Will the resource-sucking “sin city” be reclaimed by the desert?
Everyone knows at least a little bit about Las Vegas. To many visitors, Las Vegas is Nevada. In terms of population this is almost true. The large majority of the state’s population lives in Clark County (Las Vegas) — almost 2-million people live in this small southern Nevada urban area. Reno is the only other major population center.
There is the real Nevada. It’s a land of vast deserts (both hot desert and cold Great Basin desert). Over a hundred mountain ranges bisect the desert basins. Scenery is wonderful, although it is not the classical jagged glacier peaks and deep forest. Population density is very low. Best of all, almost 80% of the state is public land. You don’t have to ask permission to use it.
On the other hand, it is not pristine land. Most of the land is grazed by cattle, although Nevada is regularly held up as an example of the poorest grazing land in America. Much of north central Nevada is being torn apart by vast gold mine pits that spew their poisonous mercury upon the residents of Utah and Idaho. The gold pits are late comers to an earlier era of mining that created towns like Searchlight, Nevada.
Senator Harry Reid, majority leader of the United States Senate, grew up in grinding poverty in this defunct mining town. Having experienced poverty first hand, he has spent his life boosting the economy of the state. Unfortunately, it is an unsustainable economy based on the notion that artificial tourist attractions and housing developments can grow forever in the harsh desert sun by reaching out and grabbing water and power from every possible place.
Until the Great Depression, Las Vegas was a small city, serving as a necessary stopover on the way to Southern California. In the struggle to stay alive, Nevada and especially Las Vegas, lacking almost all the usual resources that maintain an economy, decided to capitalize on providing sin for puritanical America. Gambling, easy divorce at a time when divorce was very hard to obtain, easy marriage, and legal prostitution set the standards for the growth of this Sodom of the desert. With the invention of good air conditioning, real estate became a huge Nevada industry. Constant growth was needed just to stay in place economically.
The contradictions of Nevada have now fully emerged. Fifteen per cent unemployment in Nevada is the highest in the current great recession. Entire subdivisions in Las Vegas and satellites like Mesquite, Nevada, are boarded up. People are leaving Las Vegas.
While many people are responsible for promoting the cancerous growth model of Las Vegas, beginning with mob figures associated with Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, in recent years Harry Reid has kept growth alive with federal project after project. This small population state should have almost no political power nationwide, but Reid as a high ranking Democrat, and now Leader, has made Nevada’s wishes important in Washington.
In times of great economic distress, people look for culprits. Nevada is not a sophisticated place. In fact, Las Vegas was just ranked as “America’s ‘dumbest’ city.” So it is hardly surprising thankless Nevadans have turned on Reid. It appears they will narrowly elect Tea Party Sharon Angle, wife of a government employee (BLM), on a crusading anti-government platform. She will be flanked by new governor Brian Sandoval (let the counties solve the state’s budget problems!) and Senator John Ensign, a corporate tool, Bible-thumper, best known for his affair with his best friend’s wife. The state will also probably elect 3 tea partying U.S. Representatives.
The state’s collapse will continue, and with renewed vigor. Edward Abbey’s skull will be smiling.