11 Jun 2007

Baptists and Bootleggers

Bruce Yandle's great expression refers to the unholy coalition that supports "perverse" regulation on things like sex, drugs and water utilities. (Read his version here.)

By unholy, I mean that a group of people opposed to an activity informally align with a group of people who support that activity but who gain if that activity is restricted. Both Baptists and bootleggers want to restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday -- for different reasons: Baptists think consuming alcohol on Sunday is a sin; bootleggers do not want competition from stores. A law restricting the sale of alcohol on Sunday therefore results in higher profits for bootleggers, and breaking the law for drinkers. It's debatable whether or not overall sin declines.

Numerous examples of B&B coalitions exist: drug warriors & drug dealers, prudes & pimps, and bureaucrats & water executives.

What's your favorite combination?

The Dirty Water Underground

Water, as an emotional topic, attracts a lot of regulation. This regulation starts off on the right foot (water quality and purity is important!) but goes off rather easily. This happens for two reasons: industry lobbying and hyper-active regulators. (Unfortunately, these two forces do not often leave us in a happy middle!)

The NY Times prints an interesting little story about the latter problem: hyper-active planning departments that make wise use of water more difficult. When people try to redirect water from the sink to the toilet tank, they can get into big trouble -- unless they spend far more money to "do it right", i.e., hire a contractor/plumber, etc.

We need to trust people a little more here, give them some flexibility. This can be easily done: whoever lives in the place with weird plumbing gets notified and signs an agreement that its ok with them; if they have the right to demand plumbing to code, they will not be exploited. (They will get lower rent if they waive their right.)

Bottom line: Water regulations should give consumers more rights -- and responsibility -- and loosen the grip of the public-health fanatics who impose their own fears all round -- and make so much (unnecessary) work for plumbers.

That reminds me to write another post on Baptists and Bootleggers...

5 Jun 2007

Tim Quinn goes to ACWA

Who's Tim Quinn and what is ACWA?, you might ask.

Quinn got his PhD in economics @ UCLA. He used to be a senior executive at MET. Here's his resignation statement. Quinn represented economic thinking in one of the most important organizations managing urban water. Given that engineers and, more recently, lawyers tend to dominate these organizations, the occasional economic thought can be helpful.

ACWA began an an irrigators organization and has grown to a monolith that lobbies for Big Water (including MET) in California. Given that farmers have numerous issues with water trading, ACWA's usual policy is to "get more water", something that is harder than ever with high demands and more erratic (thanks to global warning) supplies.

Bottom line is that an economist who understands water trading has gone from the demand side (MET) to the supply side (ACWA). Let's see if ACWA does not make a move into 21st century water management.