| Dick Langlois |
I attended an interesting lecture on Thursday, part of the University’s Edwin Way Teale lecture series on the environment. Normally these lectures do not tend, shall we say, to take perspectives that O&M readers would find congenial. But this lecture, by Robert Glennon of the University of Arizona Law School, was interesting along a number of dimensions. The talk was based on his book Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It. Here is the abstract:
From manufactured snow for tourists in Atlanta to trillions of gallons of water flushed down the toilet each year, Dr. Robert Glennon reveals the heady extravagances and everyday inefficiencies that are sucking the nation dry. The looming catastrophe remains hidden as the government diverts supplies from one area to another to keep water flowing from the tap. But sooner rather than later, the shell game has to end. And when it does, shortages will threaten not only the environment, but every aspect of American life. America must make hard choices — and Glennon’s answers are fittingly provocative. He proposes market-based solutions that value water as both a commodity and a fundamental human right.
The talk was interesting not only in that I learned a few things about the screwed-up water system in the U. S. (the broad contours of which I was vaguely familiar with) but also in that it presented an interesting case study in rhetoric. Glennon spent most of the talk revving up the environmentalist crowd, with lots of show and tell about the effects of bad water policy and a tour through various command-and-control policies that environmentalists might think of to fix the situation. (He even paused to make fun of Ann Coulter’s claim that the flush toilet is man’s greatest invention.) But Glennon’s bottom line, revealed at the very end, is that the only thing that will fix the problem is properly assigning property rights and trading those rights on markets. This was the conclusion I was expecting, not only because of the abstract but also because Glennon has an NBER Working Paper with Gary Libecap. Maybe this is the way to go in selling market-based solutions.