Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Owning Water

Capitalism and its alternatives are vast topics that Sarah and I have been discussing and which I hope to continue in this thread and open for wider discussion.

One particular example that Sarah raised was the Bolivian government's 1999 $2.5 billion, 40-year concession of the water supply in the city of Cochabamba to Aguas de Tunari (AdT), a consortium which was the sole bidder and wherein Bechtel was the controlling partner. Such privatization is part of the conditions of loans from the World Bank, which Bolivia had turned to since its economic difficulties in the 1980s. In accordance with World Bank policies, Bolivia privatized railways, telephone systems, national airlines, tin mines, and in this case Cochabamba's water supply.

The contract guaranteed Aguas de Tunari a minimum 15% return on investment for providing water, sanitation, irrigation, electric generation, completion of the stalled Misicuni dam, and for paying down the $30 million in debt accumulated by Cochabamba's previous municipal water supply SEMAPA. It was legally affirmed by Bolivia's Law 2029 which ostensibly gave AdT a broad monopoly over all water resources in the city, potentially even including those which were independently built and not part of SEMAPA. The breadth of Law 2029 may have even included the collection of rainwater.

Aguas de Tunari quickly imposed a large rate increase averaging 35% (potentially as much as 30% of the minimum wage) and massive protests erupted in 2000, including a general strike that halted Cochabamba's economy for four straight days. Martial law was declared amidst violent conflict between protestors and police. Bolivia eventually withdrew the contract, repealed Law 2029, was sued by and settled with Bechtel, et al., for 30 cents, and the water supply returned to local SEMAPA control. Rates returned to their pre-2000 levels but as of 2005, service remained poor and intermittent.

My first reaction is that this case might be more aptly compared to a government mandated monopoly rather than a good example of capitalism in general. Nevertheless, it is ostensibly a failed attempt to foster a more capitalistic system based upon the loan requirements of the World Bank.

Of course, capitalism exists within some "regulatory" legal framework that protects property and human rights. Sarah points to the illegality of human trafficking and asks, if another human cannot be owned, "Can rain water be private property, owned by a foreign company? Is it ethical? Can the genome of thoroughbreds be patented? Can biological life be patented and become private property?"

I don't think the government should have the right to sell the rain or seize private wells as Law 2029 may have mandated. I also don't think it is immoral to own and sell water, whether it be by individuals, corporations, or cooperatives.

What do you think? Should the essentials of life, such as water, be government owned? If so, how should Cochabamba solve their water crisis?

What lessons should be learned from Cochabamba? Is this exceptional or typical of globalization? Is it an indictment of globalization? of capitalism? of government control?

Beyond water, what should be the moral bounds of capitalism? Should the patent system encompass the creation of genomes?


UPDATE: In May 2006, Gary Becker and Richard Posner provided some broader context and brief (and perhaps loose) analysis on Latin America that I found interesting. In particular, Becker makes the sensible distinction between "crony capitalism" and "competitive capitalism".

(1) Moving Left in South America-BECKER
(2) The Left's Resurgence in Latin America--Posner's Comment
(3) Response on Moving Left in Latin America-BECKER

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Exposing Yourself On The Net

Privacy is an important and imposing topic with an overwhelming scope.

The sub-topic of volunteering too much information is touched upon in Sarah's recent Word To The Wise post that originates from a post by Dan at Cerulean Sanctum which considers the ramifications of comments placed on the net.

Of course, we are pretty open here and fearless of negative repercussions. I think Mr. C, Mr. Boy, Mrs. Kangaroo, and Mr. Pinhead can back me up on that. :)

Apparently, we've given this some thought and, despite the dangers, it seems we've found value in keeping our discussions public, both in the respectful dialectic and in the associated friends we could not have otherwise made.

Nevertheless, there is an unknown risk. I think using pseudonyms and anonymizing personal details is a good first step. I often consider becoming more anonymous myself. By the same token, I want to be proud of what I write, so I try to be careful and respectful.

Humor can be disastrous. Woe to he who judges me by my failed attempts at humor! :) Of course, if it's funny or good, I want the credit. My bad comments do not define me, only my good ones do.

When considering privacy in general, some make the argument, "if you aren't doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide." I think Dan exhibits the flaws in that argument and highlights the value of pseudo- and ano- nymity. The comments in reply to Dan's post are also fascinating as they contend for the proper balance.

What do you guys think? Any additional thoughts on the risks of blogging? on the balance between privacy and publicity or secrecy and honesty? on the business aspect? on the emerging culture of totally open lives?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sarah on Parenting

As my way of welcoming Sarah to this discussion of ours, I figured I'd link to an excellent discussion she started on her own blog. The nature of good parenting, and in particular what part discipline should play in that parenting, has been an active discussion in my own household for a few months now. Sarah frames the question well, and has already generated some interesting discussion.

Welcome, Sarah! We're glad to have you around.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Depression Rates and Career Choices

A study came out ranking jobs by depression rates. At the top of the list (of fully employed people) were people in personal care fields like child care and care for the elderly. Second were food service workers and third were health care workers. The bottom of the list was occupied by engineers and architects.

I'm particularly interested in why engineers and architects have such lower depression rates, seeing as I fall in that category myself. Why is this? Is this because we are much less emotional overall? Is it because our jobs do not require much empathy for others? This would seem to correlate well with the personal care workers and health care workers being at positions 1 and 3, but I'm not sure food service workers need to have that much more empathy than engineers or health care workers. Having never worked in food service, though, perhaps that impression is way off base. I doubt it is correlated too strongly with intelligence or education level, since health care workers tend to be a bright lot, though perhaps doctors and the like are a small minority in the overall field. This study reminds me of studies Mark has blogged about in the past that looked at traits which are associated with human happiness. Overall, it is a fascinating field. It would be interesting to see the actual study and not just an AP article.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

What We Can Learn From Lap Dancers

I doubt learning that lap dancers make less when menstruating comes as much of a surprise to folks, but lap dancers making 40% money more during the fertile phase of the cycle vs. the luteal phase is quite a difference. I doubt they need the money more then. I remember seeing a study in which men were asked to rank women's attractiveness in pictures and this was correlated with their time of the month. Women who were around the fertile time came out ahead. Maybe I'm just weird, but this stuff fascinates me, mostly because it is so subtle and seemingly unnoticeable. Ask 10 guys to tell you if a given woman off the street is fertile and they will look at you like you are off your rocker (at least I would). Yet, the effect of a woman's seemingly hidden fertility is measurable in such an amazingly dramatic fashion. Somehow men must subconsciously know this. My guess is that somehow women are subconsciously communicating this information as well. Bizarre.


PS: I wonder if there are any wise old matchmakers out there who have known this for eons and kept all of us technologically advanced and culturally disconnected societies in the dark.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Importing Poverty

The Washington Post had an article last month which provided an interesting perspective on a fairly stagnant poverty rate: Importing Poverty.

Thanks to Citizen Pamphleteer which has some additional commentary. I find the idea of a dynamic rather than stagnant poor to be appealing, and perhaps ideal if there truly is an irreducible minimum for poverty within a free system.