Water markets and ethics
Can it be ethical to buy and sell water, something so important for human life? I won't answer this question outright, but I will bring to bear the perspective of
Can it be ethical to buy and sell water, something so important for human life? I won't answer this question outright, but I will bring to bear the perspective of an economist on it.
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I get the sense that this video is conflating property rights (e.g., owning the water outright) with payment for services (e.g., supplying and sanitizing the water). I get my water from a river. I am free to go down to the river with a cup and drink from the river. However, I prefer that my water be sanitized and delivered to my house in pipes. For that, I am willing to pay a fee. If I and my neighbors did not pay a fee for that service, the water would cease to be pumped from the river and chlorinated, the water mains would break down, etc. The public utility that provides our water is being paid for a service provided (and the ancillary investments in equipment, chemicals, et al.). But folks would object strenuously if the public utility claimed to own the river (i.e., the water before it has been processed) or tried to charge people who came down to the river with a cup. Unless a spring or lake is on private land or the water has been created by desalinization or captured from rainwater falling on private property, most sources of freshwater (e.g., rivers, aquifers) are communal and trying to slap property rights on them flies in the face of geography and pretty much all of recorded human history. The solution to the protection of communal goods, like sources of fresh water, is not marketizing communal goods -- which penalizes the poor, who have just as much need for them and claim to them -- but good institutions to protect, maintain, and regulate those communal goods. (Note: many of the countries being discussed with water problems also have weak institutions.)
I agree with you! We should not act as if public institutions wouldn´t exist, like private companies solve the problem or nothing will be done. I think in most parts of the world water services are provided by public institutions or public companies with probably some defecs in efficiency, but their aim is to provide cheap and clean water contrary to a for-profit company whos main aim is profit. Service quality might also lower if there is no competition who offers this service.
Property rights in water can be private, but they can ALSO be common pool/communal, club and public. People talking about "sharing the water" are appealing to robust institutional traditions, e.g., sustainable communal wells. Others calling for "free water service" are populist panderers. That's not clear in this video. Read more about types of goods in the free sample chapter of my book: http://endofabundance.com/teoa_sample_secure.pdf
Oh, and that's a picture of gas meters, not water meters :-\
A big problem appears in the use of underground repositories of water, which are the most common supply in dry regions and nobody knows well the real amount and the dynamic of recharge. Many farmers just drill a pit if they can afford it and extract as much as they can with no kind of rights. This is a very common problem both in Chile and Peru where the "illegal" extraction is huge and almost impossible to regulate. I have mixed feelings on this topic: by one hand they are using a scarce resource that eventually will be exhausted, by other hand I wonder if makes any sense "to store" of keep unused this water just to "save it" in the same way than Bolivia and other countries "save" their mineral resources. I think I am not against the over exploitation of underground water provided that those water is used in the activity who create most value. And the only incentive for that is price, but is not easy to enforce in a world where water is seen as a public good, even where it is scarce.
It seems as if the developed countries must have faced this issue already. How did the U.S\. or Great Britain or Germany get widely available clean water supplies? In other words, what is the history of water economics?
As almost every global scarcity, the water issue is a problem of distribution. Geography matters, and tecnology and infrastucture matters!
Maybe because U.S. Germany and UK are not mostly desert countries. Water is not globally scarce but there are specific countries and places where the water is not abundant and acquires economic value so as conflictive uses. I guess that in most of Canada or South of Chile water has not been a big deal, but in desert things change. And coincidently desert zones tend to be the poorest
Tyler, you *are* challenging the ethical premise you just put forward. Please don't pretend that you're not; that's disingenuous.
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This video is pure free market propaganda. Water access and fresh water has always been better handled by the state. If you look at countries that have privatised the water supply this has traditionally occurred AFTER the state has made huge investments in infrastructure for the delivery of water on behalf of the people. That is the water supply was developed as a common public good. It is only later through various corruption and IMF / World Bank interventions that governments are coerced into selling off the public assets to private firms for their own exploitation. This video is just rubbish.
Well, water has been always a public good except when is REALLY scarce, what is privatized is not water but the infrastructure tho extract, distribute and dispose of the black waters. All those infrastructure has never been "public good" it is evident that are economic goods even if they are owned by the state it requires big investments and users must pay it in one way or another.When the government mange those infrastructure that not implies that will be "for free" for users but simply that the way in which is financed is discretionary determined by government officers: some pay more and others pay less than their real consumption at political wish of government. It is true that state usually has made huge investments (with taxpayer money of course) and is also true that managed by state the quality of service has been historically bad, that is why administration has been privatized in many countries. Results has not been good in all cases, but this is usually due lacks of procedure or clear rules or political will to support the transition from the government.