mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Dammed If You Do

If you want a snapshot of the future of 20th century progressivism, look at the nation’s waterways. In the 19th and 20th centuries dams were a hallmark of progressive planning – using the resources and coordination of the government to build an infrastructure that would power industry, generate electricity, and create construction jobs. Now many of those dams are coming down. Says the Economist:

In this century’s first decade, 410 American dams were removed. While that is just a small portion of the more than 84,000 dams in America, the rate of removal is growing; more than twice as many dams were removed between 2000 and 2010 than in any other decade. Like the Twelve Mile River dams, many of them are relics of a bygone age: holdovers from the Industrial Revolution built to power mills long defunct for industries that have largely vanished from America.

Particularly out west, where many massive dams were erected by gung-ho progressives around the turn of the last century, the destruction of fisheries and the loss of opportunities for commercial and recreational use of rivers is starting to outweigh the increasingly obsolete benefits of the old dams.

It’s an apt metaphor for the deconstruction of the last century’s progressive agenda. Decades of progressive legislation and regulations that are no longer needed will be dismantled as new technology, a new post-industrial economy, and a new era of budget-crunching force reform and renewal.

That doesn’t mean there should be no dams, but dams have costs as well as benefits, and these need to be carefully and prudently weighed.  In many cases, the more fully the costs are assessed, the weaker the case for the dam appears.

The de-damming of America has begun.  China and many developing countries are still in their damming phase.  This too shall pass.

Features Icon
show comments
  • ms

    This metaphor is too delicious to pass up. Progressives in general are far too inclined to act in a self-righteous full-speed-ahead and damn (or dam) the consequences manner. I hope the de-damming of America will also apply to some other “progressive” train wrecks like high speed rail, Obamacare, mega-government, etc.

  • Dave Moelling

    The anti-dam movement has now jumped the shark. Here in New England, there were many dams built for what are today small amounts of electric power. If you tried to take them out the historical preservationists, kayakers, fisherman etc. would tie you to a tree. You see the streams would run dry in the summer and take away waterfront for well heeled residents.

    Also the flood control aspect has been recently brought back to our attention. The Corp of Engineers vast dam building projects have petered out, but once again we need to be reminded that our parents and grandparents weren’t stupid. We still need water, power and flood control with a bit more concern for certain environmental factors. To take out capital investments made by our ancestors for no clear and convincing reason is foolish

  • Soul

    My grandfather worked for a power company in Oregon. He was a manager for the firm, and I can recall going to work with him a few times. We would drive up narrow mountain roads, often visiting small old dams. I recall granddad mentioning back then that the company would be better off if many of the dams were removed as they were costly and inefficient.

    Also recall reading in the book “New Deal or Raw Deal” about how states that did not participate in the depression era TVA, have done better economically with out subsidized hydroelectric power.

  • Luke Lea

    The Tennessee Valley Authority, whose twin goals were flood control of a vast river system together with the economic development of a huge swath of Appalachia, has certainly been a smashing success. Indeed, it is hard to imagine my part of the country without them.

    This is not to say there haven’t been issues. The agency got up in the solar fad of the 1970’s and constructed a central headquarters that is highly energy efficient, granted, but was so expensive in the first place that the savings will probably never be recouped.

    And I have some hilarious stories of waste and inefficiency I saw during my brief stint as a carpenter on the Sequoia Nuclear Power Plant. But they are mainly for the dinner table and do not negate the immense positive difference TVA has made to this region. We thank our lucky stars FDR fell in love with the hill billies when he got to know them during his frequent stays down in Warm Springs!

    In principle Lincoln got it right I think on the matter of internal improvements: one of the purposes of government is to do those things which the people cannot do by themselves, or do so well.

  • Corlyss

    Ironic end to the Progressive movement hell bent on bring everyone an impressive level of prosperity: their heirs now organize to strip that very prosperity from the hands of the donees because, in the Progressives’ judgment, prosperity and the cheap energy that formed its basis is harming Gaia! O the Humanity!

    Depopulate now! seems to be their new mantra. And once again, looking at the world today, they have another reason to exalt Russia above all others, perhaps the fastest depopulating modern nation.

  • Koblog

    Falling water is the least expensive way to produce electricity. But we need (they say) to get rid of the dams.

    Don’t you love seeing MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in a hard hat below the Hoover Dam extolling the ability of government to build such an amazing thing? But her beloved federal government today does none of that.

  • david foster

    The anti-dam movement does not represent any trend toward more-rational thinking about costs and benefits so much as it represents environmental extremism’s hostility toward any energy-generation technology which is actually *practical*.

    It’s ironic….if you think about it, hydroelectric power generation IS solar power, with the additional benefit of an integral storage capability—-but those same people demanding solar and other “renewables” are precisely those driving the anti-dam movement.

  • Sergey

    Russia is not the fastest depopulated country. Its growth rate in 2010 is -0.06, almost zero. There are more than 30 countries that are depopulated much faster, including Spain, Portugal, Greece, Swizerland and so on.

  • Bob_ATL

    My belief is that more dams are needed and really big ones. For 50+ years we have not looked at big projects that are transformative. We should.

    An example is that California and the Southwest have a perennial need for water and the upper Midwest has a seasonal oversupply of epic proportions. We have the ability to transport seasonal water flows (Spring/early summer) from the Great Lakes, Mississippi River, etc to the Southwest (Colorado River, etc). Substantial areas of the Colorado River could be dammed without harming tourist areas as well as similar areas in California.

    Many American cities could use new Dam and waterway projects. Atlanta, Georgia is but one example. Put in a water collection infrastructure that can provide inexpensive and vast quantities of water for 3 times (to pick a target) the current metro area population.

    These are big projects that could have tremendous long term economic impact on all areas. We have the money, we just waste it on ‘silly’ progressive ventures like excessive transfer payments and pseudo business ventures like Solyndra.

    There is a long list of real projects that can prepare areas of the country for growth (and prosperity). The current ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ classes want to change the successful formula of prosperous growth through abundant & inexpensive resources to more of the failed program of ‘expected’ growth via scarcity and high cost.

  • hattip

    Well another thing that needs to be torn down is the fallacious notion that we can have a “Post Industrial Society” and yet preserve our prosperity and liberty. That is just a bit of self-serving and myopic cant from so-called “knowledge workers” and the new “Nomeklatura”, who, if they are productive at all, only server to support other industries. The notion that yu ca bypass the classic pyramid of agricultural manufacturing ad service sectors by some sort of rationalized global “value chain” is not just hogwash, it is suicide. This is about to become most painfully obvious to even the most fishiest eye. It s strange that you still cling to this bit of Progressive idiocy given the content of the rest of your post.

    This business of a “Post Industrial Economy” is one of the most absurd constructs of the last 25 years. In was pitched by the “Progressives” (read Marxists) for the most vile of reasons: To tear down the manufacturing sector and thereby destroy the meddle class.

    We need to see it for the nonsense that it is and reject it.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Dams in the Pacific Northwest provide the bulk of the region’s electricity, flood control, irrigation, navigable waterways (Idaho has a seaport), and also provide load-balancing and energy storage for wind farms.

    These things are all somewhat incompatible with each other. Any policy on hydropower will be guaranteed to satisfy no one, but getting rid of the dams would be worse.

  • teapartydoc

    Nothing on this earth is more sordid than a progressives wet dreams.

  • Grumpyoleman

    The government did not build Hoover Dam. A consortium of six private companies built it, albeit at taxpayer expense. All the government did was write the checks.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service