17 July 2008

Bureaucrats or Politicians?

Dan Walters suggests that bureaucrats may be better than politicians at allocating money for water infrastructure. Since the California Transportation Commission has done a pretty good job on roads, he asks, why not allow a similar Commission to decide where to put water projects?

On its face, this sounds like a good idea, but I think Dan misses a major point -- people drive cars on roads, but bureaucrats tell water where to go. If bureaucrats are bad at deciding where water should go (e.g., to one farmer rather than another), then the harm will be magnified as infrastructure is built to support those decisions.

I suggest that water be allowed to flow via market decisions (like cars and drivers). Only after water starts to move to optimal locations should money be allocated to infrastructure -- in exactly the places where bottlenecks (for conveyance or storage) appear.

Bottom Line: Bureaucrats don't know where water should go. Water users know. Let them decide -- and use markets to do so.

7 comments:

  1. David, you write: "Only after water starts to move to optimal locations should money be allocated to infrastructure." This is an utterly bizarre sentence. How does water get to the optimal location without infrastructure?

    Also, road alignments are incredibly political. Google Foothill Transportation Corridor - South.

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  2. People don't tell roads where to go by driving on them. They only drive on them after bureaucrats decide where to build them, as francis said. After the infrastructure is in place, the bottlenecks can be addressed.

    How would bureaucrats building water infrastructure and then addressing bottlenecks be any different?

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  3. Francis and Green Shell:

    "David, you write: "Only after water starts to move to optimal locations should money be allocated to infrastructure." This is an utterly bizarre sentence. How does water get to the optimal location without infrastructure?"

    I was taking the existence of SOME infrastructure for granted. If I wanted to get picky, I could begin with a well and then watch where people carried water -- wait, that's how optimal infrastructure DID begin. Ditto for roads (i.e., formerly known as paths).

    Y'all have to do more homework on spontaneous order.

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  4. "Water moves uphill towards money and power"

    What the bureaucrats have to do with it I don't know. They're always a handy scapegoat, though.

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  5. David, there are a lot of toll roads in Orange County, CA, where I'm from. I'm not familiar with spontaneous order, but this discussion has me wondering about your thoughts on private infrastructure. Bureaucrats at the OC Transportation Authority here control billions--with a b--in funds from a voter-approved sales tax. These funds are for transportation infrastructure. In the absence of such a bureaucracy, would roads be built that the majority of people could afford to use, assuming they would be fee-based in order to return the private investors a profit?

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  6. This year, driving on Hwy 99 near Bakersfield in the southern end of California's central valley - a hot, dry climate well-suited to cotton, melons, tomatoes, even onions and carrots --- you can see a real water waste.

    They are flood irrigating wheat.

    That's right, flood irrigating wheat. Like it was rice in a rainy climate.

    My guess is that ethanol incentives and distorted crop prices/subsidies have pushed corn into wheat land and then pushed wheat into cotton land.

    Now that we have this odd crop "optimization" I wouldn't be surprised to see bond measures on the ballot to support water projects for wheat farmers in this desert.

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  7. Green Shell -- I'm familiar with the OC toll roads. Note that their viability depends on a LACK of capacity (or expansion) of competing free public roads.

    To see private roads in action, consider airlines (post-deregulation), even as they suffer from misallocation of gates and perverse routing.

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