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Pinocchio Item 2: BDCP will benefit the regional economy by creating jobs

As he seeks to make the case that the benefits of BDCP will exceed its costs, economist Dr. David Sunding is estimating that restoring 30,000 or more acres of habitat in the Delta, some of it on land currently used for farming, will mean a net gain in jobs for the half-century scope of the plan. Sunding is talking about 43,000 jobs doing things like planning, designing, and constructing conversion of channel margins to habitat, as well as maintaining and monitoring “restored” lands.

Sunding estimates a loss of 28,000 agriculture jobs, for a net gain of 15,000 jobs.

Throw in jobs created by construction and operation of the peripheral tunnels, and Sunding thinks we’re looking at more that 136,000 jobs.

Of course, when we look at construction, we’re not looking at PERMANENT jobs, and maybe not even California jobs, let alone regional jobs.

And we’re not looking at jobs for the agricultural workers and suppliers who will find themselves unemployed as a result of habitat conversion.

In his blog Aguanomics (February 27), economist David Zetland makes another point about this job-creation argument that is worth considering. “Jobs,” he says, “are COSTS, not benefits. Give me $1 million and I could create twenty $50,000 jobs for stoners who would play video games.”

How can it not be a benefit for people to be employed? Employment is certainly a social and economic benefit. We would rather that people be employed than not employed because when people are employed they buy things and pay taxes and save money, and there is just generally less social unrest.

But an important question is whether people are being paid to do something that society agrees is worth doing. The answer involves all kinds of values besides the value of a dollar.

The social, environmental, economic, and cultural dislocations caused by conversion of the Delta to a habitat-focused, brackish, fish-and-farming-unfriendly way-station for water going somewhere else are not going to be offset by a hypothetical 15,000 net new jobs over 50 years. They certainly won’t be offset by a lot of temporary construction jobs that will show up as “costs” on an income/expense sheet anyway.

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