3 Dec 2009

Cowards, not Leaders

From here:
In a perfect world, governments would start by addressing issues such as over-irrigation and water wastage in industry before opening their wallets to build desalination plants and divert rivers, but it tends not to happen like that. Large water infrastructure projects continue to proliferate.

That is because it is easier to change technologies than behaviour.

During the panel discussion after the report presentation, I asked John Briscoe, the ex-World Bank water expert who now heads the Water Security Initiative at Harvard University, why ending the policy of free electricity to pump water for irrigation was not considered the most cost-effective solution for closing India’s water gap? “Have you ever run for election in the state of Gujarat?” he replied.

That is the nub of it, and also the reason why Gujarat is considering a $129 million desalination plant in Kutch. It is one of the ironies of the water sector: because politicians are so unwilling to expose their electorate to the full cost of water, everyone ends up paying more for it.
Addendum: John Briscoe clarifies that the quotation above "was misleading since I also spoke about second bests (not much beloved by "get the price right economists" and described the innovative way Gujarat was addressing this." He recommends that you watch the CSPAN discussion (at one hr, 55 minutes in) to understand the full story.


  1. How about, "Cowards, not Citizens".

    People elect leaders.

    If people elected leaders who would be willing to do these things, they would be done.

    Citizens are so unwilling to expose themselves to the full cost of water, everyone ends up paying more for it.

  2. How about, politicians are so unwilling to expose their wealthy constituents that all their people end up paying more for it, with the short-term exception of their wealthy constituents.

  3. I'm with Josh. Citizens elect leaders, and leaders are supposed to lead cowardly citizens :)

  4. In India, not going along with what the rich and powerful want will get a politician and their family killed.

    What kind of decisions would the Coastal Commission be making if any time a commissioner made an anti-business vote, he/she disappeared? And, after that, no one bothered to make an credible investigation because they knew they would be next?

    Are you willing to put your families' lives on the line to vote against entrenched power?

    You're taking a pretty callow, high-and-mighty stance for someone who lives highly protected in a highly protected enclave in this world.

  5. So you must highly respect the UC Regents who voted in the necessary increase in UC fees even though it was politically VERY unpopular to do so.

  6. The Regents aren't elected by the angry group, so no bravery there. It may have been right, it may have been wrong, but it wasn't brave.

    In regards to the India comment, I completely agree, and I also believe that people still DO need to stand up then; especially then. It's hard to do, but it's the only way good is ever fostered. Of course, it's easy for me to say, but it remains true.

  7. "The Regents aren't elected by the angry group, so no bravery there. It may have been right, it may have been wrong, but it wasn't brave."

    That's a highly disingenuous statement.

    The regents, like anyone else, have their careers and futures to consider.

    They will all now be tagged as "bad guys" in a highly, highly publicized manner by certain groups and doors that may have once been open to them will be closed.

    If you can't recognize the bravery on that level, how can you recognize it anywhere else?

  8. @Anon (India) -- Either they should NOT run for office, or they should not be hypocrites (just say they are serving the mafia). Civil society is indeed hard to build, but cowardice is no response. Ask Gandhi.

    Also read this: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/05/north_wallis_an.html

    @Anon (Regents) -- I agree with their decision. They are balancing the budget. I'd do the same, even if "certain groups" complained. That was hardly a brave decision, btw, and you fail to mention all the other cuts in the UC system...

  9. No doors were closed in the direction those folks look.

    Bravery is losing your job or resigning because you stood up for something you believed in. They won't lose any income, and they will not find themselves at the mercy of students later in life, either.

    In fact, their positions exist, in part, due to the cowardice of the Legislature and Governor. If they were brave, they'd take the true blame for the situation. If they thought for a second that their livelihoods (or lives, like in India) would be in jeopardy, they wouldn't have made this decision.

    As for bravery, did you see the video of one Regent speeding away in her Lexus SUV in front of students, instead of talking to them? Wow.


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