Saturday, July 14, 2007

H20-less Globe

I just finished watching this documentary, entitled A World Without Water (from BBC). It has some profoundly sad scenes in it.

The doc details the rise of water privatization. The film's pov is that water is a human right and governments should be responsible for it. A left state-interventionist model which I don't 100% buy but the film does I think show that privatization alone (as market ideology) is deeply problematic.

The key thing to watch in the film (in my view) is how privatization when led by the World Bank, promoted by Friedman-ite free marketers, is that these are not free markets. Watch the government-sponsored breaks (tax payers footing the bill) given to monopolizing corporate welfare "mothers".

I'm against statist inefficiency just as I'm against corporate monopolization based inefficiency.

The saddest pieces are watching families who live next to access points for the water not have the capital to pay for the hook up fees, leading to a black market trade in illegal water smuggling/siphoning. And one of the scenes of this is in Detroit btw.

The documentary also shows that this tendency (if unchecked) towards cartels will certainly by its very nature (profit as ultimate motive; legal responsibility to shareholders over access) lead to this kind of situation in the Global South and poor Rich World. Not to mention already happening and further to expand water wars.

Governments alone will not get the access across. That was seen in the 70s/80s stagflation and 3rd World de-colonial years. But foreign companies that are not invested in the long term development of a country and are not bought into by the local populace have no future either. Hence the increased security apparatus, the tax/non-market breaks coerced via the World Bank in terms of government contracts and the black market insurgency and protests of the local populace.

There has to be a way to take the best of the different viewpoints (corporations, governments, and poor) in a way that can work. A "radical middle" approach to water.

It would have to involve local marketization in my mind and competition. And free access for the truly poor. And investment from abroad, especially for equipping access and pipelines. While not over-stepping (unduly) the bounds of national sovereignty meaning proper checks by governments. Not unaccountable bureaucrats in Europe and/or the US. Or accountable business types who get government breaks and like state-run factories of the 70s/80s model lead to horrible business because there is no responsibility, no accountability.

The water market, like the economy in general, can not be based off the notion of ethereal profit disconnected from the biosphere. I am not advocating a steady-state economic theory that incorrectly perceives the human noosphere as part of the biosphere. [Interested readers can check out my friend Daniel O'Connor's work here whose diagrams made this clear to me]. The noosphere transcends and includes the biosphere. Traditional (neoclassical/neoliberal) economics gets the transcend part. An ecological economics gets the include part.

One could I guess then argue for something like water as a human right plus (limited) market forces. Particularly because given the levels of human development, the morality of water conservation for all people (as called for by Vandana Shiva at the end of the film) is itself an unsustainable view. It won't happen in other words. Hence there has to be some market/government combination at work. There can be legitimate disagreement about the proper balance of those within this general view I'm promoting, but overall agreement. Particularly about the degree to which subsidies should be involved and who should foot the bill for them.

Only humans whose life conditions and moral development is such that they can dedicate their lives to access for those who will inevitably be left out of any market system (however well-functioning). Total de-regulation and some abstract call for charity to fill in the rest does not work as the numbers tell us.

Even if a major technological breakthrough occurs (nanotech, solar power, zero point energy, etc.) and worries about water as a natural resource being depleted are essentially overcome (which I think could happen though not necessarily), the question is only moved back one stage. What to do for those without?


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