The most vital natural resource by mid-century will not be oil, nor rare metals or minerals, nor even data. It will be potable water. And the most vital question will be: whom can we trust to manage our water?
And forget for the moment the recent water crises in advanced regions such as California and Cape Town. The third world has been struggling with water shortages for decades. “Don’t drink the water” was the tourist’s warning in the 20th century; these days, it may as well be “Good luck finding the water.”
Buzzfeed has a representative story today, about Mexican women who have organized their own system of water trucks in an attempt to patch over their government’s manifest failures in water delivery. Instead of more long-term solutions, Mexican officials have only stuck to the short-term solution of digging deeper and deeper wells to access water, with diminishing returns and escalating geologic instability. Either way, impoverished citizens’ access to drinking water continues to wilt with each passing year. The women featured in the article struggle bravely, but water trucks are simply an inefficient and limited workaround for failing infrastructure such as pipes and reservoirs, aggravated by uncaring and corrupt public employees.
The basic problem with Mexican government officials is the same one as the taxpayer-funded employees of New York’s subway system, or the worst of Chicago’s schools, or your local DMV: They simply don’t care. They don’t care about their official duties, they don’t care about their constituents, they don’t care about anything but their own pay and benefits and to hell with the rest of you. After all, facing zero accountability from the voters or, as long as they play ball, from elected officials, why should they care?
Unsurprisingly, the black market kicks in where the government has failed. Bandits hijack these free water trucks, selling the contents to the highest bidder instead. And as with California in recent memory, rich people have no problem organizing their own private water deliveries. There’s long been two options for delivering goods and services, and when the government cannot or will not do it, the free market then takes over, whether legal or not, and the result is predictable: Those with money may avail themselves at expense of those who have none.
The left and right both champion one solution or the other — socialism vs. capitalism — with all the zeal of Calvinists arguing with Counter-Reformationists. But the fundamental deficiencies of each system can’t be papered over, or answered with glib Bernie Sanders vs. Ted Cruz debates, or handwaved away by faith that “your side” will magically solve everything and the other side is full of baby-killing fake-news liberals or evil gun-toting reactionaries. Government will always be hobbled by the problem of uncaring and/or corrupt public employees; private capitalism will always comfort the comfortable and enrich the rich, and while the latter system is fair when it comes to Maseratis or McMansions, it’s kind of unacceptable when it comes to basic necessities of life, for all but the most stone-hearted Randian libertarians.
So what to do for water shortages, whether in Mexico City or San Diego? Keep putting faith in government officials whose one answer is “give us more money lol” and who only seem to benefit the people with the right connections? Or with private merchants, of whatever legality, who ask the same thing and also only benefit the right people, in this case the rich? Either way, the poor, and increasingly the middle class, must suffer and then suffer some more, right? What to do with the problem of both kinds of players only being out for themselves?
Enter the artificial intelligence decider. Continue reading