Thursday, September 11, 2008

The political economy of clean water

David Zetland, a postdoctoral fellow in Natural Resource Economics and Political Economy over at University of California, Berkeley. has been busy as a guest contributor at the New York Times' quirky-yet-well trafficked Freakonomics blog, and his two post from the past week are actually quite enjoyable to read. I think what he is writing here represents the best popular economics can offer non-expert, casual readers.

His first post from September 9th is named "The Economics of Clean Water," and explains some of the Bush-supported Millennium Development Goals and the policies' inherent limitations in solving the critical global challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of clean water. The "international development community" comes in for what I would argue is its appropriate share of criticism - especially the enormously popular "Big Idea" promoters like Bono and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.

Instead, he pursues a line of reasoning that is in fact quite similar to contrarian New York University development economist Bill Easterly: The amount of money thrown at solving a global problem is much less relevant than the quality of the institutions managing the projects. The global community's failure to even make a dent in the scourge of global poverty - regardless of how much foreign aid is thrown at the problem by governments and NGOs, is unfortunately an illustrative case-in-point.

His second post which was published today is succinctly titled "Oil and Water," and it presents readers with a refreshingly comprehensible explanation as to why the the US and the global community has had far greater success in handling the scarcity of oil than it has achieved in coping with the tragic consequences of the perennial supply-demand imbalance of clean, drinkable water.

Of course, all of this is just a teaser: You actually have to read the two (fairly short) posts to get the answers to these provocative questions.

(And for even more fun, check out this 16-page working paper entitled "The Political Economy Of The Human Right To Water" in .pdf format here.)

I should also mention that Zetland's has his own blog, which specializes in the economics and public policy of water as a resource (and a commodity?), that he cleverly named Aguanomics and his writing there are not nearly as esoteric or geeky as one might initially assume.

No comments: