Mulholland couldn't scam one of his wealthy buddies out of the land to build it where he wanted, so he built a bad dam in a bad place in order to maximize his profits and murdered 400-some people. It's the most prominent example; Marc Reisner's book is chocablock with poor people chased off their land or having it rendered useless when someone dams upstream and gives them a desert.

If you look at the history of development in the United States from 1849 until now, it is a relentless example of buy-low sell-high property speculation because bankers get rich lending money to rich people who buy land cheap and sell land expensive and that is only possible because we have chosen to put water where it doesn't naturally want to go. This, however, is a self-limiting problem.

It is, after all, the Great American Desert. Its natural biome is grasses and megafauna. Our settlements reflect irrigation and irrigation alone and contrary to popular belief, dams aren't forever. They silt up. They become cataracts, sometimes in as short as 20 years, sometimes in as long as 80. Reisner observed that an alien race visiting North America at some point in the distant future would peg us as waterfall worshippers because we have blanketed the landscape with idols.

You look at a city like Srebrenica and it's been continuously inhabited since the Romans because it's where water is, it's where ore is, it's where resources naturally occur. It's safe to say Srebrenica will be inhabited when the United States is a memory like Syrenae.


Fuck, for that matter, Denver? Tyson's Corner? Orlando? It's all land grabs. so when Marohn says

    Transfer payments between governments, where the federal or state government makes a direct investment in growth at the local level, such as funding a water or sewer system expansion.

    Transportation spending, where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.

    Public and private-sector debt, where cities, developers, companies, and individuals take on debt as part of the development process, whether during construction or through the assumption of a mortgage.

All he really needs to say is "developer grift" which only exists because we needed to stitch two coasts together to keep the British at bay.

And so long as we insist on linking the West Coast and the East Coast through the continued, subsidized existence of the Flyover States, the problem is not going away.

Because the United States does not exist without terraforming, and you can't have a megaproject without corruption.

steve  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    All he really needs to say is "developer grift" which only exists because we needed to stitch two coasts together to keep the British at bay.

I appreciate this additional commentary and viewpoint. If I understand you correctly, it's not that you're saying the author is "incorrect" as much as he's just missing HUGE parts of the story.

kleinbl00  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I think he's missing the part where there's fuckall we can do. The forces leading to sprawl are economic and they are historic and the massive changes necessary to fix things are fundamentally inapplicable to American culture as we know it.

b_b  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I've always mused that if anything can make Detroit desirable again, it's the limitless water supply. So many of the people who moved out of this place went to Florida and Arizona. Those people are going to have to go somewhere in the medium term.

kleinbl00  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Everything south of the Mason-Dixon line is inhabitable only through air conditioning. everything south of the Mason Dixon line and west of the Mississippi is only inhabitable through air conditioning and irrigation. The desert southwest is full of Native American tribes primarily because they were driven off their ancestral lands and given desert shitholes that nobody wants; show me a reservation and I'll show you a swath of land that nobody wants to develop.

It's not going to continue forever. The New Mexico of my childhood has been replaced by the Arizona of my childhood and the Colorado of my childhood was the New Mexico of the past. The desert is winning.

b_b  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Very rarely discussed is the treaty that brought AZ into statehood. If I remember right, CA gets to take as much as they want from the Colorado river, and PHX can have the muddy drippings that are left over. At least it should hasten PHX's demise.

kleinbl00  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It is the core fact that drives Bacigalupi's Water Knife, which is basically a "what if?" fictionalization of Cadillac Desert.

It's also worth noting that a similar relationship exists between Texas, the Rio Grande, and Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.

Hatred of Texas is largely driven by the fact that Texans are assholes who can't drive, can't ski and think "queso" is food but the fact that two million dirt-poor brown people don't get to irrigate their crops so that a bunch of redneck gringos can snipe at wetbacks from their porches doesn't help.


am_Unition  ·  485 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Hey, I've swam the Rio Grande before. It's not a large river at all, unless flash flooding. Maybe during snowmelt season? And it's still the defining feature of the region. Largest watershed. It really just doesn't rain/snow much within that area.

Come to think about it, I don't know of a central TX "lake" that I've been to that wasn't a dammed up river. "River" being a generous word, in many cases.

    assholes who can't drive

I think the first time I had a sense of just how bad it is here was when I drove a rental car all around Denver and Boulder. It was about 20 minutes before I realized that the strange feeling I was having was bewilderment at the fact that no one had tried to kill me with a car yet. People were using turn signals, doing "zippering" merges, and driving at the speed limit or five mph over. I wanted to start blowing kisses to everyone, but I had to drive.

My wife and I made decisions on where to live to minimize or eliminate our commuting in cars. Her 2012 only has ~45k miles on it, which is almost unheard of in Texas. I'm privileged to be able to mostly avoid aspiring manslaughterers. But I did do a lap around the city on the freeways the other day. Gotta stay sane.

LA drivers are just as bad, right?

    can't ski

Can't 'ski?? Come at me! There are.. two or three of us Texans on here!!

    can't ski

OH, oh, can't SKI. I can, but I was spoiled enough to drive or fly to ski resorts almost every year growing up. Snowboarding is more fun, though, to me.

    think "queso" is food

It's not food?? Come at me! Wait, no, already said that. Umm, I mean we dip our chips in it as a Tex-mex appetizer sometimes. Personally, I think queso is melted cheese, which, some say, is one of the most important commodities in an economic landscape like the one.. like any economic landscape. " 'Latas" was one of my first "words", short for "cheese enchiladas".

    two million dirt-poor brown people

Do you mean, like the kind my mom wants to keep on the other side of a border wall? While she may or may not under-the-table, simultaneously employ a migrant housekeeper for half a day every couple weeks? ...Do you know why Lucille Bluth legit gives me the creeps??

Most rural-to-suburban Texan whitefolk are straight up ignorant. People I grew up with who never left town, or went and got a degree and came right back, they're usually carbon copies of their parents, for better or worse. Usually worse. Yeah, I know, this isn't a Texas thing. It's a thing thing.

kleinbl00  ·  485 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Hey, I've swam the Rio Grande before

I've driven across it. On 33s. Yet on the desert world of Arakkis it is the mother source of life.

    Come to think about it, I don't know of a central TX "lake" that I've been to that wasn't a dammed up river.

You are now aware that the largest natural body of water in New Mexico is Blue Hole an artesian sinkhole with a pH of eleven that measures about 50 yards by 60 yards by 100 feet deep.

All else is dams.

    It was about 20 minutes before I realized that the strange feeling I was having was bewilderment at the fact that no one had tried to kill me with a car yet.

I'll just leave this here.

    Personally, I think queso is melted cheese, which, some say, is one of the most important commodities in an economic landscape like the one..

For broad definitions of "cheese"

    Do you mean, like the kind my mom wants to keep on the other side of a border wall?

Knew a guy whose grampa's porch looked over the Rio. His grampa legit "shot beaners" for sport. Did he miss on purpose? Did he ever hit anyone? Hard to say. Not the sort of thing that ever got investigated.

    The number of dead border crossing migrants per year in Arizona increased from nine in 1990 to 201 in 2005; about 80% of the dead migrants were under 40 during 2000–2005, with an increasing number younger than 18.

Texas doesn't bother counting, even when the UN gets called in.

steve  ·  486 days ago  ·  link  ·  
am_Unition  ·  485 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I liked how unpredictable fluctuations in the levels are. Dunno about the rest, but Huron was historically high last summer, the boat dock told me.

b_b  ·  485 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You have a place on Huron?

am_Unition  ·  485 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Nah but some family have a cottage in “The” archipelago (Canada).