Tuesday, September 09, 2008

not a drop

I've just watched this documentary, called A World Without Water, which seems to have been recorded off of British television almost commercial free.

In case any of you didn't know, over the past fifteen months or so, I've watched several hundred documentaries. This is in my top ten. To be fair, this is the first I've seen that dealt exclusively with the global water crisis, which is pretty compelling material. Still, even if there is a better version of it out there, this is. . . well. . . compelling.

I think the most interesting thing about it is how it neatly skirts the basic ideas of economics, sort of grazing them as it passes by. It abandons them in favor of a foundational assumption which it never quite articulates, but which, I think, lies near the center of a lot of controversy.

That assumption? That we both can and should make a moral choice to maintain certain things outside the reach of the market. In itself this is not a controversial idea, at least in most quarters. Outright chattel slavery is perhaps the clearest example; as a culture we seem to have come to the conclusion that it's not OK to legally own each other, no matter how profitable it might be or how much it might benefit the common good.

The case this film makes, then, is that water should fall in that same category--that as a matter of human decency, it should not be so commodified.

I'd have liked to see more about how the river privatization "irrigation schemes" had been "fabulously successful" in Africa, and otherwise heard more about the other side, but however biased, this is really an interesting and thought-provoking film.

If you're looking for a particularly striking/thought-provoking experience, do as I did and watch it right after the first part of Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke, an exceptionally well crafted telling of the Katrina disaster. Between them they do wonders in broadening one's perspectives on water.


Anonymous said...

I don't like documentaries that much.

Yeah, I sort of question the notion of maintaining certain things outside the market, partially because I often dislike the notion of group morality(which is necessary to limit anyone from doing anything). Then again, perhaps I just want a slave. :P (Ok, I don't think that slaves are long-run profitable, especially as economies get more modern and complex)

Yeah, at least I know that Reason has argued for water privatization schemes in the past.

Day said...

reason--excuse me. . . Reason, has argued for this?

I thought public utilities were the prime example of what's difficult to privatize well--high on infrastructure, low on opportunities for competition.

With no substantive competition, markets don't serve consumers. . .

Anonymous said...

Reason, it is a magazine. A libertarian magazine to be more precise. The term "reason" might just be to pull in the Ayn Rand crowd. Not that this would impress you at all, sort of like saying "crows caw", but you did mention the other side.

Actually, you are right, public utilities are a prime example of what is difficult to privatize well. So, an efficacy point would make a lot of sense. That being said, anarcho-capitalist economists do exist.

Day said...

Fair enough.

What is the difference between "anarcho-capitalist" and libertarian?

Day said...

also, what do you mean by an efficacy point?

___________________________ said...

Well, anarcho-capitalists are usually considered a very radical variant of libertarian as they want to literally abolish the government while traditional libertarians want to set up a perfect "sphere of government".

Anarcho-capitalism largely differs from traditional libertarianism in potential flexibility. Ancaps have less of a view of what the system should be, and more of a view that the system should be free. Traditional libertarians however tend to be wedded to their version of the world. This is because ancaps want to make the law private such that it could potentially be anything, and traditionals want it to be a law of liberty and property. The greater liberty of thought of ancaps and more anti-government attitude can push them to feel more akin to other anarchist groups than libertarians tend to be, although there is usually tension between ancaps and more traditional forms of libertarianism.

Efficacy point is not a technical term. I just mean, I would prefer a talk about what system would be most efficient for getting things done. So, I would prefer it if the major point of the documentary was efficacy. I tend to distrust documentaries because they skirt around issues of analysis for easy answers than I'd like.

Day said...

Interesting. Thanks for the explanations.

While, knowing your disinclination towards documentaries, I wouldn't ask you to watch any--if you ever find yourself inclined, there one of my favorites is much more of an analytical essay than is usually found in film.

It's called Life+Debt, and if you ever have the deep urge to torture yourself for an hour and a half, I would be fascinated to hear your opinion of it. ;)