by Tyler Cowen
on March 21, 2012 at 10:34 am
1. More from Greg Ip on potential output.
2. Timothy Noah responds on inequality and toilets.
3. Are current science fiction writers of too small a vision?
4. A short history of micronations.
5. Peter Orszag on the pricing of water.
2. “because the law mandating the change was signed into law by President George W. Bush and passed both houses of Congress”
And yet GW Bush was the uber-conservative! The room is spinning! What does it mean, double rainbow all the way!
It’s too frickin’ hard. We can’t possibly develop a toilet that has a #1 and #2 flush. Oh wait, they are $15 at Home Depot. And we can’t possibly invent an LED light bulb…oh wait. Here’s the rule of thumb. Wait for The Feds to push something. That’s when you know the natural superior replacement is about 5 years out.
5. “So what can we do to preserve our access to fresh drinking water? One major need, as I have written about previously, is to address the pricing problem. The typical American uses 100 gallons of water per day, but in most places, prices aren’t adequately adjusted to usage. Prices that reflected usage would not only raise more money for addressing emerging water issues but also help raise everyone’s awareness of them.”
In most places the marginal cost of water is zero. Let the places that will actually have water shortages figure it out, and let the rest of us keep ignoring the issue completely.
It takes the government to figure out how to allow our coastal cities to be both flooded and have water shortages, and it still takes them a century.
Most of America isn’t like Atlanta; most communities have more than enough water. The water wars are likely to be fought far far away from American soil.
I’m impressed by your lack of curiosity on water disputes. Next time research a little before posting =)
Las Vegas VS Los Angeles: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a_b86mnWn9.w
New York City VS NY headwaters residents: http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/nycityfi.cfm
Chicago and Milwakee aquifer depletion: http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/02/09/officials-warn-of-great-lakes-water-shortage/
Right. It might be technically correct to say that “most communities have more than enough water” but most of the ones that matter — i.e. the ones with the most people — are either headed for bruising showdowns or are already having them. Forget about interstate water disputes: California is at odds with itself over water rights. Watch the classic movie “Chinatown”, which had fictional characters but an all too real historical backdrop: farmers in the Owens Valley fighting a guerilla war against Los Angeles to get their water back. Old time westerners reportedly said “Whiskey’s for drinking. Water’s for fighting.”
Right, it is telling that the esteemed Mr Orszag leaves out of his analysis why we have this policy to under-price water? Probably because free and/or subsidized utilities is a third rail for most Democrats who value it as a social service for the poor.
I find it interesting how many emerging issues pit one traditionally Democratic interest group against each other. In this case, “the poor” vs environmentalists, in others, Unions vs environmentalists, blacks vs LGBT, or the poor vs the elderly (see Tyler’s next post). The current Democrat alliance is held together by some increasingly tenuous threads, and it will be interesting to see how the party evolves over the coming decade or two.
“Probably because free and/or subsidized utilities is a third rail for most Democrats who value it as a social service for the poor.”
Not in California. It’s agriculture vs urbanized cities and towns. 80% of the water consumed in California is used by farmers, who are not about to let the market determine the price of water because they would lose their water rights which give them access to underpriced water. Moreover it is those inland agricultural regions of California that are heavily conservative and Republican. it’s a social service for big business agriculture, not for the poor.
More perversely still, many of those water rights only give the holder the right to consume water; they’re prohibited from selling it to a higher bidder (such as thirsty cities such as LA, Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc.). So the farmers are locked in to using that cheap water for growing rice or whatever. (Ponder this: California is the USA’s second largest producer of rice. You know how rice is grown in paddies which need to be flooded with water? This in a state which until last year was operating under a drought emergency [though there’s a whole other set of politics behind why drought emergencies get called in California]. It’s as perverse as growing bananas in Alaska.)
I tell intro econ classes that the US will face water shortages which are both inevitable and unnecessary. Inevitable because the price is set too low. Unnecessary because there’s actually plenty of water — but it’s underpriced and being used in mass quantities by business interests in agriculture.
Nothing to do with Democrats or the poor. Water’s too small a proportion of a household budget to worry about, unless you’re a suburbanite with a big lawn.
One interesting fact that #5 doesn’t mention is that in addition to the tri-state water dispute between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, there’s also a Tennessee-Georgia boundary dispute over the Tenneessee River that goes back 200 years.
#1-rated dual-flush toilet by Consumer Reports is
Glacier Bay Dual Flush N2316 (Home Depot) $100
I have 4 of them and they work quite well. I have been impressed.
“Are current science fiction writers of too small a vision?”
If by current, you mean the kind that Tyler will comment about on the blog, then yes. If by current you mean actual current Scifi writers? Then no.
On the same topic as #3:
Covers what happened to mainstream Science Fiction to turn it crappy…. it’s the editors.
Is it the editors or the publishers and agents?
All of the above. I mean editors in terms of publishers/selectors, not in terms of copy editors.
Timothy Noah asked you to elaborate on the Mormon point. Would you?
Not because Noah asked.
“If the toilet has been reinvented successfully then clearly Cowen is wrong, since it has yet to transform the market for this appliance, much less the wider economy. If it hasn’t then that’s pretty good ammunition for an anti-regulatory conservative like Paul who lacks Romney’s squeamishness. Though I prefer to think of it as a temporary market failure. If we can put a man on the moon, etc.”
This little passage illustrates that he doesn’t quite get anything. I can’t even pretend to understand how someone can see the world in ways where a regulation is a market failure because of the government moon project except as some character from an Ayn Rand novel. The government regulation of flush volume did not even conceive let alone predict the obvious advancement of dual flush.
I realize Ayn Rand novels mirror real life more and more every day. Watching CSPAN has convinced me, at least the first half of the book is more prophesy than fiction.
I think I’d rather have above-market water prices than a floater for which physics says “no!”
I had come across this hilarious forum post recently from a Canadian:
Nothing illustrates the hyprocrisy of the of the environmental huggy fluffies more than the low flow toilet. Here the new code says you have to have them. So little water per flush it usually takes three goes, I’ll swear if you’ve got worms they are laughing back at you.
Where do these environmentalists think the water disappears to? They think, once you’ve used it, it’s destroyed forever? (Most of the people I talk to have never thought about it and about half of them believe once it has been flushed it is gone forever.) Try telling them the quicker you get it back to the sea or a nice big lake the quicker it can be evaporated and dumped back where it can be used again and they look at you as though you’re mad. In our valley using water basically means diverting it from its source by about three hundred yards and then putting back where it would have been anyway. The whole ‘save the water’ thing is just an advert for pathetically inadequate infrastructure.
We, here, live in a country with a third of world’s fresh water. Three quarter’s of the time if it is not raining it is snowing. If we go three days without a downpour the authorities proclaim a drought and restrict watering. Five days and they demand restrictions on chain pulling and after a week they suggest re-using toilet water for making tea.
It’s like ‘1984’, the liberals thought it was a guide.
I’ve learned that you will have more of a problem with stiffness than with girth. I wish to God I didn’t know that.
I’d say that both the toilet issue and the light bulb issue are more than the minor problem he sees. I’m presently in a rental home, and I am not going to spend a month’s rent to replace each toilet with one that actually works, and nor is my landlord going to replace toilets that meet all legal requirements. Yes, there are many available now that actually work, but there are many that still don’t. Guess which sort gets put into most speculative housing and reno…
Likewise with the light bulbs. Partly because usage custom and fixture design developed around them, the standard “A” incandescent pretty much works everywhere except where people [i]want[/i] a different decorative appearance or particular economy of energy use. I have gone whole hog into use of CFL lamps, but in the process I’ve collected a big box full of lamps that didn’t work for the intended purpose. The replacement for the windowless stairwell that took 48 seconds to come to useable brightness, the replacement for the outdoor fixture that wouldn’t light when the temperature was below the average for Nov-Feb, the ones with inadequate color rendition, etc. I’ve got them all marked with what was wrong and where they can be used with success, but never in my lifetime will I deplete this collection. And this doesn’t account for the ones that just prematurely gave up the ghost in base-up and enclosed fixtures because their electronics couldn’t handle the heat. I haven’t done the sums, but I wonder if the sunk cost in externalities such as carbon emissions is actually greater than if I had not tried to be so eco.
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