05 September 2012

Costs, benefits, politics and corruption

This -- from an email I wrote to someone -- may clarify what I'm trying to do:

Most of my work focuses on water policy, which determines who gets access to bulk water or water service and who pays to build and maintain water systems. Although the economics of system efficiency or benefits from water use may be clear, it's in the political sphere that the distribution of costs and benefits from water is determined.* In an efficient and fair system, costs and benefits would be aligned; in a corrupt system, they will be distorted to favor special interests. These distortions can be accidental, but they are more often the result of intentional action, either due to corruption or personal preference of the policy makers.

Most water systems are monopolies that operate "under the radar" from citizens who may see results (or lack thereof) without knowing how resources turn into those results. Insiders often have a good idea of intentional or accidental misallocations but they cannot always speak out, for fear of harassment, persecution or even personal injury. These people need protection if they are to turn into whistleblowers protesting on behalf of the public interest.

Several years ago, I started a non-profit (Rumor Mill Inc) that would run a website (Whistlesafe) that would allow anonymous, untraceable "claims" of malfeasance. This website was directed towards inclusion and transparency rather than vetting and accuracy, but it has components to minimize false claims. The website is NOT online (I have a copy of the code somewhere), but it can be recreated -- as another implementation of an online bulletin board -- with some guidance in a short time. I'm looking for help on this.
* By my definition, government should supply public goods (weights and measures, fire protection, law and order, defense, regulation) as well as tax and subsidize goods with spillovers and free riders for which ANY PERSON will be eligible at one point. That means education and pensions, but not subsidies to farmers, females or financiers.

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