This post, as many others in the Chronicles of Everstate, can be read both as part of the scenarios on the future of the nation-state, as explained below, or as part of the section on Global Water Security. This shows how all issues are intertwined, and that the multiple existing feedbacks should not be ignored.
Previously: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something when new elections start, which begins the second scenario, Panglossy. The new Everstatan government, dependent upon past thinking, decides that a return to economic efficiency through growth is the key to the crisis. The first years fail to bring back growth; the power of the lenders’ nexus and induced appropriation of public power continue unabated as the regulation of the international financial system does not progress. The initial efforts to fund Green Growth through infrastructure investments show minimal and disappointing impacts. Worse still, the initial implementation of air commodification under the ISSIGE flagship project by the consortium Novair triggers a nationwide wave of outrage because the beliefs of Everstatans are denied at all levels, while the elite is surprised.
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab – a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading)
The Everstatan elite, surprised by the new Air Revolt, continues applying to the situation a superficial analogy with water to estimate the severity of the outrage in the country and its potential evolution. Yet, analogy is not comparison and is often insufficient to inform proper understanding and thus decisions.
First, the commodification of water, in its second wave, is still a very recent phenomenon. It started at the end of the 20th century with the privatization of water utilities in the United Kingdom of Margaret Thatcher, and is far from being completed, assuming it is meant to follow an ineluctable path towards completion, which has still to be proven. Everstatan elite cannot thus easily draw any clear conclusion.
Second, some voices exist, even if they are not so numerous and have so far not mobilised masses, that underline the ethical problems linked to the privatization of water (e.g. 2008 Symposium) or criticise the whole commodification endeavour.
Third, the current and future various issues and problems surrounding global water security will most probably keep the matter of water services privatization and water commodification on the agenda, seen in an even larger perspective, where security questions and geopolitics will be underlined.* This is likely to lead to stronger stance taken by all actors, and open the door to any strategy including manipulation and irredentism. As a result, a complete and smooth commodification of water that would not generate rebellions cannot be taken for granted.
Fourth, in countries such as Everstate, when water was privatized at the end of the twentieth century, it was done in a way that is very different from the way Novstate-Air intends to monetize air. Then, a public service dealing with water-related issues was handed over or sold from the state to private companies. This was only one episode in the millennia-long struggle of human societies to manage wastewater, sewage and obtain clean water (Jungclaus, 1998). Everstatans never went from free clean water, or free apparently clean water, free sewage, etc. to becoming suddenly aware of the extent and danger of polluted water and having to pay for being able to drink and eat safely.
Furthermore, throughout the millennia old struggle for safe water, they have, at least dimly, become conscious of direct links between living beings concentrations and water pollution, thus of their own responsibility. This long process and history does not exist in the case of air. With water, there was thus no effect of shock, no sudden awareness triggering a feeling of injustice and moral outrage, when there is with air. This implies that the absence of initial reaction in the case of water cannot be used to deduce that Everstate’s air revolt is unimportant and will be short-lived.
Finally, timing matters, twice. The privatisation of water utilities itself is not always done nationally but according to the administrative organisation underlying the public service, most of the time municipalities. This implies that changes happen according to the timing of each town. This stops the creation of any nationwide reaction. The impossibility of such large reaction is strengthened by the diverse situations existing for each administrative division. However, here, had separatists feelings and right conditions existed, water privatization in Everstate would then have strengthened those sentiments (see the last posts of the Mamominarch scenario for an example of such dynamics). Those underlying processes could and should have been considered by Novstate-Air and the Everstatan government, as those lessons were applicable to air. Considering the current conditions in Everstate, Novstate-Air had thus the “choice” between triggering a nationwide protest and sowing the seeds for separatism.
Then, water privatisation has mainly been done before the crisis, before the rise of inequalities and decline of purchasing power became obvious, before the rise of tension, before the legitimacy of governments and actors and of the whole socio-political model started being questioned.
In the past, if water prices increased with privatization (Barlow, 2001), the share of the water bill in a household expenses (e.g. averaged to 335$ a year in the U.S. in 2012 by the American Water Works Association, CNN February 28, 2012, 339£ a year in England and Wales in 2009 according to DEFRA, with many local and individual variations) and the added cost were not such that a collective feeling of relative deprivation could be born. The unequal weight of water bills according to household income inequalities must however be noted (Smets, 2002). Then, water privatization has been done while respecting, to a point, and with (large) variations according to countries and actors, the human right not to die of thirst or because of polluted water. For example, the existence of public fountains, access to clean public utilities, etc. has been maintained, while in many OECD countries one scheme or another used to exist or was created to help the poorest face their water bills. There was thus little that could have triggered a nationwide outrage and related escalation.
The commodification of air is happening in completely different circumstances and with no such safeguards as those that were implemented for water. Actually, Everstate’s Air revolt should suggest to the government and concerned actors that they should actively revisit water related policies, be they public, private, or mixed, as circumstances have changed. True enough, the privatization of water has been done and thus it cannot be a trigger for a new rebellion. If matters continue to be handled carefully by all actors involved, if the impacts of the various global and local evolutions are properly foreseen, while adapted and timely preventive measures are implemented, then the risk to see water riots added to the air revolt will be minimized. On the contrary, lack of foresight and of caution, which, considering the overall level of tension and ideological polarization becomes everyday more plausible in Everstate, will most probably mean that water issues will soon be added to the escalating number of grievances.
Alas, neither Novstate-Air nor the Everstatan governing bodies even attempt to move beyond the analogy with a water privatization of the past. They thus decide that the air revolt is nothing more than the passing fit of a population that does not truly understand problems, and that an emphasis on communication and advertisement while local meetings with the population are organised by Novstate-Air and the local authorities will be enough to defuse the anger. Meanwhile Novstate-Air does not change the schedule according to which Air contributions will be collected.
To be continued…. after the Summer.
* For more references, see, notably U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, Global Water Security, 2 February 2012, and two previous posts as well as their bibliography: Water security: a strategic foresight and warning issue for national security? (1 February 2012) and Building upon the 2012 “Global Water Security” IC Assessment (27 March 2012).
Barlow, Maude, “The Water Privateers,” Blue Gold: The global water crisis and the commodification of the world’s water supply (International Forum on Globalization (IFG), 2001).
Ellis, Blake, “Water bills expected to triple in some parts of U.S.,” CNNMoney, February 28, 2012.
Jungclaus, Joyce Everhart, “1998 Congress Recap” published in the APWA Reporter, excerpt republished as “History of sewage management” on Bloomington Minnesota Cityweb.
Smets, Henri, Le Droit à l’Eau, Conseil européen du droit de l’environnement., 2002.
Symposium Proceedings: Common Grounds, Common Waters: Toward a Water Ethic, Panel I: Water Ethics and Commodification of Freshwater Resources, Diamond, Stephen (Moderator), 6 Santa Clara J. Int’l Law 15 (2008).
U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, Global Water Security, 2 February 2012.
Walker, Anna, CB, Independent Review of Charging for Household Water and Sewerage Services, DEFRA, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK), December 2009.
Wikipedia, Criticisms of the commodification of water.
Wikipedia, History of Water Privatization.