Perils of Capitalism? Think Water Distribution
AUSTIN, Texas -- I realize it's early for this sort of thing, but
I already have a nomination for dumbest sentence of the
decade. You have a mere eight years to top this one, so
you'd better get cracking.
I found it in the midst of a nasty little ad hominem attack on journalist
Bill Moyers in The Weekly Standard. The writer, Stephen
F. Hayes, is laboring under the delusion that Moyers is
"dedicated to promoting the views of most extreme elements
of the far left in America." One can only conclude that
Hayes has never met anyone on the far left: Billy Don
Moyers from Marshall, Texas, is actually a Baptist, albeit
of the Jimmy Carter school.
Hayes worked himself up into a fine lather of indignation because
"Moyers spends much of his time pointing out the conflicts-of-interest
of those in government and corporate America." Some would
call that journalism, but it was not the inanity of the
attack on Moyers that stopped me. It was this sentence,
which Hayes stuck in to show how far-left he thinks Moyers
is: "Moyers used water rights in Bolivia as an illustration
of the perils of capitalism."
Gasp! Gosh, how awful! I happened to see that piece, and indeed it
was pretty much about the perils of capitalism in relation
to the distribution of water. The perils are here, now,
and affect every human being on the planet. The situation
in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the American firm Bechtel
bought the public water utility and then doubled prices,
led to a general strike and transportation stoppage, mass
arrests, violence and several deaths. You don't have to
assume that a corporation like Enron Corp. might get into
the water business: Enron was in the water business.
In the United States, foreign corporations, mostly French, are grabbing
up water rights as fast as they can. The major U.S. players
include Bechtel, T. Boone Pickens of Texas and Monsanto.
All or part of the water delivery systems in Atlanta;
Chattanooga, Tenn.; Houston; Jacksonville; Jersey City;
Lexington, Ky.; Peoria and San Francisco have already
been privatized. The International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank are both actively promoting privatization.
The reason Cochabamba got into trouble in the first place was because
the World Bank refused to guarantee a $25 million loan
to refinance the water system unless the local government
sold its public water utility to the private sector.
The situation is deadly serious, and serious journalists have been
paying attention to it for years. Anyone who has ever
covered the American West knows about the tangle of water
claims and water rights that becomes worse every year,
as the scarcity of water increases.
For a good overview of the situation, Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke
have an excellent report in the Sept. 2 issue of The Nation.
The Texas Observer has a detailed report in the Sept.
13 issue on what has happened to the water supply in Jasper,
Texas. The Earth's fresh water is finite, less than 0.5
percent of the total water on the planet, according to
Barlow and Clarke. Water reserves are disappearing in
the Middle East, Northern China, Mexico, California and
much of Africa.
Desalinization is expensive and extremely energy intensive. Were
we to become dependent upon it, global warming would be
greatly aggravated. The French companies --Vivendi, Perrier
and Suez--are pulling water grabs around the United States
right now. Those of us who live in arid areas and have
been through droughts already know how grave and concrete
the consequences of running short of water are. The West
is about to suck the great Ogallala Aquifer dry. Barlow
and Clarke report, "A legacy of factory farming, flood
irrigation, the construction of massive dams, toxic dumping,
wetlands and forest destruction, and urban and industrial
pollution has damaged the Earth's surface water so badly
that we are now mining the underground water reserves
far faster than nature can replace them."
There are solutions--including drip rather than flood irrigation--but
what is needed is swift international action. Only 5 percent
of the water supply is now in corporate hands, but this
administration, along with the IMF and World Bank, is
pushing for privatization. The House version of a bill
currently moving through Congress, the Water Investment
Act, would provide funds for cities to upgrade or expand
their water systems and also has a nasty little provision
that would provide public subsidies to private water companies.
Perils of capitalism? Try telling Californians that corporations
don't rig prices. Try telling Enron's shareholders and
employees there are no perils of capitalism. Not to mention
Tyco, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia, Dynegy, El
Paso, Global Crossing, Halliburton, Reliant Energy, Qwest,
Xerox, AOL-Time Warner, Bristol Myers Squibb, CMS Energy,
Duke energy, et al.
The perils of capitalism are staring us in the face. I'd just as
soon not have the water supply subject to them, thank
you. Congratulations to Moyers on a fine piece of journalism
on a staggeringly important and timely topic.