*Self-Regulation and Human Progress*

by on February 7, 2018 at 2:30 am in Books, Economics, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Note that General Motors, with both a direct incentive to closely monitor water quality and the capacity to do something about it, ceased using Flint River water at its engine plant in that city in October 2014.

The author of the book is Evan Osborne and the subtitle is How Society Gains When We Govern Less.

1 clockwork_prior February 7, 2018 at 3:10 am

An article with a historical perspective takes another view of what happens when we govern less – ‘Flint’s water crisis begins with the pollution of the Flint River, which has been going on for well over a century.

“It would be a mistake to conclude that Flint’s predicament is simply the result of government mismanagement,” says Andrew Highsmith, author of Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, And The Fate Of The American Metropolis. “It’s also the product of a variety of much larger structural problems that are much more difficult to address.” Besides economic factors, this includes a long history of environmental disasters and political dysfunction, much of it centered around the Flint River. None of these factors are unique to Flint; they’re at work in underfunded towns across the United States, the legacy of multiple industries from automobiles and chemicals to coal and agriculture.’ https://www.theverge.com/2016/2/26/11117022/flint-michigan-water-crisis-lead-pollution-history

A bit more of that history, including a plausible reason why GM continues to know so much about Flint River water quality – ‘After the war, Flint was booming again. Between 1945 and 1956, per capita water use grew from 56 to 81 gallons per day, while the city’s population had grown to nearly 200,000 people. A 1955 report stated that the Flint River would be unable to support the city’s industrial and residential needs. New regulations forced GM and other businesses to treat and dilute their waste with city water before releasing it into the river. The medium-sized river couldn’t provide enough water for a population expected to continue to grow until the end of the century.

In 1960, the Michigan Water Resources Commission gave Flint three years to “abate unlawful pollution of the Flint River.” Primary polluters included the factories, paper and packaging companies, the meatpacking industry, various landfills, and the city’s wastewater treatment plant. When Flint switched to water processed by Detroit in 1967, the main motivation was to properly treat municipal and industrial waste and secure enough water for a growing population; cleanliness and health were afterthoughts. GM executives lead the push to switch to Detroit’s water system, hoping to save money and secure enough water for their needs. They and other city leaders “were most worried about the capacity of the river, especially [during] the summer: whether it could provide enough drinking water, enough water for industrial uses, but then enough water to dilute the waste as well,” said Dimick. “It’s really to strive for more more capacity and more stability.”

Switching to a new water source didn’t fix the Flint River. Studies through the rest of the decade found “poor water quality caused by numerous sources,” including treated and untreated waste. After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, a 1974 study of the Flint River showed improvement upstream of the city but significant toxins downstream. Raw sewage discharges from Flint’s wastewater plant raised fecal coliform bacteria; phenol from GM plants and ammonia from the wastewater plants contributed toxic materials. These chemicals cause skin rashes, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, and other health problems when ingested.’

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2 So Much For Subtlety February 7, 2018 at 3:37 am

An article with a historical perspective takes another view of what happens when we govern less …. After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, a 1974 study of the Flint River showed improvement upstream of the city but significant toxins downstream. Raw sewage discharges from Flint’s wastewater plant raised fecal coliform bacteria

So Prior takes 70 years of Flint’s government – mainly Democratic one suspects – utterly failing to address the water problem, their inability to stop polluting themselves or to control politically-connected industries in the town as evidence that we need more government?

This is what happens when Flint is governed badly. Not when it is governed less. The basic problem is that the government gives itself and its friends permission to do what they like with the water ways. The solution is private ownership of said waters.

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3 clockwork_prior February 7, 2018 at 4:02 am

You really should read the article, because it would provide some more background of why the Flint River is simply a bad source of water – as GM knew when pushing for Lake Huron as a source (see above).

So, more from the article – ‘But the original problem is that Flint’s river water is much more difficult to treat than water from Lake Huron, the city’s water source from 1974 to 2014. Flint’s water-treatment staff were not able to successfully make Flint River water safe to drink. Whether this is because they were undertrained, understaffed, or simply made a decision not to invest scarce resources into treating a temporary source of water — and who exactly made those decisions — is still unclear.

Why did Flint’s river pose so many problems? Before processing, the water itself is polluted from four sources: natural biological waste; treated industrial and human waste; untreated waste intentionally or accidentally dumped into the river; and contaminants washed into the river by rain or snow. The river is also warmer than Lake Huron, and its flow is less constant, particularly in the summer. All of this raises levels of bacteria and organic matter and introduces a wide range of other potential contaminants, whether natural or human-made.

In fact, while the Flint River had been improving thanks to the new regulations, the departure of heavy industry, and local cleanup efforts, it had long been known as an exceptionally polluted river. Until very recently, it had been repeatedly ruled out as a primary source for the city’s drinking water. It is hard to imagine why anyone familiar with the river’s history would ever decide to use it even as a temporary water source. But they did.’

And the decision to switch Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron back to the Flint River appears to have been made by people appointed by a Republican governor, who is still in office – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint_water_crisis

‘This is what happens when Flint is governed badly.’

Or when the people doing the governing are ideologically uninterested in governing at all.

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4 j February 7, 2018 at 11:54 am

Switching to the Flint River as water source was a reasonable decision, the water is perfectly drinkable. It is slightly more acidic than the Detroit water used by Flint, so the addition of a buffer (phosphates) was required, which is a common practice in many cities. It is not clear if the buffer ever arrived to Flint Water Works or its employees were unable/untrained to apply the product. The untreated acidic water silently corroded the very old lead pipes in Flint homes so they received water containing free lead. The following investigation focused on EPA lab employees accused of negligence (racism suspected).

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5 clockwork_prior February 7, 2018 at 1:48 pm

‘Switching to the Flint River as water source was a reasonable decision, the water is perfectly drinkable.’

Well, apart from when it isn’t, that is. Treatment was a part of the problem, but as noted in the article, the water is only drinkable after proper treatment. And it is much easier to use Lake Huron than the Flint River as a water source – as demonstrated by how Flint receives it water today.

‘It is slightly more acidic than the Detroit water used by Flint’

That is not its only problem, to highlight from the article – ‘Before processing, the water itself is polluted from four sources: natural biological waste; treated industrial and human waste; untreated waste intentionally or accidentally dumped into the river; and contaminants washed into the river by rain or snow. The river is also warmer than Lake Huron, and its flow is less constant, particularly in the summer. All of this raises levels of bacteria and organic matter and introduces a wide range of other potential contaminants, whether natural or human-made.’

‘The untreated acidic water silently corroded the very old lead pipes in Flint homes so they received water containing free lead’

Yet the first problem in Flint was this, as noted by the wikipedia information – ‘After the permanent switch to the Flint River, city residents began complaining about the color, taste, and odor of their water. In August and September 2014, city officials detected levels of coliform bacteria, so residents were advised to boil their water. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality determined that cold weather, aging pipes, and a population decline were the cause of this bacteria.’ Lead came later, along with a spike in Legionnaires’ disease.

6 Axa February 7, 2018 at 5:08 am

Nice partisan game, but the MDEQ people whose job was to oversee the direct operators of Flint’s water , and conspired to hide the problem, have or are being prosecuted by Michigan´s General Attorney.

All that’s left is to prosecute and punish. Unless privatisation is considered a more effective crime prevention strategy than prosecution. Is it?

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7 TMC February 7, 2018 at 10:32 am

Prosecution is still possible, maybe even more probable, after privatisation. Add that to all the other incentives associated with privatisation and you might have the correct answer.

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8 Roy February 7, 2018 at 1:54 pm

It was chloride in the water that made Flint happen, not pH. Flint river water, like most surface water in the Michigan Basin is generally basic, in fact it appears to have been in the 8-8.5 range, while Detroit water from the Great Lakes hovers around 7-7.5. The service lines were generally cast iron and the Cl- in the water made it more conductive, higher conductivity caused Iron scale in the service lines to enter solution where it bound to the Cl- this is why the water turned brown in the early stages, it also meant that the chlorine was coming out of solution and thus the water could carry pathogens, the city responded by dumping more chlorine in which accelerated the process. The initial problem was that the water was now perfect for carrying pathogens, the city responded by increasing Cl- without figuring out where the Cl- already in the water was disappearing to.

Because the corrosion was obvious, red water, bad smells, etc… city then added lime CaCO3 to reduce corrosion but since the pH was already high this raised it to dangerous levels so they began to pump CO2 into it to lower pH, this is what lead to the lead issue.

It was not the Flint River dissolving the lead, it was that they were incompetent at diagnosing the source of the corrosion.

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9 Roy February 7, 2018 at 2:05 pm

It was the initial Cl- corrosion that was damaging GM’s engines, that caused them to switch, and since GM was the main driver of Flint’s decision to switch to Detroit water back in the day, I have to wonder if the Cl- issue wasn’t a factor at that time as well. But even if there was there was probably no one at GM in Flint who remembered this. They just sampled the water, saw too much Cl- and switched. Too much Cl- is not usually considered a danger to pubic health, so I would be shocked if anyone at GM could imagine the eventual sequence of events.

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10 Ray Lopez February 7, 2018 at 6:34 am

Finding fresh clean water is a real problem in the USA. Most water that’s consumed has been flushed down somebody’s toilet at least once, and that includes the very watery DC area (averages 3-4 inches of water a month, constantly). Here in the tropical Philippines, where it rains about 9 out of 12 months a year, since they don’t have many dams, they run out of water during the “summer” months.

Bonus trivia: if you want to find good water, follow the beer companies, they know were to find it.

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11 Roy February 7, 2018 at 1:29 pm

Beer Companies make their water by adding to it. As long as you aren’t using something with a lot of Iron or Mg in it it is not exactly difficult and it gets easier on a large scale scale where even reverse osmosis can be economically viable. Anyway there are plenty of decent beers in the US made with hard water.

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12 Ray Lopez February 8, 2018 at 1:22 am

OK Roy, I was referring to what I read about a Mexican beer company in the Sierra Madre, and was not aware people like beer made with hard water, I guess it’s a flavor preference.

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13 Evans_KY February 7, 2018 at 7:29 am

Clean water should not be a luxury item. Where is the progress that society will gain from children exposed to lead, PFOA, microcystins? Are lower IQs and higher rates of cancer beneficial?

I tire of the regulation bogeyman. Alex had a tangential post on regulation and dynamism a couple of days ago. When everything is black or white, we miss the varied shades of gray in between. Government, particularly in red states, trembles in the wake of business interests and bad press. The coal industry is a prime example of self-regulation gone astray. Some companies have been caught duplicating and falsifying discharge monitoring reports right under the nose of “regulators” (http://appvoices.org/2015/12/10/frasure-creek-violations-ending/). Businesses, like GM, will never put the interests of society first. Otherwise GM would have yelled bloody murder over the Flint debacle.

Self-regulation is essentially deregulation.

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14 The Anti-Gnostic February 7, 2018 at 9:00 am

I had hoped we’d have concluded by now that potable water and waste/storm water management are fundamental to civilizational thriving. They’re truly “low-hanging fruit” for development economics and municipal governance but they’re not as glamorous and harder work than “human rights” and “education.”

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15 Ray Lopez February 7, 2018 at 10:12 am

@Evans_KY – nonsense. Water is not a fundamental right, anymore than oil is. One of the problems with water is in fact too much government involvement (not just regulation but municipalities actually owning water supplies). Let Nestle take over supplying water, or for that matter Budweiser corporation (AmBev) and we’d have better water management.

Bonus trivia: as Rayward would know, there’s two different types of water management rules in the USA: the East coast method of ‘first upstream can take as much as they please’ and the West coast rule which is more socialistic. The Coase theorem however would argue either one is sufficient to allocate water rights.

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16 Shauna February 7, 2018 at 11:33 am

Water is not a fundamental right, anymore than oil is.

How about you go a week without any water, and I’ll go a week without any oil, and we can check back about fundamental rights after.

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17 The Anti-Gnostic February 7, 2018 at 2:06 pm

That’s a need, not a right.

There is a very good argument that, in exchange for payment of taxes and civil behavior, the government should at least guarantee its citizens have clean water and sewage treatment within the constraints of economic law. “Rights” are a distraction from practical governance.

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18 Ray Lopez February 8, 2018 at 1:26 am

@The Anti-Gnostic – right you are, but it also depends on the society you live in. Here in the Philippines, people are polite, they do pay (sales) taxes but by and large in the provinces, where I just built a house, I had to provide water (drilled a well) and sewer (cesspool), since the city doesn’t have either (they do have piped water, but due to bad management and fraud, they don’t really work)

19 James H February 7, 2018 at 8:40 am

Unfortunately, GM also gave explanations to media that attempted to cool public concerns about the water instead of comments that would elevate them. Between their explanation and the city’s response, any signal about water quality was dampened at a time when higher concerns could motivated stakeholders and prevented further harms.

http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/10/general_motors_wont_use_flint.html

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20 Roy February 7, 2018 at 2:15 pm

Nothing about excess chloride will leach lead into water. Yes it was a warning sign but nothing anyone at GM could have reasonably imagined would make any chemist at GM to suspect anything was wrong with Flint’s drinking water.

I wrote about what happened at length in a response to an earlier post.

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21 JWatts February 7, 2018 at 9:04 am

“Note that General Motors, with both a direct incentive to closely monitor water quality and the capacity to do something about it, ceased using Flint River water at its engine plant in that city in October 2014.”

General Motors stopped using the water because the high levels of chlorine were bad for engine parts.

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22 PD Shaw February 7, 2018 at 11:49 am

Yes, the quoted sentence erroneously implies that GM was monitoring water quality for safe drinking use, as opposed to its particular needs.

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23 Anonymous February 7, 2018 at 10:33 am

What does it say about military parades for the great leader?

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24 The Anti-Gnostic February 7, 2018 at 11:07 am

I hope the God-Emperor pays rent for that space in your head.

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25 Anonymous February 7, 2018 at 11:28 am

He is ordering that parade for all the former “I am a libertarian in my heart” tribalists who move seamlessly to white nationalist authoritarianism.

Are you part of that, or do you fashion yourself an oblique defender, somehow apart while still part?

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26 The Anti-Gnostic February 7, 2018 at 1:58 pm

LOL. Well, while we’re here, assuming your white nationalist authoritarian/Margaret Atwood fever dream ever became anything close to reality, numerous non-whites would still want to live there, like people still apply to live in Han nationalist authoritarian Singapore.

Tibetan nationalist authoritarianism and Palestinian nationalist authoritarianism ended up kind of toothless and haven’t worked out so well. What are you some kind of bigot.

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27 Anonymous February 7, 2018 at 2:19 pm

America was founded on an idea, not around any existing ethnic nation.

The “white” designation was very sadly created to fill that gap, but there have always, and from the beginning, been forward thinkers.

We hold these truths, etc.

We are a non-ethnic nation founded on that principle, and bound to struggle for its fulfilment.

28 jdm February 7, 2018 at 10:42 am

The hardcover costs $65. The kindle version costs $61.75. It’s sure to reach a wide audience.

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