17 Oct 2008

The Other 99 Percent

A few days ago, I said that "90% of people" lack the self-control to "do the right thing" and suggested that they might notice higher prices. It seems that I was optimistic:
As arid San Diego stares down the possibility that 2009 will bring the first water rationing in nearly two decades, Sanders has frequently emphasized the need for residents to conserve water. The mayor is in the midst of holding water forums across the city. But they've been sparsely attended. Monday night's audience was the largest; others have attracted crowds as small as 10 people, highlighting the difficulties of conveying the serious nature of San Diego's water supply crunch to a populace that does not appear to be listening.
What's likely to happen when rationing (SD's preferred coping mechanism) is instituted? Some agencies will raise prices to penalty levels (good, if late), but others put on the jackboots:
Mark Rogers... said his agency's board will consider a proposal in December to cap the amount of water it delivers to customers based on their historic consumption levels...Instead of fining violators, flow restrictors on water pipes would halt deliveries to scofflaws.

Rogers calls it "the adult approach." He said the agency fears financial penalties won't dissuade some homeowners from keeping green lawns if they can simply pay nominal fines to continue excessive use.

"We don't want people to be able to pay their way out," he said. "I'm not going to tell you how to use your water. I am going to tell you how much you can use."
Do you hear that? The sound of power-freaks cracking their knuckles, anxious to enforce their will? Yuck.

Bottom Line: Raise prices and let people decide how (or if) to save water. Since aggregate demand is all that matters, it makes no sense to chase and prosecute the "immoral" people who refuse to conserve water!

hattip to DW


  1. Your libertarian bias is showing (again). Everything to you is a nail and all you do is suggest hitting it with the pricing hammer.

    Your view is those who can afford to be anti-social should be allowed to do so.

    The other view is that there is a greater commonality of interest (they call it solidarity in Europe) which demands sacrifice for the general good.

    These are fundamentally different ways of looking at society - the individual is primary vs limits on behavior for the general good.

    The libertarian view has been undergoing some battering in recent days as the excesses of consumption and speculation have led to calls for closer controls.

    It's interesting that philosophers and ethicists since Jesus have decried the greed and avarice of the wealthy, but it is only the Royalists and the followers of Ayn Rand who have promoted the idea that excessive wealth is deserved.

    In spite of your steadfast beliefs, allowing people who can afford to be anti-social in their behavior is not the best way to change policy (even in the aggregate). It breeds resentment which leads to cynicism and turns more people into cheaters. This weakens the basic fabric of society which depends upon the willingness of the majority of the people to follow the rules without direct supervision.

    Societies where everyone looks out only for themselves are non-functional, whether in the USSR or in Ayn Rand's utopias.

    People in the US have demonstrated many times in the past that they are willing to sacrifice wealth and their lives, if necessary, for a greater good. They will do so again if only asked. Telling them to ignore those who can afford to be profligate because they can afford it is not the way to appeal to people's public spiritedness.

  2. Robert -- I don't have a libertarian bias. I have a freedom bias.

    Your attempt to connect stock market meltdown to water waste is ill-suited.

    Note that many progressive thinkers are happy to harness the greed of the wealthy for the better of society, and those greedy wealthy are willing to participate in that. (The top 10% of income earners pay 70% of income taxes.) That's the difference between doing your part in civil society and being a prisoner in the gulag of a fascist state.

  3. Come on, "freedom" is a code word for libertarian thought.

    The "freedom" not to pay taxes. The "freedom" to ignore zoning laws and do whatever one wants with one's property. The "freedom" to ignore laws not to one's liking.

    The fact that the top 10% pays 70% of income taxes means nothing unless you look at this compared to the earnings, and more importantly their wealth. There are a number of linked wikipedia articles which have all the details.

    The essential point is that the wealthy don't pay any higher percentage of their income than do the middle class, so the progressive tax system isn't. Warren Buffet made a big splash about this recently by stating that he pays a lower rate than his secretary.

    You proposed letting water wasters continue as they wished, with, at most, charging them for the privilege. This is anti-social and flies in the face of requiring everyone to share the same responsibilities as members of society.

    The "freedom" model always favors the wealthy and powerful. What was that quote about a rich man and a poor man both being "free" to sleep under a bridge.

    Are you so rich, or planning to become so, that you feel it necessary to defend the interests of the wealthy even though they are to your detriment?

  4. Robert -- I'm not putting you in charge of the world. Too dangerous.

  5. Don't worry David, my kind never gets into political power (except when the greedy really screw up).

    Apparently it isn't time for a new New Deal yet. The plutocrats haven't finished milking the system. See today's Guardian online for a report that the minions at the distressed financial firms are still on deck to receive $70 billion in bonuses.

    That's your money, not the firm's "profits". I wonder what the stockholders think about this.


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