The government is telling me when I can water my lawn and wash my car.
I'm used to the government telling me that I shouldn't hold up liquor stores, or kill people because they looked at me the wrong way, or that I have to pay taxes, or which side of the road to drive on, or even how deep to bury my irrigation system. I can live with those things. But this notion that I can only water my lawn at certain times seems like a whole new encroachment on my liberty.
Then again, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Rather than defending liberties, which was what I was taught that the purpose of government was, it seems that modern government has decided that its role is instead to circumscribe them as much as possible.
Well, in anticipation of it, the South Florida Water Management District had decided to drop the level of Lake Okeechobee three feet, to reduce the chances of a catastrophic overflow and flood in the event of a storm last year. A storm that never happened. So much for the prescience of government bureaucrats.
As a result, because the lake is the major repository of water for south Florida, there was little slack in the system when we got an abnormally low amount of rainfall this year (cue here the usual suspects claiming that this is a result of global warming, as is any adverse weather event, with appropriate -- which is to say all -- blame accruing to George W. Bush).
So here we are, in the spring of 2007, with rain below average, with a low lake level, little else in the way of reservoirs, and a water shortage. What is the response?
Well, a rational response might be to price a scarce commodity such that people will use it only as they need it, and not frivolously.
But this is southeast Florida (which is not, contrary to geography, part of the south, but rather, the sixth borough of New York), so the response is not rational. Instead, we get the response of the local commissars.
So, not allowing the market to work, and not allowing prices to provide signals to the participants, they have decided to run our lives for us. Not well, mind you, but that's not the point, is it?
I live at an odd numbered address. That means that if I want to water my lawn, I can only do it on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings, from four to eight AM. I can water my plants with a hose on the same days, but only between five and seven PM. My neighbors across the street, and behind my house on the next block, get Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is apparently a day of rest for watering, for all.
I'm old enough to be reminded of another attempt by the commissars to allocate resources, without having to resort to that ugly market, with its inconvenient and inequitable prices and such. Over thirty years ago, in the first OPEC oil embargo, the government, rather than allowing prices to rise to account for the reduced supply, told people when they could purchase gas based on the parity of their license plate -- even one day, odd the next. My recollection was that this did nothing to alleviate the shortage -- the lines remained. The problem was only solved when Nixon-era price controls on oil were lifted, the market was allowed to work, and oil prices eventually (and it didn't take all that long) fell to historical lows.
Now here's the irony.
Before the restrictions, I'd noticed that my lawn was getting kind of brownish, but I also knew that the water situation was tight, and I'd been cutting back on watering for that reason. But once the bureaucrats told me that there were certain times that I could water without limit, I decided to use those times to the maximum. As a result, I'm almost certainly using more water than I was prior, and with no guilt.
Anyway, here's a radical concept. How about pricing the commodity to the market? Maybe, if people had to pay more for water to water their lawn, they'd use less of it? Yes, I know that it's hard to believe, but there really are some people out there who buy less of something if the price is higher.
But "wait!" I hear the commissars cry. What about the poor people, who will have to purchase a cheaper brand of pet food for granny if their bill to water their lawns goes up?
Well, ignoring the fact that poor people have deeper concerns than how green their lawn is, the solution to this is to provide a "lifeline" of cheap water to allow basic needs -- toilet flushing, drinking, dishwashing, bathing -- and then jacking up the price considerably for gallons beyond those required to meet those needs. So everyone can afford the basics, rich and poor, and those who want to grow rice in their backyard will pay through the nose. They can do it, but they will pay for it, not the rest of us.
I mean, it's not as though this is a completely foreign concept to the commissars. After all, while I'm not allowed to wash my car in the driveway, with my hose, on the wrong day, I can still take it down to the car wash and get it done any time I want, as long as I'm willing to pay the price. So the car wash owners must be purchasing indulgences from the commissars to allow them to service the aristocracy on the wrong days with the precious water. I don't know exactly how this works, but I've got to believe that it involves fees, kickbacks, and industry bribes. After all, if one doesn't allow the market to work, supply and demand have to be adjudicated somehow, right? And commissars, if they have no other talents, are superlative at ensuring the proper distribution of resources like that.