31 Jul 2013

The crisis of choice

After a week in transit, Cornelia and I arrived in Vancouver, where we planned to live and work for awhile.

Vancouver is not as nice as Amsterdam, and that's a bit of a letdown.*

Now we face a crisis of choice over whether we should stay here, go back to Amsterdam, or go somewhere else. It's too early to say what we will do, but it's a bit annoying to put everything on hold for the sake of re-evaluation.

Our "crisis" is a problem that many people would love to have. Most people cannot live in another country. A subset of those can't even leave their city due to constraints over work, family, money, and so on.

But that's not our situation. We are lucky enough to have the choice of starting in several different places. That choice needs to factor in many influences (it's not even raining here!), but the big idea is that the choice we make should be better because we have more options** and because we do not have to "do the right this" as much as "do what works for us."

Bottom Line: We need some time to think creatively about our potential paths. Stay tuned.
* My trip through California, conversations with many people, and the lack of progress on water issues already had me on alert.

** We do not face "a paradox of choice" i.e., as when the mental stress from choosing among many options makes you worse off than if you only had a few.

29 Jul 2013

Recycle reuse reduce?

When it comes to consumer goods, reduce-reuse-recycle makes lots of sense. Don't buy that bike if you're not going to use it. If you are going to use it, then reuse a used one. Once you're done using it, recycle it instead of dumping it into a canal (the Dutch option :)

That consumer-centric logic may make sense for private goods, but it may not make sense with water, a collective good for which "use" has a larger definition.

Consider the low flush "green" toilet. Most people consider the water "used" when it's flushed down the toilet. Under that belief, it makes sense to "reduce" water use by installing a low flush toilet, but such an installation may not make sense when the sewer system needs lots of water to "flush" through solids, if the treatment plant works better with a higher liquid:solid ratio and/or if the treated water can be reused or even recycled (yes, toilet to treatment to tap). Under those conditions, low flush toilets may deliver worse results for the consumer who has to pay for the new appliance (they last for decades) or for the utility that needs to spend more time or money (a cost that's passed to customers, of course) to adjust to lower water volumes.

Bottom Line: Don't just look at the isolated impacts of an action or policy -- consider them from start to finish.

Monday funnies

In the beginning, there was the blog post...

26 Jul 2013

Friday party!

CD sent this bit of Dutch humor*

* It's based on The Nachtwacht -- a famous painting in the Rijksmuseum

Anything but water

  1. Ten lifehacks from 100 years ago includes this water filter

  2. Some cool 360 degree panoramas from Utah: river and arches

  3. Solutions Magazine: Successful community forest management in Mexico, reforming prisoners with gardening and the ongoing liability of "closed" mines

  4. A nice summary of Dutch drug policy from the Canadian government

  5. A roadtrip to learn how different people are adapting to climate change is a great idea, but don't forget that the VAST majority of adaptations will be invisible in the same way that we "invisibly adjust" while walking through a crowd
H/T to HZ

25 Jul 2013

Financial non-sequiturs

I asked a guy who financed water infrastructure (he worked for the German equivalent of the International Finance Corporation) if they would consider funding techniques (e.g., reducing non-revenue water) in addition to their typical method of financing technology (e.g., water treatment plants).

He said no, since they always require "security" for their loans.

But when's the last time an international lender seized and sold water infrastructure from a municipal or institutional borrower? He said they never had, and I certainly know of examples of where default did not result in repossession, or even repercussions.

Sounds to me like some of these bankers live in fantasy. Thoughts?

24 Jul 2013

Speed blogging

  1. More on Israel's apartheid water policy (and Palestine's dysfunctional water bureaucracy)

  2. Ice and snow melt at record speeds... just as predicted by climate change models. The water cycle is intensifying. Can your infrastructure handle it?

  3. This big report [PDF] on Participatory Groundwater Management in Andhra Pradesh (India) explains how smallholders decided how to regulate their water use to increase groundwater levels and cropped larger areas

  4. The Mirage of an International Human Right to Water... results from a failure to recognize that change needs to happen at a deeper level than UN resolutions. Rights will only work where a functioning civil society exists

  5. This short, melodramatic film is aimed at raising awareness of water issues among the Punjabi population (it's got English and Hindi subtitles, I think). The director tells me that people made some small changes in how they used water after seeing it. What would Indian and Punjabi politicians say?
H/Ts to MGC and DL

23 Jul 2013

Good timing

Overallocation and why it persists

I talk to a lot of people about sustainable water management. One recurring question is "why does this situation persist, and what can be done to change it?"

My answer to this question is usually that it persists because politicians -- the ones who can change the laws affecting water allocations -- like it that way. Why do they not reform the system to put it on a sustainable basis? Because that action would reduce their power.

This logic clarifies why it's so rare to find information of who has water rights, how much they total, and how they compare to actual water flows. These data are easy to gather in theory, but they cannot or will not be gathered without support or funding from the public administration that can order the data collected.

What we get instead is typical: a politician promises more water than there is to constituents seeking favors. In many instances, overallocations are not noticed because they are not publicized or compared to actual supply (the data problem) but also because it may take years or extreme events to reveal that the sum of allocations over time is too large.

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 is a famous example of an allocation that suffered two flaws. First, the river was overallocated according to flows -- 16.4 million acre feet (MAF) of allocations were given out when average flows were 13.2 MAF. Second, the allocations were in terms of quantities instead of percentages. Why was Colorado water allocated that way? Politicians sought to please as many people as possible with water rights, so they gave away 100 percent of what they thought was there (no safety margin, let alone environmental flows). Politicians also wanted to give people firm property rights in fixed quantities of water, which would make it easier to farm, build cities, etc. Percentage shares would have been MUCH better in terms of sustainability and reality, but water users don't like hearing they are going to get 80 percent of some number they prefer.*

So the Colorado River was broken from the start, and it's not getting any better... because politicians do not want to reconfigure rights to users (not states) on a percentage basis. They want to keep rights at the state level -- to manipulate and reward their fans -- and negotiate adjustments in smoke-merlot- filled rooms.

I'm hopeful for data collection projects that will point out the gap between water rights and water reality, but I'm sad that the powers that be -- those who could speed those projects up by a factor of 10 -- are not giving logistical, legal or financial help. The powers that be prefer failure that delivers job security to them to reform and success that sidelines them.

Bottom Line: Water scarcity is rising in many places. It will cause the most harm where politicians try to hide or control the problem.
* I see that SWP and CVP allocations in California are below 50 percent for irrigators. I wonder when if we're going to hear talk about markets for water, or if the agricultural sector is just expecting to get screwed bailed out.

22 Jul 2013

Monday funnies

...because Ron Paul would have shot himself by now, if he didn't have a sense of humor*

* He didn't actually say "explain this shit" AFAIK, but his face asks that question quite often...

Thank you, Amsterdam

This post will appear while I'm still flying from Amsterdam to California, moving back to "North America" after nearly three years in the Netherlands

I could probably write a book about the Netherlands, but I'll just give a few observations:
  • The Dutch learned early on that they needed to cooperate if they were going to survive in a place that could be flooded at any time
  • They also learned early on that they could make money by trading, so they became tolerant (not in an American way) of different ideas and styles
  • The combination of these two traits means that the Dutch live with a decent balance between individual freedom and communal support*
  • The Dutch spend a lot of time planning and reforming their physical space and social institutions. That's how they start off well and improve via evolution
  • The Dutch are more relaxed than most people on the planet because they are safer from crime, poverty, sickness, or unemployment**
  • The Dutch have GREAT parties. The photos are from Queens Day
I'm moving to Vancouver now, and I know that it's not going to be the same as Amsterdam, but I'm hoping that it combines a bit of Dutch style (a port with migrants) with Canadian security (health insurance) and West coast casual (sunsets). Updates to follow...

Bottom Line: Every culture is different; the Dutch seem to have succeeded at balancing individual freedom with social cohesion

* I think that the US works better with more freedom, but politicians have reduced freedom as they have increased control over individuals, quashing organic growth of communities in favor of trying to impose one community's ideas over others'

** It's "okay to break the rules" when it's profitable, nobody gets hurt, and it's not an obvious affront to the rules (cf Pareto improvement)

19 Jul 2013

Friday party!

I do NOT want to know how the practice went!

Anything but water

  1. An interesting debate on the precautionary principle. Yes, it may be a good foil for dangerous innovation, but it's also a blunt -- and bluntly used -- instrument. I liked the last opinion -- that we may need to think less about precaution against what we fear (especially when individuals abuse our commons) and more about what we want, as a community

  2. An advertorial on the benefits of online energy auctions; these benefits apply to water auctions, should we use them more actively (hear that MWD?)

  3. Simple science fitness. Highly recommended information on diet and exercise

  4. Zenhabits is a nice website. Here are a few ways to focus on happiness

  5. "There is No Beepocalypse" shows how the market is maintaining honey and bee services, but it underplays, IMO, the environmental problem of losing bees
H/T to RM

18 Jul 2013

Speed blogging

  1. Here's my [pretty good] talk on "Water and the Economy" (PDF slides and 18 min MP3) from GIZ's Eschborn Dialogue on Development

  2. The Water Channel is running a series on salt. I'm one speaker in their very good introduction video (3 min). Go there to learn more about an ancient problem that is going to get MUCH bigger in the future

  3. This paper examines the use of public trust to overcome property rights when basins are overallocated. I support this idea if it's part of a comprehensive plan to move to sustainable water management (i.e., cap and trade), and I say more in this Guardian article

  4. This paper argues that African children are living longer due to private sector participation in water supply. Several reasons are possible, but competition and performance incentives probably matter. This OECD paper [PDF] examines water governance -- and its impact on the poor -- in Latin America

  5. Here's a summary of the damage from flooding in Germany. Over a thousand died in India from floods caused by "erratic" weather. Canada is also facing greater flood risks (Calgary, now Toronto). I learned that "water" now causes more damage in Canada than fires. These patterns will get worse with -- and already result from -- climate change. Related: The GAO samples [PDF] climate change preparedness at a few US government agencies

17 Jul 2013

How the Dutch see biking in the US

This (via DW) is very perceptive...

Can you fix corruption from within?

I've paid attention to corruption for a long time, and I've been thinking of how hard it is to "reform" a corrupt system. Many leaders make a good faith effort to reform,* but they often fail or are themselves accused of corruption. The former occurs because corruption is too deeply embedded in the system. The latter occurs because they try to stop corruption in one place while allowing it to happen elsewhere. Then they are accused of "supporting" corruption.

I think it is easier for leaders to "expose" the system than engage (or direct) it. Exposure can be increased via transparency (e.g., publishing financial flows), incentives (e.g., public procurement auctions), or competition (e.g., making it easier for people to move to different jurisdictions or breaking monopolies on various services). Exposure will make it easier for citizens and bureaucrats to see what's going on and vote with their feet. The system will then slowly evolve to a better state.


* Others talk about it without an intention of doing anything. They are sometimes hard to separate from those who really want change.

16 Jul 2013

This is what I mean by institutions

I wrote this for some partners on our water project, and I post it here because it seems to give a nice perspective on what we mean by institutions and how to form markets in accord with local conditions.
This section will discuss the potential for using water markets or auctions in the Tajo-Segura basins, along with the institutional details affecting the potential for the successful implementation of markets. Institutional details are important, because they tend to change the nature of markets, making it important to include details in the design and implementation of markets that reflect institutional conditions.

Institutions can take many forms, from the resilient and resistant institutions of culture, to the formal and informal practices of law, to the day-to-day interactions of an evolving population (Williamson 2000). History creates institutions (via path dependency), but history is not destiny. Ideas and actions can change institutions that no longer serve the needs of society.

The discussion in this section is meant to inform the reader of institutions affecting potential markets or auctions for water in the basins, suggest some ways to include those details in the design of markets, and promote a discussion and further investigation of institutions (via experiments and focus groups, for example) that may help or hinder the adoption of markets – assuming markets are accepted as a good idea. Interested readers may want to read earlier EPI-Water case studies where institutions play a big role in markets, e.g., Donoso (2012), Howe (2012), Keiser and McCarthy (2012) and Young (2012).

As with those case studies, this case study uses structured interviews to clarify the often complex interplay among official and informal institutions, enforced or not. We spoke with four experts over the phone, asking them to describe the same conditions and issues from their different perspectives. Some of those perspectives are integrated into the body of this paper, others are not if they do not have sufficient justification or authority. We have also used these conversations to improve the accuracy of the descriptions here, but there may be errors in either fact or interpretation.

We suggest reading through this chapter with the description of the problems, situation and potential solutions, then reading the statements of the stakeholders* before considering yourself how sensible is the description of the institutions of interest and suggested form of markets. Institutions, like markets, can take many forms, and their form should balance among social preferences for economic, environmental and distributional outcomes.
Here's the draft paper [PDF].

* Stakeholder statements were removed, due to their fear of being misinterpreted having their words held against them or their organizations.

15 Jul 2013

Monday funnies

RM sent this spoof* on the NSA:

* Heaven help us if the NSA actually hires competent people! (Oh wait, we wouldn't need the NSA because they would deliver peace and transparency instead of war and corruption)

Anything but water

  1. The Political Economy of British Columbia's Carbon Tax [PDF] offers useful insights. On a related note, I wonder how these taxes (on carbon consumption) will interact with carbon accounting that's linked to production? China, e.g., "produces" a lot of carbon, but carbon embedded in exports would not be produced except for the consumption demand in the US and EU. Cap and trade makes it easier to hide carbon than a tax. Interesting...

  2. Here's a new paper [PDF] comparing Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) to GDP (the conventional but flawed measure of progress). GPI captures other factors like sustainability and happiness. The authors find that GPI does not increase above GDP of $7,000, after which point "income" may be negative (e.g., consuming the environment or free time)

  3. Nine months ago, I put up an image showing drug use versus spending to prevent drug use. The data behind that figure were inaccurate, and someone on Reddit took the time to make it right:

    So the question is this: Are Americans willing to spend $65 to keep the drug war going? Even though most illegal drugs are safer than alcohol and -- get this -- marijuana reduces violence among prisoners

  4. Speaking of drugs, here's a one minute video on the effect of coffee on your brain. Fun fact: it doesn't stimulate you; it prevents you from getting bored

  5. Finally. The EU puts a limit on biofuels. That may save some rainforest from being converted into palm oil plantations
H/T to GG

12 Jul 2013

Friday party!

I'm afraid to see the fail version of this

Anything but water

  1. Elected winners need to care for minorities and the flip side of liberation:
    The postwar America of declining income inequality and a corporate elite that put the community’s interest above its own was also a closed-minded, restrictive world that the left rebelled against—hence, the 1960s. It is unpleasant to consider the possibility that the personal liberation the left fought for also liberated corporate elites to become more selfish, ultimately to the detriment of us all—but that may be part of what happened.
  2. What Macho Herbicide Names Tell Us About Fighting Weeds (and Ourselves) and Romania's farmers try to survive EU regulations that favor agribusiness

  3. Anyone interested in sustainable growth and social progress should read the Stiglitz report. I'd avoid their top-down, management-heavy solutions in favor of ENDING top-down management and special interest subsidies. Use the price mechanism and permit local solutions

  4. How your state compares for cheapness of solar power... is a good guide to the subsidies given to this industry, i.e., cheap for solar =  expensive for taxpayers or ratepayers. Germany's subsidies are so expensive that the government will end them by 2018 (it's not clear if they will end for all panels or just new ones); fun fact: Germans are paying $23 billion for electricity worth $4 billion

  5. Why does the government decide who's married and who is not? Marriage gives partners legal and financial rights. Perhaps those should be directed at individuals instead of partners?

11 Jul 2013

Contest! Design the cover of TEoA 2.0!

As you may know, I am going to write a second version of my book.

The new version will have a different subtitle -- common sense solutions to water scarcity -- because it will have a different style. It's going to shorter, more direct and less academic, to make it more accessible to casual readers.

I also aimed to make the first version accessible (and many people said it was!), but I'm going farther now because I've had more practice discussing these issues and because I will keep the first version in print for readers who want more tables, figures, citations, footnotes, etc.

So, I need a new cover to complement the other cover.

I need a cover that stands out.

I've asked Nic -- he designed the first cover with my photo -- to think of another design but I'm also interested in other people's ideas and presentations, so I'm using a contest to help things along.

  • Front design needs space for the title, my name, and a blurb (like the old cover)
  • Back design will match/mirror -- so just work on the front design
  • Use any art (photo, design, colors) you want
  • Deadline is 31 Aug for a camera-ready (high resolution) PDF
  • Work with a 6 x 9 inch (15.54 x 22.86 cm) format; it may change
  • 100 EUR ($125/£90) plus the same per 1,000 copies sold
  • You will be mentioned as the designer inside the book
  • My eternal gratitude!

10 Jul 2013

9 Jul 2013

Summer reading

  1. Gather physical and digital stuff into one place/folder
  2. Dump all the crap that you're not going to read
  3. Sort the rest of it into fun and work, from short to long
  4. Read one thing from each pile, then return to (2)

Benchmarking around the world

Benchmarking compares water utilities on indicators of interest to regulators (and hopefully customers), which makes it easier to measure or improve their performance.*

Benchmarking requires resources, but we've got some programs already.

Please add programs or reflect the quality or impact of these programs in the comments.


Read my paper [PDF] on how to move from benchmarking (which can suffer from too much attention to inputs) to performance (i.e., outcomes).

Big H/T to AK for these links

8 Jul 2013

Monday funnies

Last week, I posted a Colbert video in which he makes fun of Nestle's marketing of water to women (with cause), so it's time to make fun of how bottled water companies market water to men.*

This example is sure to appeal to men looking for some action from their water:**

* Or maybe it's marketing to women? The brand appears to be from Croatia [pdf], although Aqua Viva is used by many companies.

** I'm not worried about action, so I just drink the tap water here (Dubrovnik, Croatia and Kotor, Monteneegro)

Anything but water

  1. The third bike revolution? "Americans live in confined houses, drive around in confined cars, and work in confined office spaces. Bicycling takes you out of the box, lets you smell, hear and experience the world around you"

  2. Don't bother to replace Google Reader (because "surprise" opinions are useful) and another 99 ways to simplify your life

  3. How to suck at your religion, i.e., WWJnD!

  4. MIT will help you see what the NSA know about you (gmail only, but the NSA especially likes spying on hotmail users!)

  5. Speaking of bugs, "Eradicating mosquitos from the face of the earth would have no negative consequences" [PDF]
H/T to RM

5 Jul 2013

Friday party!

There was no party last week, but this one from John McAfee* will make up for it:

* Yes, he's the one who invented the anti-virus software. He was also "involved" in a drugs-sex-murder story in Belize a few months ago. Read his interesting version of the story.

Speed blogging

  1. This website gives lots of details on a Toronto-area project to integrate groundwater data from many sources (from paper archives to new studies). The data are free to access, to make it easier for people to plan a variety of projects. This example should be emulated worldwide!

  2. Florida cancels its ethanol mandate in a fit of rationality (and lack of corn farmers?). Is DC next?

  3. The Water Integrity Network (past of Transparency International) has a Water Management Toolbox that can be downloaded for free. It's meant to be used in developing countries, but water managers everywhere should be able to provide and explain this information to their stakeholders.

  4. Speaking of governance, the EU has apparently opted to NOT to open its water sector to competition, under the influence of public water companies in Germany. Investor-owned operators are annoyed [PDF], and customers will lose out.

  5. Here's a slew of EU-centric articles on flooding and climate change:
    • New estimates of the physical and economic consequences in Europe of climate change (PDF)
    • A European scale assessment of river flood risk (PDF)
    • Improving use of the European Flood Alert System (PDF)
    • Flash floods in Europe characterised (PDF)
    • Land use change and land management influence floods in small catchments (PDF)
    • Steps to improve flood resilience on the ground  (PDF)
    • How well do flood emergency plans meet management needs? (PDF)
    • Communicating flood risk: public awareness does not ensure public preparedness   (PDF)
    • Multi-criteria analysis - the better way to evaluate flood management  (PDF)
    • The Floods Directive: lessons from Germany for effective implementation  (PDF)

4 Jul 2013

Two Cheers for Anarchism -- the review

I took this on Flores, Indonesia
I bought Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play the second I heard about it, as I have REALLY enjoyed James C. Scott's previous books (Seeing Like a State and Weapons of the Weak).*

The title sets out Scott's view: some anarchistic ideas are useful (hence two instead of three cheers), and we can benefit from more decentralized thinking and action.

I took many notes and had many !! while reading the book, and I'll set down my reactions in the order they appeared, to give you an idea of the insights of the book:
  1. Most revolutions have led to more, not less control of the population
  2. "Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality" -- Mikhail Bakunin
  3. Anarchism is not about blowing things up; it's about cooperation without hierarchy and a tolerance for the confusion that accompanies social learning, cooperation and reciprocity
  4. All Utopian ideals fail; we must be pragmatic
  5. "There is no authentic freedom where huge differences make voluntary agreements or exchanges nothing more than legalized plunder." This view explains the crisis of 2008 and why democracy has failed. It's been sold to the highest bidders (=bankers)
  6. Opposition institutions can be part of the problem, since they exist within a system they want to control
  7. Decentralized opposition may be missed by those who prefer simple models and messages (=the media)
  8. Most of our interactions are decentralized, peer-to-peer (e.g., moving through a crowd, buying bread, talking to strangers, etc.). We have the skills to survive and care for each other (mutuality) without being told what to do, but those in charge prefer to take over those interactions
  9. Anarchist calisthenics: Break a trivial, nonsensical law every day, so that you're ready to challenge big nonsensical laws. (This is how I ride my bike -- always in training by running stop signs. I got a ticket for that when I was 15 years old. The only nearby car was a parked police car. That ticket taught me the value of useless laws.)
  10. Anonymous resistance (e.g., picking up or throwing down garbage, depending on whose property is being defaced or defended) can an effective example for everyone
  11. Titled property favors those who control the process of titling (always the rich; sometimes the poor)
  12. It's easier to break laws that defy morality, and we should. That's why I tell people I spoke marijuana. It may be illegal, but it's not immoral (same as drinking beer and definitely safer than beer)
  13. The richest 20 percent rule (in liberal democracies) by convincing the middle 40 percent that they are also better off under those rules, since they are superior to the bottom 40 percent
  14. The key condition to charisma is listening very carefully and responding (rulers do neither)
  15. "The larger and more authoritarian an organization [or state], the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginative worlds." -- Kenneth Boulding
  16. "Vernacular orders" (for managing land, water, labor, etc.) are suited to local conditions; they are effective, but difficult to understand. That's why national rulers replace them with less effective, but "logical" systems that serve their needs -- not local needs
  17. Planners see algorithms, not people (Scott cites Jacobs)
  18. Models make the world clear, at the cost of showing a world that does not exist (e.g., a theme park or economic model) -- as I discuss in this paper
  19. We can see complexity -- and our ability to manage it -- when we actually follow formal rules and witness the chaos that results from rules to for changing conditions
  20. Scott gives an example of a "chaotic garden" that was actually very productive; the farmer didn't need logic; he needed output. The USDA loves "logical" farm programs, but they have caused great harm in their chemical-laden, engineered monotony
  21. "Standardized X" does not always suit individuals, conditions or society -- whether X be education, housing, diet, language or whatever...
  22. How about replacing GDP with a measure of "greater choice" for humans and "satisfaction" for workers? Adam Smith loved the efficiency of the pin factory, but "what can be expected of a man who spent 20 years of his life making heads for pins" (de Tocqueville). What you do matters as much (or more) than how much $ you make
  23. Yes, some people "win" at the system (I'm a US citizen, with a PhD), but what of the losers? Should I be happy to have beaten them (by luck mostly), should I worry that they may be upset, or should I mourn the fact that I live among so many people who are unable to reach their potential and happiness? What would I lose in their gain? Who prefers mastery within misery to membership in joy?
  24. It is hard to be independent when we depend on so many institutions (insurance, police, food producers). Thus it is hard to defend or care for ourselves when the institutions do not 'respect" us (watch this TEDx). It's even hard to care about why we should
  25. The "petite bourgeoisie" are the enemy of the State because they control their lives. Hitler was defeated by a "nation of shopkeepers," and everyone is subversive (as well as happy) to the extent that they control their productivity and consumption -- because they are neither beholden to the boss or the advertisers. They are definitely not going to die or pay taxes for bad ideas
  26. The State does not like mobile people (gypsies, dual-passports, hunter-gatherers, eBay sellers) because they cannot be understood or controlled as easily as large businesses (farms, companies, banks, monopolies) controlled by a few people willing to deliver "order" in exchange for privileges
  27. Thomas Jefferson's vision of yeoman farmers as the bearers of democracy rests on their freedom of thought and action, independent of the State
  28.  "A society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised"
  29. Scott notes that "citation indices" have been useful as a means of quashing academic integrity and curiosity (same with SAT, IQ tests, etc). Combined with funding directed at "strategic issues," this system has turned professional thinkers into useless report writers. I have seen this problem -- and its the useless results -- for years, which is why I am quitting the academic world for the real world
  30. Lenin and other progressives liked the efficiency of "objective scientific knowledge" because they wanted to engineer people into their proper place and trajectory (Hayek et al. opposed them)
  31. Scott is right to say that the overuse of cost-benefit, indices and measurements has turned complex issues into oversimplified caricatures and removed decisions from those who matter to technocrats who control.** We've replaced human judgement and autonomy with one-dimensional black and white
  32. Life -- and history -- are complex, and we should embrace their complexity and uncertainty. A Whig history is not only unfair to those who lived it; it misleads us into thinking that life is simple. It isn't, and we need to engage it with energy, not laziness
Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS. Every citizen should read this book -- preferably while in their teen years. It's never too early to find your own path, and never too late to step out of that place reserved for you as a brick in the wall.

* It took me ages to sit down for this review (I finished the book in January) because I wanted to do justice to the book, but July 4th seems appropriate.

** I wrote this to the New Yorker in April (it was not printed):
James Surowiecki criticizes Stockman for suggesting that markets need to unwind without government intervention, stating that events were much worse before the government intervention (i.e., the creation of the Federal Reserve system in 1913): "Between 1873 and 1913, the U.S. economy was in recession for fully half the time, and the Great Depression was a far more destructive downturn than anything since. Suppose all these recessions really did purge the economy of error; they still caused an enormous amount of pain that could have been mitigated by government intervention."

Yet Surowiecki's sentence silently elides over the fact that the Fed *was* around at the start of the Great Depression and the ongoing debate over government's role in worsening the Great Depression -- a debate within which many economists side with Stockman. Indeed, Ben Bernanke apologized to Milton Friedman in 2002 for the Fed's inappropriate intervention:
Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You're right, we did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again.
Are we so sure about that?

Addendum (20 Aug 2016): A nice review of Seeing Like A State

3 Jul 2013

Bleg: Water allocation in Eastern Europe?

BR asks:
I'm writing a book on the global differences in water allocation.

Can you give me a brief overview of how it’s done in the eastern European countries? Are water entitlements/rights issued by the government? Anything unusual about the way it’s done there?
Can anyone provide books, reports, websites, etc. on this question?

Don't make water management even worse!

I got this email and laughed and cried:
For ten years The Gold Standard [TGS] has pioneered the way climate change and development activities are financed: creating trust between governments, the NGO community and the private sector through the application of its renowned governance framework and tools for monitoring, reporting and verification of positive environmental and social impacts.

In 2013, declared the United Nations International Year of Water Co-operation, The Gold Standard Foundation is taking a leading role in a demonstration scheme for the certification of activities that deliver significant water supply, use, purification and conservation benefits.
Diligent readers may recall that I made fun of TGS's "double gold plated" carbon credits.

Why are they are moving into marketing water? Carbon money has dried up, and now they're copy/pasting their business model onto water.

Why is this a REALLY BAD idea? The idea of credits and offsets for CO2 (and equivalents) is not so bad, since CO2e are global pollutants,* but water is a LOCAL resource with LOCAL costs and benefits. There's no need for a third party to certify water uses, etc., unless someone wants to monitor/trade them at a great distance (i.e., too far to really know what's going on, so a third party needs to tell them).

The experience with Arizona's Active Management Areas (AMAs) shows why such verification, trading and offsets are a bad idea. Land developers can add water in one part of the watershed to make up for water taken elsewhere. Such accounting looks good on paper, but the underground, physical reality might be quite different.

Could TGS prevent problems like Arizona's? Absolutely... for a price. Do we need such certification or offsets? No -- local water management doesn't need to be certified, since locals can confirm the data with their own eyes... and common sense.

Bottom Line: Certifications, offsets and labels don't improve water management; they confuse it. Measure what you've got and manage it for the good of the local population.**

* Carbon offsets are in trouble (failed?) because of corruption and measurement problems, but their biggest weakness is structural. "Additionality" requires that an action to reduce carbon be made ONLY for the sake of creating an offset. You cannot have an offset for an action that you were going to take anyway. This definition has lead to the bizarre actions: threatening to build a polluting facility but not building it to get the credits for "emissions avoided" or threatening to cut down a rainforest to get credits for keeping it in place. These issues will only go away if additionality is dropped (i.e., you get paid for keeping the forest, no matter what) or if we get to a tax on CO2e (i.e., you pay a tax if you burn coal OR chop down a forest). Economists have recommended a tax over cap and trade for years (past posts), but politicians prefer C&T because its "negotiable" nature gives them leverage to make gifts to friends.

** I spoke on groundwater management in Canada last week, but my thoughts -- especially on pollution from fracking and oil sands -- apply elsewhere (PDF slides and streaming video for slides -- me at 67.5 min -- and panel discussion -- me at 31 min)

2 Jul 2013

Too dumb to blog?

Sometimes I see water-related stuff that's too silly to blog,* but sometimes I do -- especially when "silly" can lead to jail.

That's the case with this Tennessee state official who said that "complaints about water quality -- if unfounded -- could be considered terrorist threats under Homeland Security guidelines."

That veiled threat is silly stupid corrupt because (1) it "chills" discussions on water quality that every community should have because people don't want to be accused of a crime (or jailed -- as this teen was for joking about guns online) and (2) it makes it harder for citizens to demand accountability from the people bring them water.

Bottom Line: People should be encouraged to understand and discuss water quality. The real threat to life and liberty comes from failure to do so.

* Like this advertorial on water conservation from a company... that sells luxury bathroom fixtures /facepalm

H/Ts to DL and RM

Anything but water

  1. Colbert makes fun of an Iowa Congressman's attempt to prevent chickens from getting more space (based on a California law). I've not seen any studies on the cost-productivity tradeoff from these cages (there are LOTS of partisan opinions). Anyone?

  2. This NYT op/ed pretty much demolishes the "legal" excuses for criminal NSA spying on Americans.

  3. Cool websites to visit AFTER you've tried Reddit (where I get a LOT of cool stuff). I liked simple science fitness (and eating). Speaking of eating, here's a funny -- but accurate -- way to eat cheap, like a Puerto Rican

  4. The Economist advocates property taxes -- like I did five years ago :)

  5. An interesting podcast on money and happiness that clarifies a tricky question: money does make you happier, at a decreasing rate; people like to be better off than neighbors, but too much inequality can lead to problems (the Gini coefficient of inequality is 32 in Canada, 45 in the US and 61 in China). Speaking of China, here's a nice defense of its "knockoff economy" -- not only is it good for consumers (they can buy copycat brands) but it's good for innovation -- in the same way that blogs are good for discussing ideas. Oh, and don't forget that the US ripped off the UK for its first 100+ years...

1 Jul 2013

Monday funnies

Nestle has managed to parody themselves with a new brand of H2O.*

* A few weeks ago, I defended charging for water, but I agree that a German CEO is not the best messenger of hope :-\

Speed blogging

  1. Venkat, a colleague from Tamil Nadu (India) has an interesting paper on water markets [pdf]. He uses a "contingent valuation" approach to find what farmers are willing to pay/accept for "10 irrigations" of water. I found his method interesting because he used a bargaining model (i.e., low-ball bid or ask) to push supply and demand together. This method cannot be implemented without calibrating "irrigations" against crop types and total water availability

  2. DiFi says that California needs more storage. That's just silly (or pandering to farmers), given the bigger problems of managing groundwater (what's left) and reconciling demand across the state. Oh, and groundwater storage is MUCH cheaper and more effective than surface storage. Don't waste taxpayer money on subsidies to farmers!

  3. FAIL reporting on water infrastructure investment, e.g., Vegas spent $900 million to create no new water or conserve water and Australian bills rose to pay for (now mothballed) desalination plants -- not "due to drought"

  4. Jay Famiglietti gave a nice TEDx on "ending the global water crisis." I don't think it's global, but I agree that we need to stop screwing around on monitoring water stocks and flows. Learn more about THAT by reading his short Science paper on measuring groundwater [PDF].

  5. Here's a video and report [pdf] on a training program for community engagement in small-scale irrigation (it goes with the curriculum posted a few weeks back)
H/Ts to BB and RM