Creationism at the New York Times

The New York Times does not believe in creationism. They believe in evolution. They look down their noses at people who do believe in creationism. But when it comes to the social sciences, the Times believes in creationism, that is, they believe in theories that appeal to kindergarden-level intellects.

《纽约时报》(The New York Times)不相信创世论(creationism)。他们相信进化论。他们看不起相信创世论的人。但是当说到社会科学的时候,时报却相信创世论了:他们相信相当于幼儿园智力水平的理论。

One of those “theories” is the idea that California faces a severe water shortage because lots of people have moved to an area with a dry climate. All thoughtful economists (on both the left and the right) view this theory as being preposterous. The California water shortage has almost nothing to do with population growth.


Roughly 80% of the water is used by farmers, who squander vast quantities of water each year by employing extremely wasteful irrigation techniques in order to export crops like almonds. And that occurs because the price at which water is sold to farmers is absurdly low. Period. End of story.


This is EC101 economics, and I’ve never met an economist who did not understand this problem. But the Times can’t be bothered to talk to economists, they rely on historians:


“Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits?”California, Dr. Starr said, “is not going to go under, but we are going to have to go in a different way.”

“大自然没打算让四千万人住在这里,”Kevin Starr,一位就加州写过许多著作的南加州大学历史学家说道。“这完全是一个从1880年代开始被一而再,再而三的不断反复自我创造出来的文化。这种创造发明什么时候是个头儿呢?”Starr博士说:“加州不会倾覆,但我们必须有所改变。”

That makes about as much sense as the Times asking a Christian fundamentalist preacher whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded.


The Times is a relatively good newspaper. But to reach the elite level of papers like The Economist, they need to become familiar with good economic research. And that means figuring out what economics is capable of telling us about the world, and what it cannot.


Economists don’t know how to solve very many problems. But one of the very few we do know how to solve is the California water shortage. Instead the Times is more likely to ask economists to explain complex problems like unemployment, financial instability and inequality, issues where we are not very strong.


The problem is simple to explain and (in a technical sense) simple to solve. Of course the politics are complex, and thus far have prevented a solution. However, even dysfunctional California will eventually have to work out a political compromise.


PS. The water used in irrigating just that portion of California’s almond cropthat is exported is more than twice as much as the entire water consumption of San Francisco and Los Angeles combined. The New York Times should be ashamed of itself.



PPS. Steven Johnson has an excellent reply to the above quote about “Mother Nature.”

PPS:对于上述有关“自然之母”的言论,Steven Johnson有一段精彩的回应:

First of all, Mother Nature didn’t intend for 2 million people to live on Manhattan Island either. Mother Nature would also be baffled by skyscrapers, the Delaware Aqueduct, and the Lincoln Tunnel. Anyone living anywhere in the United States — apart from the most radical of the off-the-gridders, most of whom are probably in northern California anyway — is dependent on a vast web of human engineering designed specifically to mess with Mother Nature’s intentions.

首先,大自然也没打算让两百万人住在曼哈顿岛上。摩天大楼,特拉华引水渠(Delaware Aqueduct)和林肯隧道(Lincoln Tunnel)也会让大自然感到困惑。住在美国任何地方的任何人——除了最激进的“脱网离群主义者”(off-the-gridders),其中大部分可能还就住在加州北部——都依赖于由诸多专为和自然之母对着干而设计的人类工程产物所构成的巨大网络。

The question is whether that engineering is sustainable. What the Times piece explicitly suggests is that California has been living beyond its means environmentally. That’s the point of those extraordinary overhead photographs of lush estates, teeming with greenery, bordering arid desert. You see those images and it’s impossible not to feel that something shameful is happening here.


And yet, picture a comparable view of Manhattan sometime in the depths of January, with a thermal imaging filter applied. The boundary between Man and Mother Nature would be just as stark: frigid air surrounding artificial islands of heat. It’s true that New York City distributes that artificial heat much more efficiently than the rest of the country, thanks largely to its density, but it’s still artificially engineering your environment, whether you want to make a dry place wet, or a cold place warm.


And while the Northeast has an advantage over California in terms of rainwater, California has a decided advantage in terms of temperature and sunlight, particularly the coastal regions where almost all the people live. Coastal California enjoys one of the most temperate climates anywhere in the world, which allows its residents to consume far less energy heating or cooling their homes. California is dead last in the country in terms of per capita electricity use.


Thanks to the state’s abundant sunshine (and pioneering environmentalism) there are more home solar panels installed in California than in all the other states combined. If you’re trying to find a sustainable place for 40 million people to live, there are plenty of environmental reasons to put them in California.




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