Put Down That Dasani, You Selfish Bastard!

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Economist technology editor Tom Standage, author of A History of the World in Six Glasses (which sounds interesting, to judge by the reviews I've seen), has an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times that says we shouldn't drink bottled water because many people have trouble getting clean drinking water of any kind:

Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. This is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water.

I have no objections to people drinking bottled water in the developing world; it is often the only safe supply. But it would surely be better if they had access to safe tap water instead. The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities.

This response may be symbolically appealing, but it is anything but logical. Rather than focus on bottled water, Standage could just as easily have condemned residents of affluent countries for spending money on soda, wine, restaurant meals, pets, TV sets, vacations, or any of the myriad other nonessential things that make their lives easier or more enjoyable. How dare we buy anything we don't need when there are desperately poor people in the world who need reliable supplies of potable water, among other things? Or, if you prefer symmetry, how dare we buy fancy cars when Ugandans lack decent roads, mansions when Bangladeshis lack huts, gourmet food when Haitians are malnourished? If people have books on cars, architecture, or caviar to promote, no doubt we can look forward to op-ed pieces tackling these profound topics.

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  1. Drink your beer. There are sober kids in India.

  2. And yet Times readers and writers wonder why they’re so easily lampooned.

    Do any stupidity alarms ever go off over there, or are they just mainly throwing warm bodies at keyboards to fill print space.

  3. Reminds me of the tired “for the cost of one B-2 bomber” argument. Yikes.

  4. Like, if we, like, stopped building bombs and stuff and all those corporations stopped being all corporation-y, we could get, like CD players for everyone in the world. We just all need to stop being so selfish.

  5. I wonder if Standage is familiar with The Huffington Post.

    …This piece would fit in well over there.

  6. Eh, I don’t see any harm in mocking people who overpay for bottled water and challenging them to donate to water charities instead. Ranting about the suggestion seems a little akin to that op-ed a few days back that took Bush to task for promoting exercise.

  7. The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities.

    Obviously he has never lived in Houston. Horrible horrible tasting water. Of course we used the gallon refill machine at Kroger (super-filtered city water) and didn’t buy all new bottled water each time we were thirsty, so maybe that buys us brownie points.

  8. It would be a good thing for people to make voluntary donations in order to help the less fortunate with drinking water. Sure, there is no reason that you have to give up bottled water to do this, but this is a pretty good literary device to get you thinking about the issue. If I gave up some small luxury, I could easily afford to do more charitable giving, and this problem is certainly worthy of consideration as a target for giving.

    Of course, some people may not want others to have clean drinking water or may not care, in which case they can direct their giving to other causes. Some may think that charitable giving is wrong, in which case they can keep their money. But there is nothing wrong with pointing to a problem and suggesting a way to solve it, especially if you are not calling for state intervention in the matter.

  9. The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities.

    i think you guys missed the point. he’s not making an economic argument. he’s making a moral argument (and a rather valid one). why do we indulge in completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption when we could be utilizing resources to care for others? why do we shamelessly indulge our animal wants when we could subject ourselves to law to help these others with their needs?

    i’m sure this will bring a litany of amoral promarket beration articulating a narrow, mechanistic and statistical worldview. 🙂 but consider that the economics of markets in practice encourages disaster on a very real level — indeed, it’s part of its supposed charm, ruthlessly punishing “inefficiency”. a lawless, freemarket philosophy allows many to indulge the animal spirit, to live out the cycle of koros-hubris-ate, without a thought to regulating ourselves in mitigation.

    now, if maximum efficiency for humankind is your goal, i suppose that’s just fine — but i’m not sure how life is to be worth living if its ideal embodiment is a perfect factory. i think mr standage is acknowledging implicitly the philosophical and moral limitations of that view.

  10. Sure, it could have been anything. But why not water? It’s a nice memory-jogger: see a bottle of water, think about lack of safe water in Africa, toss some money in the poor-box instead.

    I agree that it’s silly to guilt us for paying for fancy bottled water when someone, somewhere in the world is thirsty; but come on. Maybe if libertarians didn’t reflexively pooh-pooh every philanthropic scheme that comes along, we wouldn’t have such a reputation as miserly dog-eat-dog bastards.

    As a matter of fact, why doesn’t some enterprising young freedom-lover start a bottled-water company which sends part of the profits to third-world water development? Hip, overpriced refreshment and liberal guilt-abatement in one convenient capitalist package. It would be a hit! And it would certainly be more constructive than yelling “OMG ch4r1ty i5 4 st00p1d l4m3rs” whenever someone suggests an idea for VOLUNTARILY helping the poor.

  11. “The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities.”

    I must have missed that lecture in logic class.

    The most troubling part is, this guy actually writes for The Economist, a publication which I used to hold in higher regard.

    A more logical answer would be for him to start his own damn bottled water company, and donate his own profit margins from this overpriced luxury good to his favourite water and sanitation projects in the developing world.

  12. Maybe if libertarians didn’t reflexively pooh-pooh every philanthropic scheme that comes along, we wouldn’t have such a reputation as miserly dog-eat-dog bastards.

    lol — i think you’ve touched on why militant freemarketeers don’t enjoy much popular currency, mr avdi.

  13. Let’s talk property rights – whose water is it that we’re drinking out of Nalgene and Evian bottles?

  14. Maybe we should cancel our Economist subscription and pass on that copy of A History of the World etc. and give the proceeds to a clean water charity.

  15. Well, I’m sure that gaius and Avid happily pony up every single cent in excess of what they need to meet their absolute basic living requirements to send potable water to Ghana, but most of us haven’t reached that moral plane yet, you know? We make do with our occasional donations to occasional charities and hope that that’s good enough.

  16. i think you guys missed the point. he’s not making an economic argument. he’s making a moral argument (and a rather valid one). why do we indulge in completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption when we could be utilizing resources to care for others?

    Out of curiosity, GM, are you willing to go first and stop satisfying your own “animal wants” beyond your absolute physical needs in order to devote all the saved money to giving other people clean water? Are you going to cut off all the “conspicious consumption”, which would seem to include paying to move around electrons to post here?

    If not, why not?

  17. gaius: I agree there is a moral component to the argument. However, you, nor anyone, are not qualified to determine what is completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption for any specific individual. That’s where you fail to apply the moral element to your description that economics of markets in practice encourages disaster on a very real level. The market is an abstraction of countless individual economic and moral choices, and only by making those choices can any individual demonstrate the moral quality of his character. The market does not cause or encourage anything; it is as amoral as any other label like “blue” or “spongy”.

    My goal is not efficiency. Efficiency is a side-effect of allowing every person full access to their moral potential through the liberty of unlimited choice. The greater a collective compels me, the less I am able to demonstrate my virtue, and the less I am allowed to experience my complete humanness.

    Now, we might agree that it would be a better world if more were aware of the effects of their choices, and made decisions with moral as well as economic information. But, if we put limits on choice in order to better preserve life, we regard mankind as little more than a “flesh-making factory”, creating lives which can never be fully moral or fulfilled.

  18. Maybe instead of sending money to charities in Africa which only make the overall situation in Africa worse, much like welfare does in this country.

    Maybe the jackass with such great ideas can go and start a company in Africa that employs gainfully africans, and provides drinking water to africans.

    Maybe instead of being selfish and lazy and trying to send money over to Africa to make you feel better about it, while accomplishing nothing good, the fucker can look at what the real cause of the problem is, instead of selfishly trying to relieve his own guilt, while solving nothing.

    If you are in this country and you want to drink out of a bottle of mineral water, do it. If you want to buy some mineral water and poor it in the street, do it.

  19. First we stop drinking bottled water. Then we donate the money we save to a clean water charity. Then the charity can work with the governments of the poorest nations on earth to provide potable drinking water to all, because the only reason those governments haven’t done so already is because they can’t afford it, not because they are corrupt bastards who spend it all on palaces and personal armies.

    Sounds foolproof.

  20. you know, bottled water isn’t even that good.

    certainly not worth paying exorbitant evian-prices for.

    really though, i think avdi hit the target, but not in the center. grumbling that charity is idiotic certainly doesn’t win converts; but it’s really hard to take charity seriously when it’s couched in pretentious, holier-than-thou statements, as most “omg we (meaning “YOU”) in the western world live in decadent excess, think of the poor folks overseas”. there’s the implicit economic nonsense (as if me buying x luxury is DIRECTLY impoverishing the third world), as well as the usual circumstance of being chided for my decadence by someone much wealthier and decadent than me.

    i mean, if you’re going to northwestern or bryn mawr or some other prestigious, $30k/year private school, your parents have a housekeeper and drive BMWs, etc.. don’t lecture me about the excesses of the middle class.

  21. I was thinking maybe the best way to spend excess money to help those in Africa would be to fund a guerilla movement that attacks those agencies like ‘Live Aid’ and people sending their bottled water money and other such pathetic recepticles for the relief of guilt of ignorant westerners.

    These aid agencies just further retard any progress toward market efficiency and self sufficiency that some African nations have.

    A more easier moral way to spend your money I guess would be to donate to some political foundation opposed to farm subsidies. If we could get rid of farm subsidies that might help the africans out a lot.

  22. Maybe we should cancel our Economist subscription and pass on that copy of A History of the World etc. and give the proceeds to a clean water charity.

    No, the article said that superfluous spending should be cut. You still have a lot to learn from The Economist and history books, so don’t cut that.

  23. Speaking as an environmental engineering type, who is in the drinking water safety business, the USA enjoys some of the cleanest, safest drinking water in the world. Most bottled water is simply tap water that’s been ozonated and maybe, just maybe, filtered a little bit.

    As I’ve told my troops on more than one occasion, Evian spelled backwards is naive…

  24. The developing world aside, I personally find any person who routinely buys bottled water has lost the privilege to complain near me about gasoline prices.

  25. I think gaius and avdi should shun their internet access so long as people in Kenya don’t have access to computers.

    Maybe if libertarians didn’t reflexively pooh-pooh every philanthropic scheme that comes along, we wouldn’t have such a reputation as miserly dog-eat-dog bastards.

    And maybe if you didn’t leap to the rather obvious and facile conclusion that libertarians hate anything that doesn’t turn a profit, they wouldn’t look at you as someone trying to browbeat humanity into doing nice things – a tactic libertarians know is the height of futility. You might be able to emotionally abuse your loved ones via moral grandstanding, but the rest of the world ain’t that easy. And there are plenty of libertarians who figure prominently in the philanthropic world, oh by the way – don’t criticize things you don’t know and don’t care to learn about.

    To paraphrase Barbara Branden, in a free market world, if you want to do something to help people get drinking water, no one will stop you. But requiring people to do so by edict, whether legal or moral, just doesn’t fly. I think that’s the point here.

  26. Well, as a former 77W MOS, this is ONE troop who’ll stick with his distilled bottle over tap (strictly for taste, not content).

    And, man, I hate that Evian/Naive thing! It was first pointed out to me by a friend who was trying to sell some crappy “Carbon-Filter Showerhead” from a multi-level marketing environmental product company.

    In addition to marital affairs and sports cars, I think there’s something in middle-aged men’s genes that attract them to MLM organizations, especially if it’s selling an “alternative product” …

  27. Kwais,

    Excepting that it’s in the south pacific and not in Africa, I believe that is the model behind “Fiji” brand water.

    http://www.fijiwater.com/site/u_commitment.html

    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/2004/10/13#a398

  28. i think you guys missed the point. he’s not making an economic argument. he’s making a moral argument (and a rather valid one). why do we indulge in completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption when we could be utilizing resources to care for others? why do we shamelessly indulge our animal wants when we could subject ourselves to law to help these others with their needs?

    The problem with this argument is that it’s too strong. If we cannot “indulge in completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption” if others are in need, then we shouldn’t be using electric lights. Or at least we should be using only, say, flourescent lights, and trying to go to bed as close to sunset as possible, and getting up at sunrise, so as to minimize our use of electricity. We can donate the surplus to funding electricity for the Third World. We should each have, say four or five outfits, maybe seven if we do laundry once a week. We can donate our savings to charities to buy clothing for the Third World. Similarly, we don’t really need cable television; we can get by with broadcast channels. And no broadband; that’s unnecessary for most of us, unless we run an online business. We should use dial-up. No cell phones, either; people lived for thousands of years without even phones, let alone mobile ones, and any calls we need can mostly wait until we get home. And how many medicines do we use each year that we don’t need? How many of us would die without, say, cold medicine? We should just suffer through the symptoms of colds and give the money we save to charities to pay for medication for the Third World.

    I could go on, but I think you’ll get my point. We all live in unwonted luxury in the developed world. There are myriad small things we can give up, that we can live without. Of course, they make our lives better, but they aren’t strictly necessary. So are we morally culpable for enjoying luxury while others do without?

    I don’t think so. For one thing, most Americans give to charity of one sort or another. We are rich enough that we can contribute to others while still enjoying fantastically wealthy lives. I don’t believe that we are morally degenerate because we don’t sacrifice more to help others. There’s a term in ethical philosophy, supererogatory, which is what I would say the kind of charity you’re talking about is. It’s “beyond the call of duty,” so to speak. We hold that people who live lives of such supreme sacrifice are good people, and what they are doing is good, while not saying that that level of goodness is expected of everyone. Should all of us live like Mother Theresa?

    why do we shamelessly indulge our animal wants when we could subject ourselves to law to help these others with their needs?

    What if we had a system set up to reward others for shamelessly indulging our animal wants? Maybe I could trade with a farmer to get food, and trade with my cobbler to get shoes, and trade with my ISP to get internet access. To make things easier, I might even establish arbitrary units of exchange, so that I don’t have to try to find someone who wants what I’m selling to get everyday necessities.

    Y’see, libertarians think that there are these things called free markets and free trade that allow people to engage in win-win scenarios. That way, people in Third World countries get richer and people in the developed world get richer. This is one charge that’s absolutely infuriating to me, that if libertarians would only care more, we would understand why our espoused policies are bad. But we do care; we simply think that the way out of poverty for the developing world is free trade and free markets, not “fair” trade, regulation, and protectionism. Many of us prefer to focus on changing policy to lower barriers to free trade and getting wealth into the developing world, rather than making useless gestures like not drinking bottled water.

  29. The developing world aside, I personally find any person who routinely buys bottled water has lost the privilege to complain near me about gasoline prices.

    That’s why I stopped drinking gas, as well as tap water ….

  30. Out of curiosity, GM, are you willing to go first and stop satisfying your own “animal wants” beyond your absolute physical needs in order to devote all the saved money to giving other people clean water? Are you going to cut off all the “conspicious consumption”, which would seem to include paying to move around electrons to post here?

    no — because i sin compulsively. i have to admit that i can loathe consumption intellectually and even take steps against it — but, being entirely the product of a self-indulgent society, i sate my profane inner animal all the time (although to a far lesser degree than many i know, it still amounts to an amazingly decadent lifestyle).

    and i think i’m far from alone — the vast majority of people without law are stupid, profane, greedy and fearful in action by turns, and i’m no exception. i’m far from a moral paragon. i think the primary differences between myself and paris hilton are of degree and recognition.

    but that hardly makes it a lesser sin to aspire to *be* paris hilton. only the most debased of men see sin, recognize it and model themselves after it. yet, many do.

    all of this is precisely why law is the keeper of civilization and not self-indulgence.

  31. rafuzo: you seem to have me confused with someone else. You quote me, but it’s not me you’re responding to.

  32. what is the line between consumption and conspicuous consumption?

  33. Maybe instead of being selfish and lazy and trying to send money over to Africa to make you feel better about it, while accomplishing nothing good, the fucker can look at what the real cause of the problem is, instead of selfishly trying to relieve his own guilt, while solving nothing.

    There’s the rub. A professional economic journalist at a magazine with nearly impeccable free market credentials just doesn’t have time to understand the nuances of the actual source of the problems, which are so apparent to us posters on this board. It’s only through dedicated, generally uncritical adherence to ideology that truth can be known, and this man is clearly far too busy and stupid to dedicate himself like that. That said, it never ceases to amaze me that guys like this (and even the vast majority of econ Ph.D’s!) just don’t understand the obvious fact that every time you don’t act in your own self-interest the invisible hand kills a kitten, making us all worse off.

    If anything, this thread should demonstrate to all that libertarians aren’t only first rate economists, but collectively have as fine a grasp of ethical issues as anyone since maybe G.E. Moore. It’s fools like gaius marius who think it could possibly be wrong to spend money on luxuries when the marginal dollar would make someone else much better off that we must reason with!

  34. The problem with this argument is that it’s too strong. If we cannot “indulge in completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption” if others are in need, then we shouldn’t be using electric lights.

    i fuly agree — my argument isn’t for asceticism the rejection of consumption, mr grylliade. no hairshirts needed. it’s for a more equitable distribution thereof, in both their interests and ours.

    libertarians think that there are these things called free markets and free trade that allow people to engage in win-win scenarios.

    and trade can be a vehicle to that equity — but will not be, the record clearly shows, if left to operate beyond the bounds of law and morality. in the end, as locke knew, effective markets are constructions of a moral law. we dare not deny that short of courting disaster. real markets — not the fictional frictionless ones libertarians too often imagine — are easily perverted into vehicles of extortion and violence.

  35. what is the line between consumption and conspicuous consumption?

    None, as far as I’m concerned. To a starving man, another man with a crust of bread is engaging in conspicuous consumption. It’s a meaningless moral distinction.

  36. Back in Reno, Nevada, the tap water is just fine. When I am at home, I’ll drink out of the tap. When I am filling up my car at the gas station, complaining about the gas prices, and I realize that I am thirsty from all the complaining. I then go into the gas station store and buy myslelf a refresshing 99 cent botle of water.

    How convienient! How refreshing! What a great country. I almost forget how damned expensive the gas is.

  37. Standage’s thinking is dumb for free markets but is great for governments. We could means test for government services. Hey grandma, ever spent your social security money in Atlantic City? No Medicare for you! Hey kid, ever bought an iPod? No public school for you!

  38. Gaius,
    What morals should law be based on?

    (I don’t really care what Locke thought)

  39. I’ll skip all the moralizing and just say this about why I use a home water filter: I have in my files several water quality warnings as well as a breakdown of all the foulness in our perfectly safe municipal water (it’s outside EPA standards on a number of counts). It’s unhealthy, and it tastes like shit. I’ll stick with the filtered stuff, thanks.

  40. no — because i sin compulsively. i have to admit that i can loathe consumption intellectually and even take steps against it — but, being entirely the product of a self-indulgent society, i sate my profane inner animal all the time (although to a far lesser degree than many i know, it still amounts to an amazingly decadent lifestyle).

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve seen quite so much self-loating in one paragraph of text for quite some time. Your life must suck.

  41. trade can be a vehicle to that equity — but will not be, the record clearly shows, if left to operate beyond the bounds of law and morality.

    gaius, I’m having a hard time reconciling the above with the below:

    being entirely the product of a self-indulgent society, i sate my profane inner animal all the time…the vast majority of people without law are stupid, profane, greedy and fearful in action by turns, and i’m no exception. i’m far from a moral paragon.

    At first you seem to suggest that people could (and should!) operate within the bounds of morality, but in the second you suggest that as victims of a “self-indulgent” society, we’re somehow not responsible for our actions. If you and the rest of us are all products of that self-indulgent society, then how can we be held morally responsible, and what’s more, how can we be expected to burn in some purgatory of the mind for our transgressions when it’s all anyone could ever expect of us anyway? How you can you hold Paris Hilton and bottled water drinkers to account if they’re only behaving as expected of such profane products of self-indulgence?

    And I don’t quite understand the posture of bragging about being a sinner. I mean, you’re essentially saying that those beliefs you regularly violate are for display purposes only. I read your statements to say “I like to be an ascetic altruist, when it suits me – but others should be doing a better job of it than me.” Sounds pretty disingenuous.

  42. what is the line between consumption and conspicuous consumption?

    What you use is consumption.

    What your neighbor who has a better job that you do uses is conspicuous consumption.

    Simple, no?

  43. However, you, nor anyone, are not qualified to determine what is completely irrational and needless conspicuous consumption for any specific individual.

    i agree, mr dynamist — this is the place of tradition, religion and law, to which i defer. and i think we can easily be said to have, as a society, exceeded the proscriptions of almost any world religious system.

    The greater a collective compels me, the less I am able to demonstrate my virtue, and the less I am allowed to experience my complete humanness.

    Now, we might agree that it would be a better world if more were aware of the effects of their choices, and made decisions with moral as well as economic information. But, if we put limits on choice in order to better preserve life, we regard mankind as little more than a “flesh-making factory”, creating lives which can never be fully moral or fulfilled.

    i think conflating self-expression with moral virtue is what got us into this problem in the first place, mr dynamist. we aren’t ascetics by nature; we’re animals. and the vast majority of us use self-expression as a means not to a lutheran proving ground but to a savage existence. that is the most common expression of humanness.

    transcending our individual humanness in congregation is the entire point of civilization. and only those with the most shallow, atomistic view of what it means to be a human being can think, imo, that a life lived in the service of others yields a life that cannot be moral or fulfilling. indeed, i think its clear that such a life is the highest moral fulfillment of the human condition that is possible.

  44. I don’t think I’ve seen quite so much self-loating in one paragraph of text for quite some time

    lol — i don’t hate my life, mr mediageek. i simply admit that i am only a small fraction of what i could be. it gives me a lot to work on.

  45. What morals should law be based on?

    not the rantings of any individual, certainly, mr kwais. 🙂 i think the traditions of many civilizations living and dead — including, particularly for us, western christendom — offer far better answers than i could muster.

  46. Ozarka spelled backwards is Akrazo. Coincidence?

  47. Dynamist and grylliade – very eloquent posts.

    gauis – you’re nuts. As an atheist, I can’t be very concerned that we’ve “…exceeded the proscriptions of almost any world religious system.” What is a religious system, anyway, but the imperfect construct of the human animal?

    Your religious and other institutions give people an escape from responsibility, which is the biggest threat to our existence, imo.

  48. in the second you suggest that as victims of a “self-indulgent” society, we’re somehow not responsible for our actions.

    i do not suggest so, mr rafuzo. we are entirely responsible for our sins. that does not mean it is within our purview to be sinless.

    the rejection of law and tradition in this society is and has been an act of collective decision played out over centuries. we are responsible for it and its effects, each of us individually and all of us collectively. and the effects that has on us is our own responsibility.

  49. Gaius,
    There are a lot of traditions; slavery, scarlet letters, pesecuting homosexuals ect. In the middle east they have honor killings and such.

    What traditions should we keep and what should we let go? What authority do we defer to in order to make those decisions?

    Whose God? Or whose version of the way God is to be respected? And who gets to decide which religios practices are good and which ones arent?

  50. What is a religious system, anyway, but the imperfect construct of the human animal?

    what is libertarian individualism, mr lowdog, except another religious system?

  51. Oh, come on you big babies. He’s not talking about wearing a hair shirt, just asking you to stop voluntarily ripping yourself off by buying into fraudulent health claims and give to a charity instead if you’ve a burning desire to spend that money. He’s not forcing you or creating a government program to do it.

    If you don’t find his argument compelling, then buy your water in peace and stop whining. Waaah, he twied to make me feeew baad.

    I get whiny pitches from Reason and like-minded organizations all the frickin’ time suggesting that for the cost of X I could be securing liberty for homeowners or something else that doesn’t directly benefit me. Sometimes I think it’s worth it and I chip in a few bucks. Other times I don’t.

    Save your ire for when he calls for men with guns to come take your money to disappear into corrupt third-world dictatorships. And while you’re at it, maybe you should review the Penn and Teller Bullshit! take on bottled water, and see if you’re not just enjoying the taste of placebo.

    If you have a different suggestion to alleviate water shortages, such as overthrowing corrupt governments, then by all means make them. Otherwise, bitch bitch bitch.

  52. You know, the Economist regularly publishes very sensible articles on water policy. I’m going to cut Standage some slack.

    You know you’ve gone too far with libertarianism if the Economist seems idiotic to you.

  53. one thing lost in the whole bottled water thing is portability. that’s a much bigger factor than any supposed health benefits. though i have to say, i really like brooklyn tap water, which is sort of sick and wrong, but whatevs.

  54. I’ve got one word for all you bottled water skeptics–fluoridation.

  55. more to the point, some religions are worth very little. some others are philosophical systems that provide far more profound insights into life and living than mere reason. some others are further ensconsed in an institution which protects it from vacillation and destruction while providing it a vehicle of gradual change. and those are worth quite a lot to sensible people — far more than the paranoid canoodlings of each of us left in isolation.

  56. Sandy,
    You’ll take my placebos from my cold dead hands!

  57. one thing lost in the whole bottled water thing is portability. that’s a much bigger factor than any supposed health benefits. though i have to say, i really like brooklyn tap water, which is sort of sick and wrong, but whatevs.

    A lot of people rave about NY city water.

    You know, you can put brooklyn tap water in a bottle, and then you’ve got the best of both worlds…

  58. Oh, come on you big babies. He’s not talking about wearing a hair shirt, just asking you to stop voluntarily ripping yourself off by buying into fraudulent health claims and give to a charity instead if you’ve a burning desire to spend that money. He’s not forcing you or creating a government program to do it.

    I don’t drink from my tap because despite an expensive public water treatment program in my municipality, it tastes bad. I grew up “pampered” by well water that didn’t have perceptible odor and taste. So, I drink water from the filtered tap in my fridge.

    If I’m out somewhere and want something to drink, I might indeed buy a bottled water because I don’t carry around a canteen and sometimes don’t want calories, caffiene, or carbonation.

    It is not the place or job of “tradition, religion and law” to tell me I must drink bad-tasting water or replace it with soda or oversugared fruit drinks because people in the Third World have lousy water supplies.

    It’s not even the place of overgeneralizing economists to chide me for drinking cold, decent-tasting water.

  59. I’ll note with amusement that the term “zero-sum” hasn’t shown up on this thread yet.

  60. What traditions should we keep and what should we let go? What authority do we defer to in order to make those decisions?

    you’re asking questions of me, mr kwais, like i have answers. what traditions are to be kept isn’t up to an individual in a healthy society, but to a set of institutions which operate by a law created in long experience.

    if you take a more nuanced and detailed view of the past, i think you’ll find that a society adopts slavery, for example, only in its corruption. spartan helots shortly preceded sparta’s fall; widespread roman slavery on the spartan model marked the onset of the decline of the hellenic world; european slavery of africans, i’m afraid, likewise. slavery accompanied a number of social ills and created others, few of which have been effectively answered by the west, creating an american proletariat of remarkable power. slavery may well help to undo us yet.

  61. transcending our individual humanness in congregation is the entire point of civilization

    To think that’s in conflict with libertarianism is a serious misunderstanding. The free market and the market of ideas – indeed, the whole classical liberal worldivew – are based on the cooperation of human beings. The catch is that libertarianism isn’t big on smashing individual humanness in the name of the “congregation”.

    I’ve yet to see someone who made this complaint, however, who didn’t have some smashing in mind.

  62. what is libertarian individualism, mr lowdog, except another religious system?

    Gaius – the right one. 🙂

    You’re obviously a very intelligent individual, so I just don’t understand all this self-flagellation. It seems to me that intelligent folks should be trying to elevate their fellow man. I suppose that’s what you’re trying to do in your own way, it just seems so negative.

    But see, it isn’t a religious system because it doesn’t subscribe to some imaginery being, but to the ultimate power of the individual. Now, that can be a blessing and a curse, but without letting us humans have to freedom to choose which it will be, I don’t think we’ll ever fully decide to go down the positive route, or for many to even realise that they have such potential. Actually, I think the fear of having the potential for both good or evil is what allows people to so readily give up their autonomy and responsibility to some institution such as Christianity. Not that it’s in the front of everyone’s mind, but lurking in the subconscious, which is why it can be surpressed. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy or a symbiotic relationship.

  63. Something also amuses me. The other day, I noticed a bottled water that donates a portion of its proceeds to water improvement projects in the Third World. (I tried to Google it, but blanked on the name.)

    So is that “conspicious consumption”, or helping the less fortunate?

  64. You’d be better off putting Evian (Naive spelled backward, doncha know) in the subject line – there’s all kindsa other good reasons not to drink Dasani, not the least of which being the added sodium chloride.

  65. First of all, “canoodling” isn’t something you do alone. But I hate the word.

    Moving along…

    transcending our individual humanness in congregation is the entire point of civilization [etc] [etc]

    If you reduce civilization to a solvent that breaks down barriers between people, then you’ve said nothing about how civilization should protect an individual’s liberties, both positive and negative. What your utopian ideal fails to address is that humanity as it exists today is often in opposition. A working civilization of today must respect people living their lives as they see fit even while they live in opposition to each other.

    I’m sure you’ll agree. Now consider why you spoke only of the aspect of civilization which you did.

  66. Eric-

    If you find out the name of the bottled water company that donates to 3rd world water projects please let us know. I’d buy from them.

  67. Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects

    And why, just why, do I feel terribly skeptical that $1.7B/y added to these water projects will not suffice the scourge of bad drinking water on this planet?

  68. no smashing here, mr .5b — i simply chronicle.

    but i think it would be wrong not to point out that, for many, libertarianism is a thinly-veiled excuse to be free of any obligation. in that sense, it does not represent the health of any society or value system, but is instead a manifestation of escapist futurism.

    one who considers markets must consider them to be constructions of law — to call them “free” in the sense of a hobbesian natural order is, to be kind, delusional. the liberty of markets is protected only by law — indeed, meaningful personal liberty of any kind is always so protected.

    too many here denounce any and all law or social obligation in the name of libertarianism far too often to be considered sensible of this fact, imo. and it’s that deathwish of irresponsibility that i disagree with most fundamentally.

  69. “You know, you can put brooklyn tap water in a bottle, and then you’ve got the best of both worlds…”

    that’s what i’m doing right now!

    i only buy bottled water when i have no tap handy.

  70. If you find out the name of the bottled water company that donates to 3rd world water projects please let us know. I’d buy from them.

    I’ll let you know if I can find it, again. I’m curious why this wouldn’t be shameful excess, however. You could always donate that money directly and cut out the middleman… 🙂

  71. no smashing here, mr .5b — i simply chronicle.

    No offense, but the jury’s still out in my mind.

    but i think it would be wrong not to point out that, for many, libertarianism is a thinly-veiled excuse to be free of any obligation

    It would also be wrong not to point out that for many, various statist political outlooks are thinly-veiled excuses to be free of self-responsibility or to deny it to others.

    one who considers markets must consider them to be constructions of law

    A market, in the simplest forms, needs no law. Bartering and black markets, as two examples, need no system of law to regulate or “construct” them (aside from the usually dysfunctional laws that created the demand for the black market).

    Law serves to enforce the rights of the participants in a market and the arrangements of the participants, removing the complications and problems caused by having to be ready at all times to protect your rights and enforce others’ agreements with you with force. It allows a…civilized market, so to speak.

  72. A working civilization of today must respect people living their lives as they see fit even while they live in opposition to each other.

    I’m sure you’ll agree. Now consider why you spoke only of the aspect of civilization which you did.

    i do, mr edelstein. i’m no advocate of tyranny.

    the difficulty — indeed, the inspiration of tyranny — is that so few now seem to grasp how law is the guarantor of liberty. without law, there is no such thing as liberty short of savagery. they assume real liberty to be, as hobbes did, a natural state that law intrudes upon — and can be maximized simply by rolling back law.

    i think instead we will find — indeed, are finding — that rolling back law leads most immediately to tyranny, to hobbes’ leviathan. in a free and amoral world, a few will quickly force lawless sovereign dominion over all others, leading to interminable conflict.

    it is civilization, which is founded on the rule of a law of tradition, which preserves us from this fate — not condemns us to it. i think that fact is lost in an age where success (koros) in self-consciousness and self-determination has led to hubris, leaving us to undermine ourselves in irony, setting up the ate of our undoing.

  73. i think instead we will find — indeed, are finding — that rolling back law leads most immediately to tyranny, to hobbes’ leviathan.

    Where in the world are laws being rolled back, aside from the odd collapsing government?

  74. law is the guarantor of liberty. without law, there is no such thing as liberty short of savagery

    I would agree. The problem I have, of course, lies in that law does much, much more than guarantee liberty.

  75. …so few now seem to grasp how law is the guarantor of liberty.

    You might have had a point, once upon a time. But I find it hard to consider law the guarantor of liberty when those who pass laws make a mockery of the entire concept.

  76. various statist political outlooks are thinly-veiled excuses to be free of self-responsibility or to deny it to others.

    utterly! i could not agree more. mr .5b. therein, we see how the rule of a traditional law — which limits not only the people, of course, but the sovereign — flowers between the two extremes of destruction.

    A market, in the simplest forms, needs no law.

    in its simplest form, mr .5b, we shoot each other dead and take each others stuff.

    Bartering and black markets, as two examples, need no system of law to regulate or “construct” them

    wrong. these systems, for so long as they are markets, do function on a kind of law, simply not the state’s law. they offer nothing so much as an alternative system of poorly articulated, barbaric law where the state’s or church’s civilized law has failed. it relies on considered values and contracts derived from them which are anything but natural.

    without law, mr .5b, some people would simply engage to murder one another until a few possessed dominion over everything and everyone — which is frequently the fate of black market systems when they quit being markets and start being totalitarian distribution systems.

  77. How about the Africans bottle their spring water and sell it to us? We’d probably be dumb enough to buy it…

  78. laws being rolled back

    here, mr .5b.

    i agree that the edicts of untested ideas are being implemented with ever-greater speed and thoroughness. but these have nothing in common with the civilized law of tradition and institution which guide healthy societies — they are in fact the unambiguous refutation of tradition and perversion of institution in favor of the innovative and technical manipulation of problems unguided by past experience and wisdom.

    the worth of that approach, it seems to me, we both hold in very low esteem.

  79. How about the Africans bottle their spring water and sell it to us?

    lol — wouldn’t get through the protectionist measures defending our “free” markets form third-world imports, mr mynack. 🙂

  80. Check out the Bangladesh clean drinking water screwup.
    Give everyone cheap chlorox.

  81. Having tried to work with African governments about small water purification machines at the local level, I can say the situation will not improve while current politics remain. The leaders big concern was “how do we control the machines?” Notice the concern wasn’t about the business model, preventing theft or maintainence but how can they have control over who gets water and who doesn’t. After all, potential rebels can’t fight well when they’re ill. I think a lot of people who would talk of morals should perform a reality check as to where the limiting moral lies.

  82. Fiji backwards is Ijif. This is fun.

  83. laws being rolled back

    here, mr .5b.

    Such as?

  84. utterly! i could not agree more. mr .5b. therein, we see how the rule of a traditional law — which limits not only the people, of course, but the sovereign — flowers between the two extremes of destruction.

    I agree that we, er, agree on this.

    A market, in the simplest forms, needs no law.

    in its simplest form, mr .5b, we shoot each other dead and take each others stuff.

    No, then it’s not a market – it’s a simpler transaction yet. 🙂 Trade happens when both sides of a transaction choose to engage in a consensual transaction – either because neither wishes to do something so evil or neither wants to go to the trouble and risk.

    Bartering and black markets, as two examples, need no system of law to regulate or “construct” them

    wrong. these systems, for so long as they are markets, do function on a kind of law, simply not the state’s law. they offer nothing so much as an alternative system of poorly articulated, barbaric law where the state’s or church’s civilized law has failed. it relies on considered values and contracts derived from them which are anything but natural.

    Much of what’s termed spontaneous order works in this way. “Natural” is in the eye of the beholder. The existence of a market needs no state sanction or creation – it simply happens whenever people think it’s easier/safer/less odious to trade than to steal. The form of the market is certainly affected by factors such as law.

    without law, mr .5b, some people would simply engage to murder one another until a few possessed dominion over everything and everyone

    This, of course, is why humanity developed law – those few got tired of determining every single decision of their lessers! 🙂

  85. The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities

    Yes and if we all sold our second cars we could eradicate poverty worldwide.

    In the old days they used to make the same arguments about people who bought water in five gallon jugs from Sparkletts (delivered weekly). Now we buy them in cases from Sam’s Club and send the bottles with our kids to school so they can have clean, cool, good tasting water at their desks on days like today when it’s 100 degrees outside. What is wrong with that?

    You wanna feel worse? I just came back from Petco, where Rich Friggin’ Americans can buy raincoats for their dogs. As an aside, the quality of the help in that store proves that there is a very REAL labor shortage.

  86. Law, in the sense of received tradition, seems mighty close to being another name for the ethical and moral traditions of a culture. Black markets are shaped by the same social forces as codified law. An important difference is in the manner of enforcement of the law, traditional or codified. When the enforcement is coercive, my moral potential is limited. When enforcement is achieved by ostracism (or another non-coercive mechanism), it is precisely my moral free choice that earns me expulsion from the market/tribe/society. Knowing the consequences and accepting responsibility is part of the equation of choosing which makes me a moral human animal, different from an amoral savage animal. If I choose to ignore the law, I act like an animal, but I have demonstrated my humanness by choosing.

    A group which doesn’t have a strong mechanism encouraging individual actors to choose to contribute to the group will likely splinter into smaller groups, to a size where the level of cooperation affords only subsistence. Through intelligence and communication, we can persuade each other to abide by some set of laws that allows great cooperation and produce fantastic wealth. Alternately, we can force each other to abide by a set of laws which produces wealth, but not as efficiently as free choice, and which deprives the individuals without whom there is no collective their ultimate potential of moral self-fulfillment.

    In a sense, people in Africa have crappy water because their leaders have choosen to be ostracized from the benefits of global integration. I can’t trust Mugabe, so I’m not going to build a wealth-creating water factory in Zimbabwe. I have sympathy for the suffering people, but their suffering is not the result of my choice. They’ll have to decide to stop screwing each other for short-term power before they can earn the privilege to bitch about the price of gasoline.

  87. I think the entire focus of the article was that only one guy was able, in a blind taste test, to tell the difference between tap and bottled water. People can waste their money on whatever b.s. their hearts desire. But most of them are fooling themselves based on pseudoscience and imagined, not real, preferences.

  88. I dunno…have you ever drank tap water in Phoenix? The stuff here is awful…there are sea monkeys chillin’ out in the stuff.

  89. Most people making the “you can’t tell the difference” claims and running the taste tests seem to pick major metropoli with especially good water systems. Small towns, especially in areas with harmless (but bad-tasting) mineral deposits, are usually ignored.

  90. Did anyone else see the article about St. Tropez, on the French Riviera, in the NYT travel section?
    Oh the humanity. Oh the waste of expensive champagne.
    I briefly felt like gouging my own eyes out just for having read about it.

  91. TWC,
    To borrow from Larry the Cable Guy, in Petsmart, they have a doggie water filter. We are so decadant that we filter water for animals that lick their anuses!!! (or is it ani?)

  92. I wonder if those people who took the taste test could identify the cheap vodka in an array of good gin. But then what would they use to clense the palate?

  93. It irritates because it’s entirely too close to being told to clean ones plate because children are starving in …

  94. Ah, one of my pet causes makes the pages of Reason. If you want to give up that bottle of water or anything else and give to a good cause, try WaterPartners.
    They don’t funnel money to government water projects; instead, they help one community at a time build their own. I have no faith that third world governments are capable of solving the water problem. If you feel strongly about it, this organization is worth it.

  95. They’ll have to decide to stop screwing each other for short-term power before they can earn the privilege to bitch about the price of gasoline.

    no doubt about that, mr dynamist. the moral problems aren’t entirely on our side of the fence.

    however, can we use that as a means of ignoring that there are in fact moral problems on our side of the fence?

  96. Such as?

    would you argue, mr .5b, that the executive in western governments is more or less restrained by law than it was 100 years ago?

  97. Thoreau:

    Ethos is the brand of water I was trying to remember. The local Starbucks carries it, here.

  98. would you argue, mr .5b, that the executive in western governments is more or less restrained by law than it was 100 years ago?

    Couldn’t say for any countries outside of the US, but probably less. But I’m not sure how much is really due to ongoing changes as opposed to changes that have stood long enough to have a whiff of tradition around them – such as “We don’t need no steenking declaration of war”…

  99. probably less

    i would agree — and i would further state that the rollback of law will manifest itself first in tyranny (the lawlessness of the dominant minority) and not an anarchist utopia (the lawlessness of the proletariats).

  100. This is about to drift off the active page, but…

    Government is restrained by nearly all the same set of laws as the people. They have to abide by all the safety and social-engineering regs just like citizens. Even with truckloads of increased Code, the market has produced supertankers full of new choice. I can’t simply agree that the state is less restrained. We have to define all the terms, and decide if we’re making an absolute or comparative measure.

    Yet, in certain PATRIOT and foreign expeditionary ways, the big dog of USA, the Feds, are seemingly less restrained by the Constitution. But did they have the power all along, and only recently decide to use more of it?

  101. Mo, my dogs do much worse than lick the old poop chute. They are awful. They eat dead stuff, rotting dead stuff, live stuff, bleeding stuff, and as a result they have worms. And just when you were thinking all that back to nature crap was starting to look good, your dogs get worms and you realize EXACTLY what it means to get back to nature.

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