Sunday, October 5, 2014

You don't have a right to water, but you do have a right to spend as much as you want to create a plutocracy

(WPA workers installing a water line in Maryland, 1938, for the public. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Recently, a bankruptcy judge in Detroit declared that people do not have a right to water service, not even a "service based on an ability to pay." This seems to indicate that governments and corporations can charge whatever they want for life-sustaining water. And indeed, "Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent" (see here).

We also know that the Supreme Court has been judicially active in recent years by granting Corporate America and the super-wealthy the right to spend as much as they want to manipulate our electoral and political processes, by linking political spending to free speech. Money is now speech, and so the wealthier you are the more powerful your First Amendment rights. You can now buy, or contribute towards, endless political billboards, political television commercials, deceptive messages, and other political campaign activities. In other words, you can now, more than ever, outspend the political speech of others.

What does it say about a culture when access to life-sustaining water is not a right, but gargantuan political spending is?

(At New Germany State Park in Maryland, the Civilian Conservation Corps created this beautiful lake area for public fishing and public swimming. Photo by Brent McKee.)

In other news, a billionaire in California bought some coastal property, blocked access to a public beach, and "hired guards to keep people out." Once again we see how the powers-that-be are willing (perhaps even eager) to block people from water--albeit in this case, recreational salt water.

New Deal policymakers wanted to give people greater access to water. For example, WPA workers improved beaches, cleaned waterways, built or improved hundreds of public pools, installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, and created hundreds of thousands of consumer water connections.

Today, instead of a New Deal attitude towards water, we have a ruthless, plutocratic attitude. An attitude that says, "I don't give a crap how poor you are, you're not getting any water," or "Not wealthy? Well, perhaps you shouldn't have access to the beach. Sorry." And things will only get worse, as the number of billionaires increase, as income & wealth inequality continues to balloon, and as billionaires spend more and more to buy politicians. For example, as of July 2013, "Only 2 percent of the (Chesapeake) bay has public access points for kayaks, canoes, fishing, bathing and other recreation." A retired economic development executive said, "I call it the world’s biggest gated community, the Chesapeake Bay. There are probably 100 beaches in Anne Arundel County, but they are private beaches." (See "U.S., groups working to open more public access to Chesapeake")

So, which do you prefer, the New Deal approach to water, or the plutocratic approach to water?

(WPA workers built this public swimming pool in Cumberland, Maryland. The pool is still in use today. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)


  1. Hi I live in cumberland Maryland and this pool is at Constituition park cool to see old pictures of it

    1. Thanks, I have quite a few old photos of Constitution Park.