Central Planning Holds No Water

Monday, April 20, 2015

Joel Kotkin, writing about California's water crisis, offers an interesting assortment of data and historical background on the problem, but I disagree with many aspects of his analysis. As a case in point Kotkin notes the slowness of many municipalities to act on the common knowledge that the state was wasting water:

Many cities, too, have been slow to meet the challenge. Some long resisted metering of water use. Other places have been slow to encourage drought-resistant landscaping, which is already pretty de rigeur in more aridity-conscious desert cities like Tucson. This process may take time, but it is already showing value in places like Los Angeles where water agencies provide incentives. [link dropped]
Not to belabor my differences with Kotkin, but while I agree that water use should be metered, I disagree that government should be involved. The problem here is that a valuable commodity has been treated by governments as a birthright, rather than as something to be bought and sold. That said, the bit about not even metering water use reminded me of a better analysis I encountered last year that gets closer to the real problem:
[T]he proliferation of limits on water use will not solve the problem because regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation's wanton consumption of water: its price.
Although even that piece was a far cry from advocacy of a capitalistic solution, it is easier to conceive of an alternative absent from today's debate: phasing out central "planning". Central planners caused the water crisis by making water artificially cheap, conning millions into moving to a semi-desert. The crisis they made is ugly, and I see no reason why their solution -- as the nature of central planning and the indications in Kotkin's article make clear -- won't be even uglier.

-- CAV


Today: Fixed a formatting error. 


RT said...

I wonder why California doesn't do more de-salination. The problem might be that they cannot charge extra for the more expensive water.
The wikipedia entry on desalination says "Supplying all domestic water by sea water desalination would increase the United States' energy consumption by around 10%, about the amount of energy used by domestic refrigerators"
So, while expensive, there are a lot of Californians who'd pay.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's part of it. Another part might be that the energy demands can't be met easily, given that, environmental opposition to power plants has caused construction of same to halt (or be severely curtailed) for decades.