Short Answer: Nope.
Houston’s tragedy is still unfolding, but its lessons can already be drawn. When an area the size of fifteen Manhattans floods, there’s plenty of blame to throw around. But in the end, it all comes down to money, in particular, the kind of money one can make by encouraging short term thinking.
Many are claiming Hurricane Harvey’s wrath proves climate change is real — and that our current administration’s steadfast ignorance of that fact should be called out. It’s hard to disagree, but also hard to believe anything will change. After all, we already knew Houston had a major weather problem: Journalists and academics had pointed that fact out repeatedly, and repeatedly, society has ignored that fact. Why?
In the end, Harvey’s destruction has as much to do with intentional ignorance — essentially, economic collusion between local business and local politics — as with anything else. Over the past four decades, Houston’s native ecosystem of bayous and flood plains have become a sea of impermeable concrete: hundreds of square miles of strip malls, office parks, housing developments, and roadways. When you pave your lungs with asphalt, flooding is your inevitable cancer. Along the way, untold legions of local developers and small businessmen got rich. But now that the floods have come, it will be the US taxpayer left with the bill, a bill that will be many times higher than the economic cost of a more fact-based and proactive approach to growth.
In short, Houston’s story is America’s story: We’ve always favored the quick buck, the wink and the promise, over sensible but slower growth approaches to economic policy (healthcare, anyone?). Will we learn from Houston? I’d like to think so, but if America has proven anything lately, it’s that we prefer short-term thinking over long term consequence.
Then Again, Perhaps Business Will Lead
Following in his Facebook colleague’s footsteps, Apple’s Tim Cook last week took a miniature midwestern barnstorm, stopping by Ohio, Iowa, and Austin to preach a new approach to economic development. Along the way, as the New York Times reports, Cook not only embraced political topics like education and taxes, he also name-checked LBJ, a president who actually got shit done. “One of the things that hits you,” he told the Times, is “all of the major acts, legislation, that happened during just his presidency….You have the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act, you have Medicare, you have Medicaid, you have several national parks, you have Head Start, you have housing discrimination, you have jury discrimination. Regardless of your politics…you look at it and say, ‘My gosh.’”
Gosh indeed, given the comparison to the paralysis currently infecting Washington. Cook is clearly positioning Apple as a moral leader in society — at a time when such leadership is in short supply. Is that a good thing? It certainly could be — but such leadership should come with checks and balances. When we outsource what was once a public duty to private companies, abuse can easily follow.
Google and Amazon’s Influence Cut Both Ways
Speaking of powerful tech influencers, both Amazon and Google’s power have been in the news lately. The Information has a sobering profile of Amazon’s influence in Washington (paywall): It’s quickly become one of the largest lobbyist in DC, after years of paying lip service to the practice. But the number one tech lobbyist in the land? Google. And that fact won’t help the search giant’s image given what the Times reported today: Google’s influence played a damning role in getting an academic fired from a respected think tank.
The academic in question, Barry Lynn, ran a policy program focused on open markets for the New America Foundation, a respected left-leaning policy shop run by Anne Marie Slaughter. When the European Union levied its historic anti-trust fine against Google, Lynn posted a statement on New America’s site praising the decision. And that’s when the trouble began. We’ll spare you the details (the Times has them, including the email Slaughter subsequently sent Lynn), but the short of it is this: Lynn no longer works at New America. And Google, a major funder of New America (and many other similar think tanks), is left looking like a corporate hit man.
Amazon slashes prices at Whole Foods. Talk about tax cuts for the rich!
Uber gets a new chief. I’ll reserve comment till the guy actually starts work.
Facebook addresses “false news.” A step in the right direction.