We either need the cool head of state economist Amy Baker on the economic impact of a massive reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, or we take the James Madison Institute's study of economic impact as gospel. There is no third choice.
For me, the Everglades Foundation's economic impact study is disqualified -- or should be.
Released Tuesday under the name "Benefit & Benefit/Cost Calculations for Two Everglades Restoration Projects," the study -- which you can see here -- turns out to be less a professional report than it is a propaganda dump. And here's why I say that:
Come to find out, Mike Maloney, the Clemson University professor and lead economist on the Foundation study, is a results-for-hire Ph.D. who has been doing this sort of thing for paying customers for a long time.
I didn't discover Maloney was for hire by myself. In full disclosure, I was sent a link to the website ScienceCorruption.com and took it from there.
The evidence on the Internet is unmistakable. Maloney is on a list of scientists and economists you go to when you've got a conclusion and you want an expert to provide an argument to support it.
So, what's wrong with being an expert for hire? Well, maybe nothing. Like expert witnesses attorneys hire to testify in specific cases, for-hire economists are brought on board all sorts of projects every day. But like expert witnesses, there are good ones and there are the ones who testify too many times on too many subjects and they don't pass the smell test.
Mostly, this tells me the Everglades Foundation went shopping for a salesman.
ScienceCorruption.com is a website specializing in "research into the corporate corruption of science and its political and social consequences," according to its definition on the site. Michael T. (Mike) Maloney, our hero, is right there. He's got a place on the mantle -- pull him up. The site calls him "a very minor cash-for-comments academic."
Maloney has worked to advance the payday loan industry (payday loans “appear to increase the welfare of consumers … are not harmful to their users”). He supported the pharmaceutical industry in keeping the retail price of drugs high (He laments, "The number of drugs in the development pipeline could decline by 14 to 24 percent … It is possible that lowering price will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs"). And he was part of a team of "experts" the Tobacco Institute hired for the tobacco industry to keep smoking alive and well in restaurants.
ScienceCorruption.com described how the Tobacco Institute recruited academics for its sell-smoking initiaitive: "The academics were always expected to wave their own and their university's credentials vigorously, and loudly proclaim their 'independence' from any crass-commercial motives. And those who could boast of being 'non-smokers' were especially prized -- since without this addiction, their non-dependent-on-tobacco status was thought to be proved beyond any doubt."
Clemson lists Maloney's "fields of interest" as applied price theory, financial economics, and industrial organization. It gives his "topics of research" as price discovery in asset markets, pharmaceutical innovation, economics and religious schism.
The Everglades Foundation's economic impact study is the same one it semi-sort-of-not-quite presented in January at the 32nd annual Everglades Coalition Conference in Sanibel. Maloney was one of the speakers. He talked about his economics report commissioned by the Everglades Foundation but two-thirds funded by the federal government -- to evaluate the economic benefits of a southern-versus-northern reservoir. He never passed it out because, he said, it was still in draft form.
It raised suspicions at the time, as I recall. The report was/is based on Foundation scientist Tom Van Lent's figures, concluding the benefit of a southern reservoir would result in an economic surplus of more than $12 billion ... as opposed to the benefits of ... let's say ... an inconsequential northern reservoir unable even to cover costs. The study compares the economic impacts of a southern vs. a northern reservoir.
Though the Everglades Foundation funded only $60,000 of the study's more than $150,000 price tag (taxpayers paid the rest), we didn't get to see the report until now, presumably because CEO Eric Eikenberg figured he needed something quick, to counter last week's James Madison Institute study that projected a $695 million annual loss to the state if Senate Bill 10 -- the Negron plan -- goes ahead. ( J. Antonio Villamil, founder and principal of the Washington Economics Group and senior fellow at JMI was the lead economist on the JMI study, "Sticker Shock: Examining the Economic Impacts of Land Acquisition in the EAA.")
So, on Tuesday Maloney did what he's done for pay-day loans, pharmaceuticals, tobacco and a plethora of products over the years -- he hit that button and launched into sales mode -- if not in person, certainly in writing.
The southern reservoir will generate more than 39,000 jobs and provide economic benefits of $20 billion, he said, an 8-to-1 return on the project’s $2.47 billion cost.
“The South Reservoir is clearly a project with benefits vastly outweighing costs. At a construction cost of $2.47 billion, the South Reservoir is a no-brainer … the longer the project is put off, the more it will cost to build.”
Added Eikenberg, “The EAA reservoir will be an economic engine for our state, a job creator and a driving force behind the restoration of real estate values along both our coasts.
“To us, the EAA reservoir represents a solution to an ongoing environmental disaster -- the forced discharge of billions of gallons of polluted Lake Okeechobee water into our coastal rivers and estuaries,” Eikenberg said. “However, to 39,000 Florida workers, the project represents a good job that pays a decent wage – and to the business people and homeowners of the affected coasts, it means billions of dollars in economic growth.”
I don't know, folks. A passive reservoir in the middle of rural America with no recreation component is going to be an "economic engine?" That's what Eikenberg and Maloney claim we're going to see if we build a 60,000-acre reservoir in the EAA. They claim reservoir construction would create 39,213 construction jobs. Of those, 16,000 jobs would be for work directly on the site.
Really? Sixteen THOUSAND jobs on the construction site? Hang on, Glades residents. Better not run out and celebrate just yet. I only say that because the South Florida Water Management District just told me they employed 100 workers on the 16,000-acre A-1 reservoir. Something here doesn't compute. Did Maloney & Co. mean 1,600 jobs? That I could see. But 16,000?
I hope this isn't the "economic component" of Senate Bill 10 Negron and Sen. Rob Bradley promised the hundreds of farm workers who will lose their jobs.
I sent Maloney's report to Amy Baker at the state Office of Economic & Demographic Research. Can't wait to hear what she has to say.
One last thing: There's something no economist is mentioning when they look at the impacts of $2.4 billion Senate Bill 10 and that scares me. Whatever happens, I don't want to see it forgotten. I'm talking about the economic impact of losing our place in line in Washington, of altering by delay the completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith