Hoover Dam's Big Government Lessons
The sprawling cities and suburbs of the American West would not exist as they do today without the
You argue that the
Did the dam impede these states' abilities to think of other ways to access water and electricity?
It's more that the dam encouraged them to think of water from the
Was it right to build the dam?
This is something that an old history professor of mine used to call "looking at the armpit of history." It was inevitable that the dam would be built, because there was a need to control the
In presiding over the dam's construction, President
Very successful. Roosevelt saw that it would be a great idea to identify himself with it. He did this by going out there and dedicating it, but it was a Republican project almost from inception. President
Many of the dam's proponents did not believe Hoover's name belonged on it. Why?
One reason was that Hoover had such an equivocal role in the development of the dam. Toward the end of his life when he was writing his memoirs, he took a lot of credit for aspects of the development of the dam that he didn't really deserve. He claimed to have written the legislation, which wasn't true. He claimed to have written the seven-state compact agreement that apportioned the river's water, which wasn't true. Hoover foresaw a low dam much further down the river and one that had no role in hydroelectric generation. He thought hydroelectric generation was something that private enterprise really was responsible for and government had no place in that business.
What does the dam tell us about the government's ability to do big things?
It was such a big job that no private concern could have done it by itself. It needed the government to oversee it. But there's a downside to that. The people who most benefited from the dam also lost a large measure of local control of their own destinies because the federal government, to this day, plays a key role in managing the resources -- mostly the water -- that's provided by the dam. This is something that was never anticipated. When the first ideas came up from [
As BP struggles to cap the oil gushing into the
I find it really interesting that the principal criticism we hear today about the federal role is that it hasn't played enough of a role. I think that's an attitude that dates from the dam. The government's reach now is accepted as being so broad and so wide that we now assume the government can come in and fix things. But if you look at how the
What would the West look like without the
There would have been real limits, much earlier, on the growth of major metropolitan centers that depend on water.
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Hoover Dam's Big Government Lessons | United States
(c) 2010 Robert C. Koehler