Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Failed State is the Friends' Success

When the future of the county is discussed, we often hear the admonition that "We don't want to become Nantucket ... or Jackson Hole!" Truth be told, no community should ever want to be us. By almost any measure, we are an economic and demographic wreck ... all the more so because most of the people who live here are in denial about it.

Today we begin a series of articles about the economy of San Juan County. We are not who we think we are, and this series will focus on facts, not marketing hype. We will show the facts and numbers as presented in government statistics and university studies, not tourist brochures.

We begin with income inequality. We present two simple items of information - one from the New York Times and another from a 40-year study of income inequality of the Pacific Northwest prepared by Eastern Washington University.

The 2014 study from Eastern Washington University can be found here. It shows San Juan County to have the greatest income inequality of anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. The study looked at 143 counties, including all the counties of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho; and 24 counties in western Montana.

The New York Times information can be found here. It's based on research from Harvard University, and it's focus is income mobility ... how likely you are to change your station in life? It shows that growing up in San Juan County is a misfortune for the future earnings of our children compared to growing up somewhere else in the nation. We are below average in helping poor kids up the income ladder ... but for average or rich kids, we're a tragedy. After growing up in San Juan County, the future earnings of average-income and rich kids is negative compared to growing up somewhere else in the nation. In fact, for those cohorts, we are at the the bottom of the pile. Growing up almost anywhere else is better for the future earnings of our children than growing up here.

As you sow, so shall you reap.

A friend sent me the photos below of notes from a community meeting on one of our islands. The meeting was convened to discuss the growing drug problem in these islands. People were asked to write down the root causes of the drug problem.


  1. Show me a community that has been taken over by eco-nuts, and I'll show you a community with a drug problem. Friend-like environmentalism, if you can call it that, has become a war on rural life. Take away the economy, and of course people are going to do drugs. There are only so many long walks on the beach you can do.

    I like to call people like Stephanie Buffum, and all her like-minded followers, greennecks or bluenecks to distinguish them from rednecks. Rednecks have gotten a bad name, but when you suffer the consequences of living in a community ruled by the rural greennecks and bluenecks, you get a different perspective on who the mean, knuckle-dragging neanderthals really are.

  2. Didn't one of the messaging grants say that "our environment is our economy"? We can't touch anything in our environment without an army of lawyers and a wad of cash, so I guess that's our economy. Be ready for ante up, or you might was well just do drugs. Reality is for those who can't handle drugs.

  3. The Harvard data shows that it would be better for our children to grow up in Ferguson Missouri than here. Wow!

  4. Maybe some readers have seen the recent research on addiction. Here's one source.


    The research shows that addiction problems are related to a poor environment. People use drugs when they have nothing to do and no opportunities. When they are placed in a rich environment with many opportunities for growth, they stop using drugs.

    We have drug use comparable to an urban ghetto. We are an eco-ghetto. We are a FOSJ ghetto.

  5. Don't we need some sort of county permit before we can become an addict? I suppose it would be illegal to use GMO meth too? Where do we buy organic meth? Better not buy it in styrofoam. You'd never get out of prison.

  6. But remember, we're only doing this for the chiillllllddreeeeennnn .....

  7. It's the circle of death. Huge net-worth disparity combined with incentivized tax breaks for the rich via conservation easements and (cough) "hobby farm/forest" exemptions, on top of the meteor sized crater Land Bank and Preservation Trust put into the property tax base and voila, you have the road to nowhere. You don't have to have a Ph.D in economics to figure this out. The rest of the country is sort of motoring out of the '08 catastrophe, but not here. We are creating no wealth here. The Gulag Archipelago that is SJC is a parasite sucking off of the much healthier national/international animal -- which most likely is at the "toppish" of its expansive phase for this cycle. Gonna suck to watch this sucker go down.

  8. #Salmonlivesmatter

  9. I'm sorry to say this -- I'm a huge fan of The Trojan Heron -- but the studies you cite are of absolutely no intellectual value. They provide statistics without context. For instance, since San Juan County has a small population with a few VERY wealthy people among us, of course we have the greatest income inequality. It would be odd if we didn't....And if more of our young people become teachers rather than, say, cardiologists, their average incomes will be lower. But that doesn't reflect badly on our county.

    I quite agree that groups like the Friends are causing huge problems for the rest of us....but please, let's not give credit to studies that are really worthless just to help us make our case.

    1. I admire H. Meyer a great deal, and I don't know where the Heron is going with this series, but -- you knew there was a but coming, didn't you? -- I think H. Meyer needs to wait for the context to unfold and not jump to conclusions. I know Mr. Meyer predicted the fall of the Soviet Union. Might the Heron be predicting the fall of San Juan county government? We will have to wait and see. For all the talk of sustainability, we have an unsustainable economic situation.

      I don't think the studies are worthless. There are two basic facts being presented, and you can interpret them however you like. Here's my interpretation. One fact is that San Juan county has the lowest gini coefficient of anywhere in the northwest. Personally, I think the gini coefficient is rather pointless construct, BUT liberals love it. They cite it all the time. Okay liberals, the county you've been running for 30 years has a gini coefficient similar to Chile or South Africa. Well done. You didn't cause all of it, but your regulations sure don't help the bottom end of the economic spectrum either, and if you're going to talk gini coefficients in your campaigns and talking points, then you need to own the one that is in your own backyard. Of course, the liberal reaction to the high gini coeffcient would probably be to pass a $75 an hour minimum wage.

      Second fact, our children have poor income earning potential going forward relative to children who grow up other places. That's not surprising to me given the state of our schools and the la-la grant-based economics that we see here, but it's nice to see some data that quantifies that a bit. Our children never learn what it's like to work in the real world.

      That's my interpretation Mr. Meyer. I'm looking forward to more Heron info. No one ever accused the Heron of being a home for intellectuals before, so there's nothing for the Heron to lose. Like me, everyone loves and hates the Heron at some point. Just keep putting out information and let people decide for themselves whether it's pablum or truth. Whatever is said, a discussion about our economy is long overdue.

    2. I apologize for any confusion in my earlier reply just above. SJC has the highest gini coefficient, meaning the greatest inequality. In one of my sentences, I got the relationship reversed, although my point was correct. I just-miswrote it.

  10. Thanks for your kind words about my work...but I didn't jump to conclusions. I merely read the studies, and came away unimpressed by their intellectual value. Think about this: If Bill and Melinda Gates buy a house in Beverly Hills, statistically speaking the level of income inequality in that neighborhood would soar. So that's true -- but meaningless...

    Since our adversaries so often use phony statistics to further their arguments, let's not do the same thing. We're better than that...

  11. What we have here is a knee-jerk right wing apologist alarmed that the New York Times would be cited as data source for economic insight into the state of rural character in San Juan County. I'm sorry, but it is up to us to contextualize this kind of data, not the NYT, that is just the data source. I'd expect to hear the same complaint about US Census data as applied to San Juan County: "No intellectual value and not contextualized" until of course some organization does attempt to contextualize rigorously gathered socio-economic data to our local circumstances. They will of course be accused of playing local politics with national data.

    The unspoken narrative here of course is the well trodden trickle down theory of economic development. If the wealthy get richer just think of all the trinkets and jewelry raining down on the lumpen proletariat far below? We've been sold this medicine show madness since the Reagan years and not even David Stockman will defend those policies any longer.

    If the statistics are skewed because of the concentrated wealth here in San Juan County rendering this data intellectually useless, one might imagine we should be living in the land of milk and honey, watched over by the loving grace, beneficence and frankly, patronage, of this stratospherically wealthy elite in our midst.

    But no.

  12. While you guys argue, I'll jump to a few conclusions of my own. Without an understanding of the bi-modal distribution of wealth and income in this county, it is impossible to spot the BS statistics that are used by "our adversaries." The mechanics of the calculation are described well by Herb. How relevant is it to cite averages for our county? Averages are used all the time. We have the highest average income of any county. We have the lowest average tax rate. BFD.

    The inequality, bimodal distribution, or whatever you want to call it, hides the situation of both modes. It is a very useful lie because it's been behind every tax increase and phony description of the county. Averages averages averages. BS BS BS.

    Understanding that averages are BS for us is important. Lost on everyone, but important.

  13. The USA ranks 46th in the world in terms of how easy it is to start a new business.
    The low ranking stems from regulations, taxes, and governmental bureaucracy.
    Just immagine how ridiculously difficult it is here.

  14. Minnie the MoocherMay 6, 2015 at 4:06 PM

    As long as we're self-contextualizing, here's my interpretation. We don't create wealth here. We import it, as Herb Meyer suggests in his examples. We have a "balance of trade" similar to Monaco. Wealth made somewhere else finds its way here, assets are purchased, investment income is earned, but we don't produce anything here anymore, and we absolutely do not teach our kids to create wealth. Instead, we protect. We save. We mooch. We develop plans to protect, save, and mooch. We hold conferences and public comment about protecting, saving, and mooching. We engage in earnest life-reinforcing inclusive community conversations after yoga class, all while valuing diversity, about protecting, saving, and mooching. In other words, we provide role models for kids to be do-nothing right-thinking leisure-focused moochers. We show our kids that, as long as they are in the right "club" of people, money will flow to them from public sources. Much of government here functions as a publicly-funded private club while denying that it is a publicly funded private club. What child with ambition would stay here? Indoctrinated to this way of living, imagine how hard it is for our kids once they get off these rocks. No real place functions the way we do. No wealth destroying or wealth non-creating place can survive like we can.

    1. "We engage in earnest life-reinforcing inclusive community conversations after yoga class, all while valuing diversity, about protecting, saving, and mooching."

      And the entertaining thing is that we carp about diversity while living in a county that is something like 97% non-Hispanic white (to use the Census Bureau's preferred nomenclature).

      While considering our plight, we should remember that the Friends isn't really a NGO running on grant money. It's a criminal enterprise running primarily on funds obtained from extortion and/or fraud. Which I guess makes Kyle sort of like Tom Hagen. . Does anyone else wonder why the Friends a few years ago stopped making a list of donors or those originating grants to them available?

  15. Whenever I see the word "inclusive," I know I am about to be excluded.

  16. 4:48, Excellent. The wealthy are building here now, but the crash brought wages down to the bottom. Very fine craftsmanship never got a recovery. $65 an hour went to $25 and has stayed there.

    At some point the assholes won't find anybody here to work at anything but washing the sheets and windows,

    Our sleeping County Council continues to do nothing. San Francisco has been fighting oven BNB rental for over a year, but our guys have not even squeaked over a huge impending problem---is this entire place becoming nothing but a motel.

    And, certainly, some are already getting tired of being stared at by high price National Monument kayak trips.

    A skilled carpenter gets $25 an hour, while a wet ass kayaker pays $65. Is this what we want?

  17. So? What then? Tell her incompetentness, Gibboney, to draft some regulations that limit the ability of folks to rent out a dwelling as a vacation rental?
    Have a lottery like the guesthouses? Tie the new vacation rentals to population growth?
    The clowncil wouldn't go for it, the unintended consequences might be CAOish or worse. Doing nothing is problematic too.
    Yeah, I'd agree the middle class here is going to get screwed out of existince.
    Are we really going to have all the tourism workers crammed in to the urban centers and all the homes become mostly 2nd and vacation rentals.
    Seems more likely than, say, a large oil spill. Or global climate Armageddon.
    Infact we will likely arrive in a condition resembling that way way before the oceans fully acidify.
    We. Are. Screwed.
    Utter failure of leadership in this county government.

    1. Actually, the state Supreme Court has ruled that renting a place one owns short term (i.e., vacation rentals) can't be limited.

  18. I suggest renaming this Trojan Heron piece from Failed State to State of Denial ... even to the point where some local commentators leap to the fore to bash the data as intellectually unsound before we even unpack it and take a look.

    Can't seem to face up to the facts. Tense and nervous. Can't relax. Can't sleep. Bed's on fire. Don't touch me. I'm a real live wire ...

  19. Most Cruise ships like us "We are Islands, after all" would achieve the same results.
    If we come here for our children, it should be short lived, because this is no place to introduce a young teenager to anything closely related to life and the realities of America, "I don't really know what to call my own country anymore "Its a mess out there, and in here". The drug problem, the crime problem, immigration problems, exist wherever you go. All of the studies are Bullcrap!. All data today, results from a ridiculous and unimaginable income inequality "I hate that term, because I don't believe in income equality" however, this human race is so dramatically divided by billionaires vs. Real people, as well as American taxpayers that pay for social services vs those especially undocumented immigrants that don't. You can develop any outcome on any issue you like its all gonna be pure bullshit! This is not the America, home of the free, the Constitutional state our forefathers set us up for. And it never will be! Studies are like Assholes and the Ridiculous social Engineering that got us here!

  20. Guard you Family's Know your Friends, be good to, and Love Everyone. Love is the only answer that provides solace, even through catastrophe. I know!

  21. If we were United, we would eliminate the top 2% as well as weed out all Except the legitimate bottom. Then work with what we have to sustain the middle.
    Now this is doable, "Right" LOL

  22. Why is it so hard for government to think simply and in such a way which rewards development while being accountable to our environment. If our rules to protect harm our citizens in such a way it discourages them from even getting permits then we have failed our citizens. It should not cost people who have critical areas more to get a permit in most aspects than the guys whose land is high and dry.

    San Juan County is like the wild wild west! "The Hatfields and the McCoys I tell yah". As a Washingtonian it saddens me to play witness to this despair. Both sides are right in certain senses and wrong on others. Friends say their are environmental proponents but what I see is cherry picking in what they will stand up for. Picking on the Islander for expanding high and dry land (a big draw to the Lopez economy) and then doing nothing about wetland fill is not right.

    We have to be especially careful in a unique economy such as this is and quit hiring people who are not qualified to run our corporation and make sound legal decisions with the entire citizenry in mind. We need to stop this crazy train and simply do what MAKE SENSE so that everyone comes out a winner.

    Don't you think being on an island is growth management in itself. DUH!!!! Move to the mainland and you can play witness to why it was necessary BUT not here.